Showing, Not Telling: How To Give Exposition Quickly And Effectively

Mild Spoilers ahead for the TV show “Young Justice”.

I’ve been on a binge of the TV show Young Justice recently, a well above average animated show from DC about a group of teenaged superheroes. Season 2 shakes things up by having a lot of important events having happened off-screen between seasons, and as such has a lot of information to be imparted.

Some of it is so clunky it’s near painful, such as when Lagoon Boy tells Nightwing that he used to be Robin so that we, the viewer know that he’s Robin from Season 1. Other times it’s so well integrated and multi-faceted that it looks like it belongs in a textbook.

I’m going to talk about one such time. The video below is not timestamped to play at the important part of the clip sadly (I did try). The section I’m talking about runs from 2:56-3:28.

That was one of the best 32 seconds of television I have ever watched, from a writing standpoint. Seriously, it shows and suggests a number of character traits and a relationship dynamic without ever outright stating any of them. OK, so the name “Wonder Girl” does get spoken, but I’m giving it a pass. Now, I shall list what those 32 seconds tell us.

  1. Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl are partners (2:56-2:57): Both are flying in unison, with a serious expression. Their movements and temperaments match in this shot. It says “hello, these people are here now and they work together”.
  2. Wonder Woman’s physical prowess is established (2:57-3:04): OK, chances are you know that Wonder Woman is hella badass. But this is primarily a kid’s show, and kids (or adults) watching may not know who she is. You can’t count on “she fought in Season One” as a reason for people to know either, as not everyone will have watched from the beginning. Instead, a few brief seconds of Wonder Woman being badass introduces her and some of the gravitas she carries.
  3. Wonder Girl is relatively new to superheroics, and greatly admires Wonder Woman (3:05-3:10): Wonder Girl’s admiration for Wonder Woman is obvious, what with her fangirling right in the middle of battle and all, but what’s interesting is the implication. This does rely on further context, but all the necessary context can be found in the same episode. When Wonder Girl witnesses Wonder Woman’s prowess, she drops her defences and squees over her mentor. Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, Lagoon Boy and Superboy are all present with their mentors, yet none of them act this. Instead, they work in synch with each other and communicate (mostly) vital tactical messages. Wonder Girl is set apart by her lack of professionalism.
  4. Wonder Woman is a strict mentor, and far more professional than Wonder Girl (3:10-3:15): Wonder Woman sees that Wonder Girl is in danger, and immediately moves in to protect her from injury or death at the hands of her own unprofessional nature, while simultaneously admonishing Wonder Girl for her error. Wonder Woman’s tone is serious, and her expression is unchanged from her entrance. With this we can see that Wonder Woman is calm under fire, able to keep up with the flow of combat, attentive of her surroundings and that she does not let mistakes pass unnoticed.
  5. Wonder Girl, while raw, is a powerful and effective warrior keen to learn from Wonder Woman (3:16-3:26):  Once her mistake has been made clear to her, Wonder Girl composes herself for battle and defeats the two giant alien spider tanks that nearly hit her in short order. Her tactic is a revised version of Wonder Woman’s, using her lasso to destroy the machines from a distance. With this, it’s clear she’s trying to emulate her idol and mentor, but also that she recognises her own physical limits and adapts the tactic to suit her abilities. The next two points are also on this section of footage.
  6. She doesn’t have Wonder Woman’s level of strength: Instead of pulling the whole tank into the air, Wonder Girl is only able to rip off a vital part of the machine (with some difficulty). Also, note how when Wonder Woman uses her lasso, our attention is drawn to the fact that she was standing with both feet on the ground, lifting the machine into the air with brute strength before using its momentum to slam it down. Wonder Girl instead flies up so that she can pull the tank part towards her, which would require less strength.
  7. She’s a fast thinker: Whether she planned it from the beginning or it only occurred to her as that giant hunk of tank was flying towards her, at some point she realised she needed to deal with said tank hunk. Either way, she thought very fast, using a potential weakness and making it into her advantage.
  8. Wonder Woman cares about Wonder Girl (3:27-3:28): This is my favourite moment of the whole sequence, and it was what made this clip stick in my mind. These 32 seconds are a story unto themselves, and this brief smile from Wonder Woman is an amazing cap to it. Despite how strict and serious she is, and how much of a contrast this is compared to Wonder Girl’s demeanour, this smile shows Wonder Woman cares. Not just about her physical safety, but of her growth as a hero. She sees Wonder Girl pull out an impressive move on the fly and is proud of her. These 32 seconds say more about their characters and their relationship than some shows manage in an episode.

There, textbook. Eight important pieces of information delivered with very few words spoken. No need to have whole episode devoted to explaining this, 32 seconds will do. Although, dear Young Justice producers, I still want a Wonder Girl episode. And a Batgirl one. And a Robin one. And I want Zatanna back, dammit!


Should I Buy? – LEGO Batman 2: DC Super Heroes

Over the last nine years, the LEGO crossover games have slowly been refining their mechanics and it’s pretty obvious with LEGO Batman 2 that they’re still working on it. As fun as LEGO Batman 2 is, it’s pretty rough around the edges. In some places, it’s just a few niggling bugs that shouldn’t have made it through, in others its design choices that are confusing or questionable.

The LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean  games experimented with a fairly limited sandbox as opposed to the traditional mission hubs that you can adventure through and explore to find secrets, and LEGO Batman 2 ups the ante by giving you all of Gotham when you’re not playing the story mode. There’s a wealth of content including villains to defeat, heroes to discover, citizens to save and more beside. It’s almost a shame that the weeks you could spend finding all this stuff can be muted to a couple of afternoons once you find the cheats that point out the locations of all these things.

Travelling around the map itself can be a bit of a headache. Of course running about is way too slow unless you’re The Flash, so you’ll want to rely on vehicles and the power of flight to get around. The actual unlockable vehicles like the Batmobile and Two-Face’s truck are really fast, to the point where trying to drive them in anything other than a straight line is a hassle. Flight itself works great for gross motor control, but when you try to make small movements to, say, land on a small roof, things get infuriatingly fiddly.

That said, flying is fun and fast and pretty widely available. Just in the course of playing through the story, you’ll unlock Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern as flying heroes so actual aircraft become rather pointless. Not quite as pointless as aquatic vehicles though, which have no use other than the Gold Brick containing driving courses. When you play one of the rare vehicle levels, you don’t even get the choice of your unlocked vehicles. It’s kind of a mystery why they bothered, and this is one of the areas where the game where things get questionable.

What about the story mode? Well, it’s the first fully voiced LEGO crossover game and the second to use an original story, so it’s a pretty big change from the standard format. The humour is much less slapstick this time around, but still has that same goofy, irreverent charm which is really helped by the healthy application of DCAU VAs reprising their roles and other experienced VAs  stepping into the empy slots. Christopher Corey Smith’s Joker is fine, but does lack the range and sheer insanity of Mark Hammil’s, Troy Baker makes for a good Batman, though I do miss Kevin Conroy. The real star of the show is Clancy Brown’s Lex Luthor, whose deep voice is equally adept at making Lex sinister and comedic.

The story itself is just as silly as you’d expect, with some pretty questionable logic on the villain’s part. Fifteen levels being pretty short as far as a LEGO crossover game goes and the story feels truncated and aguely unsatisfying for it. Any villain that isn’t the Joker or Luthor get the short end of the stick, basically being reduced to cameos. Still, the levels are fun and make good use of the character’s abilities.

Remember how in the original LEGO Batman the hero levels were the most boring because the limited number of abilities meant there were only so many ways you could be asked to solve a puzzle?  2 handles the situation a lot better, with the new Suits Batman and Robin wear each having two different abilities instead of just one and the design requiring a lot more cooperation than before. And when Superman comes on the scene, he’s just as powerful as you’d expect. He’s super strong, can fly, has heat vision, ice breath and is completely invulnerable to damage. However, he can’t demolish levels by himself and relies on Batman and Robin to fill in the gaps for him, meaning that the other two don’t turn into useless loads.

If nothing else, LEGO Batman 2 is a great representation of why Batman and Superman make such a good team. Unfortunately, there’s no villain levels this time around to counterbalance the hero ones which might leave you feeling short changed, given how the original game had twice the levels.

The much vaunted inclusion of characters from across the DCU doesn’t really make itself apparent until the end of the game. Apart from Cyborg, they’re not high on the versatility scale so you probably won’t be using them much unless you’re a real fan. Green Lantern and Flash do have unique abilities, but it’s pretty rare that you’ll need them. Actually, Aquaman is more useful than they are in the grand scheme of things. Aquaman! Among the Batman villains, there’s also a few from other heroes like General Zodd, Brainiac and Sinestro. Though this leads me to one of the design choices that annoys me most. Sinestro can’t build Green bricks like Green Lantern, but there are no Yellow bricks for him to use, and neither of them get a ranged attack, so Sinestro only gets to fly and Green Lantern’s one special trick is very situational.

But that’s a minor complaint. And those are all I can really muster. It looks great, it’s funny, the soundtrack mixes Superman and Batman music together well, there’s plenty of content for the explorers to find and hey, where else can you play as Huntress, Hawkgirl, Ra’s Al Ghul or Captain Boomerang? Also, whenever you take to the skies of Gotham as Superman, that music plays.

Should I Buy? – Batman Arkham City DLC – INCLUDING Harley Quinn’s Revenge

This isn’t a review of the Game of the Year edition because I don’t own that, and truth be told I’m also missing the additional Challenge Pack from my purchases so I can’t in all honesty say I’m reviewing the content in the GOTY version.

If you want to see what I thought of the main game, that review’s here. This review is for the Catwoman, Robin, Nightwing, Skins and Harley Quinn’s Revenge packs.

A final note, the prices here are in Microsoft Points. If you want prices for PC or PSN, I’m sorry but you’ll have to track those down yourselves.

Catwoman Bundle Pack

This was launch content included for free with all new copies of the original game and costs 800MS points to buy. It adds the four “Catwoman Episodes” into the main game, as a separate option on the main menu and adds Catwoman as a playable character in the Challenge Mode.

Her episodes are quite short, the first one is just a small fight sandwiched by cutscenes, but flow pretty well as they were obviously designed in tandem with the main game to flow into each other.

Though the rest of her episodes are of a better length, they’re still fairly short and lack any of the big set pieces that Batman has. If you just zip through the story aspects of the episodes, they’ll pass by pretty damn fast and you may start to wonder just where your money’s worth is.

In my opinion, that’s in the post-game content. Just like how you can control Batman after the plot’s over, Catwoman’s fully controllable in the playable epilogue section as well as the aforementioned Challenge Mode and this is where you’ll really get to stretch your feline legs.

Cats plays as a much weaker but faster version of Bats with much fewer tools  to work with. She only has her whip for exploration and there’s only two more gadgets but this works. She’s not a super-rich badass detective, she’s a cat burglar and though she’s competent in a fight, she doesn’t have cash, know-how or need for any of Bats’ trinkets.

Her animations make good use of her lighter frame and sex appeal to give a real sense of character, even when she’s fighting. Learning quite how to handle Cats is a bit of a curve as you can’t tank as many hits as usual, but it’s just as fun as Bats.

Instead of a Grapnel like Bats, Cats whips to things and then climbs them. Though annoying at first, I got into quite a groove with it and ended up preferring it to Bats’ grapple. Though it trips me up every time that you can end up exposing yourself to the enemies you’re trying to ambush while you’re swinging across an area.

In Predator situations Cats does come with the added ability to cling to grated ceilings.  This helps to make up for her lack of tricks, and it, along with her “Thief’s Vision” (which doesn’t list the number of enemies or even flag the ones with guns a different colour) force you to think and act more carefully.

All in all the Catwoman Bundle Pack was worth it for me, but if you’re looking for a solid story expansion this probably isn’t the investment for you.

Robin Bundle Pack

Robin was, until Harley Quinn’s Revenge, a Challenge Mode only character. This Robin is Tim Drake, by the way, famed for his use of a staff in combat and currently Red Robin in comic continuity.

In this game we have a Robin wielding a retractable staff, and he makes full use of its properties in a fighting style that makes him rather unpredictable. He’s stronger than Cats and faster than Bats, and several of his Gadgets have interesting properties.

For example, his staff can throw out a frontal Bullet Shield that’s handy for tight spots, and he can instantly zip to an enemy in battle instead of pulling them towards him like Bats does.

In terms of difficulty for Predator Challenges he’s between Cats and Bats. He’s a bit fiddly to get used to, but his unique properties mean that if you want to mix things up, he’s a good candidate for it.

At just 560 MSPoints for him individually or 1200 Points for him, Nightwing and the bonus skins all together which’ll save you several hundred points.

Nightwing Bundle Pack

Now the only one of the four playable characters with no story mode, Nightwing is a lightning fast bruiser who really struggles in Predator challenges. Also, strangely, he doesn’t speak at all. Just kind of scowls. Which is really weird for Dick Grayson.

He makes Batman feel slow as a turtle and Catwoman as weak as a newborn kitten with his Escrima sticks (which are now also stun batons). I also really admire his fighting animations, which really drive home his acrobatic past. Actually, I’m calling it. The fight animations of Batman Arkham City are the finest in gaming history as far as I’m concerned. Every single attack the heroes have feel like a part of the character and what they’re about.

Nightwing is priced the same a Robin and part of the 1200MSPoint The Arkham Bundle as well.

Arkham City Skins Pack

This pack is really just something fun, it doesn’t affect gameplay at all. Batman gets about six different ones, Cats and Robin get two and Nightwing only gets the one. It costs 400MSPoints, so track down pictures of the costumes and if you want them, go buy it. There’s not really any more to say than it’s 400MSPoints alone or part of the 1200MSPoints  The Arkham Bundle.

Harley Quinn’s Revenge

Look at me! I’m topical! This DLC came out at midnight and I stayed up late playing it especially for m-er, you. It’s an additional short story campaign set after Arkham City‘s ending in which you get to take control of both Batman *and* Robin. that’s right, the Dynamic Duo are tackling this caper together.

Basically, Batman went missing investigating Harley Quinn’s base and Robin goes in when he doesn’t pop back for more Bat-mints. Like the Catwoman story, it’s split into four segments, two for the Dark Knight and two for the Boy Wonder.

The thing I noticed first was that the difficulty has been ramped up. Enemies seem to hit harder and faster and a lot more of them are armed now. This was a bit infuriating at first, but I managed to adapt.

Though I like that they introduce sections to explain how Robin’s gadgets can be used to interact with the environments like Bats’, but his sections are so short they never really get used more than once or twice. Robin’s sections feel more like a proof of concept demo at times.

But I’d still call them the highlights. Bats’ sections feel a little padded and less well thought out. Almost like it was meant to be an all-Robin story until someone upstairs pulled the plug on that idea.

There’s been some pretty obvious corners cut. Most of the places you could explore in Joker’s turf has now been forcibly closed off, to the extent that parts of the scenery have been destroyed. Still, there is a new warehouse area where most of the action takes place, including a Predator battle for Robin against Quinn and her goons that provides a fun challenge.

At 800MSPoints I had to put a tenner on my account to get it and I did finish it in one sitting of maybe an hour or two but I still enjoyed it. As to whether it’s worth it? Well…that depends on how much you like the game and whether or not you want more.

And really, that’s my verdict on all the DLC for this game. It’s enjoyable and if you want more out of the game, then this’ll probably see you right. In the end I can’t give it the giant gold stars the main game gets, but it’s by no means bad content.

Should I Buy? – Batman: Arkham City

Unless you’re some kind of DC hating Marvel fanboy that gets violent every time they hear the word “Kryptonite”, then yes. Arkham City is the sequel to Rocksteady’s surprise critical and commercial stunner Arkham Asylum from a few years back, and is a good example of a sequel done right. Instead of coasting by and making no real attempt to improve on things, City is bigger and better, with more stuff to do and more ways to do it.

Basically, Quincy Sharp, head of Arkham Asylum in the last game, took credit for your work stopping Joker and got himself elected Mayor of Gotham. Then he walled off an entire district of Gotham, dumped all criminals (insane or otherwise) inside, hired heavily armed mercenaries to police it and put relatively unknown psychiatrist  Hugo Strange in charge. A bit suspicious, no? Well, Batman thinks so. Unable to do anything as the Dark Knight, he tries to campaign against it as Bruce Wayne, which results in his incarceration as a political prisoner.

Inside the city, Joker, Two-Face and Penguin have carved out their own criminal empires and  there’s a host of other villains running about like Zsasz and Mister Freeze. And you’ll track them down through both the wide open cityscapes and the more familiar claustrophobic building interiors. The cityscape adds a whole new dimension to the game, and I must say is very well designed. See, in the last game you basically guided Bats from one challenge room to another. There were no alternate routes. Even when outside, the enemies were in scripted locations and the spaces too small for more than a handful of viable approaches.

But with the city full of randomly spawning enemies and with no set paths to traverse, the precision artifice of the encounters from the original isn’t present. Not that traversing the cities is a chore, the layout has obviously been carefully designed for both getting around and for you to do your Goddamn Bat-thing when push comes to punch. There’s also a host of new techniques Bats has for getting around in the big wide open, though on foot travel is pretty much irrelevant in the streets.

The interior sections aren’t as tight as the original, nor as long or prominent. With so many new additions to Batman’s arsenal, it’d be difficult to design encounters to compliment this. For example, much is made of the fact that enemies start laying mines. There’s even a short sidequest that gives you a gadget to counter them. But I can only recall one encounter where enemies will actually use them, and even then the explosions are so small and undamaging that *if* you do run over one the most it’ll do is alert the baddies and make you drop a smoke pellet.

Speaking of which! That’s a major change. Now when gun toting enemies see you, you can drop a smoke pellet to instantly become lost and untargetable. Then, you can safely grapple away or use that Bat-Grapple disarm move on all of them and be in a better position than you started in. Relying on it will make most encounters with gun thugs laughably easy.

Of course, you can choose whether or not to use these balance…unbalancers and  it’s handy to have them when things turn Bat-shaped. The only real problem with Bat’s expanded arsenal of tricks and little things that go buzz and hurt bad men is that there’s so many you’ll often forget you have them. When you’re up on that ledge, do you do an inverted takedown, Sonic Shock Batarang, sneak up on them, rig some explosive gel, attack through a crumbling wall, shock him by charging the surprisingly prevalent electromagnets, glide kick him, Batarang him, Remote Batarang him, Reverse Remote Batarang him,  use a cryo grenade, use a cluster cryo grenade, disable his gun, remote detonate his mine, remote electric shock him, use a Sonic Shockwave, Glide Boost or throw a smoke grenade at him? Your choice.  Yeah.

The main story is longer, and doesn’t get tired. It won’t (and indeed, hasn’t) win any awards but it’s solid fare for a Batman tale. It mostly takes leads from Knightfall and No Man’s Land, though isn’t afraid to mix up established continuity points when it wants to. The villains are integrated well, and the attention to detail with the Batman mythos is fantastic. The boss battles are particularly intense, especially given how lacklustre they were in the last game. Mister Freeze might qualify for both cleverest and most frustrating for years. In the best possible way.

Riddler’s challenges are back. There’s obviously a lot more of them, and now getting a lot of the trophies is a matter of solving a small puzzle. These also tie into a bigger sidequest that involves saving people from Saw-style rooms and tracking down Riddler’s goons to interrogate. It’d take ages to track it all down and complete. Even longer if for some weird reason you don’t Google the solutions.

Adding into ways to extend your playtime are New Game Plus, the additional Challenge Maps & campaigns, not to mention there’s DLC that makes Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing. I haven’t played any of it, so I can’t vouch for it.

But yes, this game is bigger and, in most ways, better than the original. Go buy it. Get hunting for those tantalising hints for a sequel.

News – The Batmen

Now those of you who follow videogame news even loosely will know that Batman Arkham City, the much anticipated followup to Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham Asylum has been receiving a lot of coverage.

Most recently, this is because it’s had a full five new costumes announced that you can dress Batman up in for the Challenge maps. This is, on the surface, quite cool. Now not only can we play as everyone’s favourite feline and the Boy Wonder but six different versions of Batman.

The costumes are based on various incarnations the Caped Crusader has had over the years, and it’s a bit like The Dark Knight’s Greatest Hits. There’s the Batman Beyond suit used by Terry McGinnis, the protege of an aging Bruce Wayne. Then you’ve got an old Batman, the one from Frank Miller’s classic The Dark Knight Returns. Next up is another of Miller’s, this time it’s the suit he wore in Batman: Year One, the massively popular retelling of Bruce’s first year fighting crime with cape and cowl.

Then there’s a traditional 70’s era look that sports the blue cape and yellow chestplate that used to be standard for the World’s Greatest Detective. Finally is a very faithful recreation of the Batman we saw in Batman: The Animated Series.

No love for Adam West?

They're the Goddamn Batmen

Now as the more observant of you may have noted, I earlier said that this is a good thing ‘on the surface’. Now it’s time for that timebomb to go off. You see, not only will you only get one of these suits if you preorder the game from the right store but they’re not even making them all available in every country.

You may think that’s a minor thing, but when a preorder bonus is a purely digital addition to a game like a costume pack or extra weapon instead of something physical like art cards or t-shirts this is almost never later made available as DLC. The kind of people who’ll put in a preorder at somewhere they wouldn’t normally shop or just picking the game up at launch are the type of people who will pay for every piece of preorder content as DLC.

You are missing out on a huge pile of cash. Sure, you don’t want it to be day one DLC, that’d undermine the entire premise of the bonus. And I’m not saying stop the incentivising. But six months, a year down the line? You can easily role this out as DLC for every country. Put all five of them together in a value pack, or price them so low that people think ‘I can afford £1.50’.

Social games have got the microtransaction system down, the mainstream gaming industry needs to learn the lessons it can from social games and other mediums. There’s been a lot of failed schemes like Online Passes and DRM to to convince people to buy your games new, but you don’t make it easy for us. If a book, film or album sells well, they keep making it. Games don’t. Unless it makes its way to digital distribution, you pretty much can’t buy a game new a few months after its release.

If people will keep buying it, keep providing it. That people have to be so reliant on the preowned market for games they couldn’t afford, didn’t know about or weren’t interested in at release means that they’ve become conditioned to buy later and cheaper than buy on release.

Don’t try to force us to come to you, cause that’ll just make us resist harder. Be like Valve, build up a good relationship with your fans, based on listening to them and making business and design decisions not always based on profit mongering.

Should I Buy? – Batman Arkham Asylum

Me reviewing Batman, this’ll be impartial. Let me start by saying that this is the best superhero game ever. That’s not hyperbolic. This really is. And it really shouldn’t be.

Most games based off of licensed properties from other franchises are mediocre at best, or only fulfill niche markets. Normally this is because the game is just a cheap cash-in, and if it’s being made to emulate the plot of a film or tv series it’s an even bigger problem because the developer has got a lot of restraints  placed on them and only a limited amount of time to make the game in.

This came out the the year after The Dark Knight, so Batman was all the hype. And for some reason, DC handed the license over to a company that had only made one forgettable PS2 game before, and that was released all the way back in 2006. So licensed game, inexperienced studio, big film to cash in on. The perfect recipe for disaster. Instead, we got a Game of the Year.

First of all, Arkham Asylum uses the ‘adaptation by spirit’ approach. It drew from many elements of the Batman mythos and media to create something new and unique. The plot (that Joker takes over Arkham Asylum and challenges Batman to survive the night) is based on Grant Morrison’s A Serious House on Serious Earth, the voice talent comes largely from Batman: The Animated Series, the level design draws from the Tim Burton’s use of German Expressionism in Batman and Batman Returns and so on. All that, added with all the little details in the character profiles and interview tapes shows Rocksteady did their work.

But that alone isn’t enough to make a great game. They did that by making this game do what no other superhero game has ever done as well. Hell, something most games don’t do period. Playing that game, you feel like Batman. Whether it’s fighting huge groups of thugs, silently picking them off one by one from the shadows or using your gadgets to traverse the environment in ways that just make you feel powerful.

I think they benefited by choosing a superhero who has no powers. Strange as that sounds, it allows them to create a character that’s powerful without having difficulties contriving excuses for challenge. Sure, you can take down hordes of guys without a scratch, but you might get sloppy and get hit by a lead pipe.

Gameplay can be divided into three sections. Runny-jumpy-climby, sneaky-sneaky stealth and biff-pow combat. Moving through the game world feels great, as you can zip around with your gadgets and use them with Batman’s natural athleticism to reach almost anywhere you can see.

When you’re stealthing it up, it’s because the hordes of burly henchmen in this area have got guns, which not even Batman can stand up to in a straight fight. The reason the developers refer to this as ‘Predator Mode’ is because that’s exactly what it feels like. These guys don’t stand a chance, and you’re picking them off one by one and making them fearful. In fact, if you do it particularly well they’ll start to believe that you can’t be human, that you’re some supernatural force. Listening to them get terrified (and therefore, sloppy) is great fun.

The combat is very simple. You press a button, you punch things. If an enemy has a sign flash over their head, you press another button and counter them. There are a few more advanced techniques, but the two button approach is the real core of combat. It sounds boring, but it works very well because it’s incredibly satisfying to see yourself in the middle of this tornado of punches and brutal attacks.

Arkham Asylum also boasts a range of Batman villains to serve as bosses. These fights…don’t match up to the rest of the game. Though Mark Hammil’s performance as the Joker easily rivals Heath ledger’s, and blows Jack Nicholson out of the water.

The Riddler has also left plenty of puzzles for Batman all over Arkham. Completing the completely optional Riddler Challenges give you extra experience (which will also recharge your health) and cement your position as the World’s Greatest Detective.

There’s a lot more that could be said about individual areas and design choices, but this isn’t the place for that. What I will say is that it’s a little short, but comes with combat and stealth challenge maps that can prolong that. But in terms of value for money, this is great. Buy it.

Price: £10 (Preowned average – CEX)

Steam: £14.99

Should I Buy? – The LEGO Games

OK the last review was a long on. I had to explain what I was doing, then give context to the game and then talk about the writing and both sides of gameplay. I imagine it was so long some of you didn’t bother to read all of it. So today, I’m picking something both more ‘casual friendly’ and easier to get a shorter review on.

Everybody hear loves LEGO right? That wonderful Danish invention, it was certainly the best toy I had growing up. Well it seems Telltale Games loves LEGO too. They’ve spent years making LEGO games based on various famous film licenses Warner Bros. owns.

Because I’m writing about four different game, you can zoom to one using Ctrl + F then typing in the key LSW, LIJ, LB or LHP to find the one you want.

Now the reason I can review LEGO Star Wars I & II, Indiana Jones, Batman and Harry Potter Years 1 -4 is because they’re all very similar in play style and, conveniently, I own them all. Also, these are all available on 360, PS3, PC, Wii and most are available on the handhelds. These are great for more casual gamers as you can’t actually lose, just die and respawn a few seconds later a little poorer.

As a note, the handheld version may lack some features or characters and have new ones to compensate. I’ve also heard about some of them having dire performance bugs, and they lack local co-op play. I’d advise getting these on consoles.

OK, so here’s how a LEGO game work. They’re based around three or four films and let you replay scenes from those films as fully interactive levels that are full of puzzles, combat and things to blow up. The cutscenes lack any dialogue, meaning that what little story they give is done through mime, and all the scenes work in a few good jokes too. Once you beat the levels in Story Mode (which you can easily do with a friend, the game has full co-op compatibility) you unlock them in Free Play where you can go back through them as any character you want to unlock all their hidden goodies.

See, each character has special abilities. For example, in LEGO Star Wars only Stormtroopers can use special Stormtrooper doors, only characters with blasters can grapple, only Force users can interact with certain objects and in some cases you need Dark Force powers. This, combined with the ability to unlock a whole range of characters from the games’ source material and even a character creator system gives the games great re-playability.

They do have their cons as well as pros, and before I talk about each game in turn briefly I want to talk about the flaws the series as a whole has. The camera moves along a set path throughout the game, which can be dodgy but is generally OK. In co-op though, some games won’t let the two of you move too far apart because you share the same screen. In other, you can because if you get too far apart the game becomes splitscreen which can be really confusing when it happens.

If you’re playing solo, then you’re stuck with a crappy AI partner. They’re incapable of killing enemies (not for lack of trying) and about the only thing they can do is help you with puzzles. You do one part, they do their part. The stupid AI can also get stuck on a jumping section because it keeps respawning to and jumping from a point that it can’t reach the other side from. You’ll occasionally have to take a break from doing your LEGO  thang to unstick the AI, and that’s never fun.

OK, let’s get started with LEGO Star Wars. Now if you’re going to buy these avoid the latest release and instead plonk for The Complete Saga. This is both LSW I & II combined, and covers the six films. The first game has you play mostly as Jedi, and here the puzzles are quite simplistic, use Character A on Object B type stuff. And if there’s no solution around, just hit stuff til so it explodes, you’ll find something to use. The second has a few levels as Jedi Luke, but most of the characters use blasters so shooty combat got upgraded. Now shooter heroes (excpet Chewie, for some reason) automatically dodge attacks if you press the attack button. The levels here are longer and focus more on puzzles. Overall, these two are a great buy buy still a bit on the pricey side. Steam will give it to you for £15 if you want it on PC, but I maintain these are best on console where you’ll be charged roughly £20 to get it preowned. Steep. Then again, it’ll be a bit cheaper if you get the PS2 version, but not much.


Now, Indiana Jones, I haven’t played the second one, only the first. The first covers the original trilogy of Raiders, Temple and Crusade while the second has these ones with redesigned levels and the fourth film. The levels are as well designed and cutscenes as enjoyable as ever, but this game does have its problems. The heroes don’t really have that much in the way of unique abilities, so you’ll spend a lot of the game picking up weapons and tools to help you through the levels. This works fine most of the time, but some tools really limit your character’s combat ability and if you’ve had to put on a ‘hat’ as a disguise, one hit will knock it right off.

That’s another thing, the combat in this game doesn’t feel properly balanced. The game will throw hordes of bad guys at you, often armed with guns. This means you’ll die a lot and lose a lot of in game currency (studs) in some locations. In one level, there’s an area that almost makes me turn the game off rather than play it every time. Then, on other levels there’ll be nothing but a few barely noticeable spiders, and you’ll have to puzzle your way through the entire thing. This does make thematic sense, there’s no reason for Nazis to be in the tomb they just trapper you in after all. And I actually had more fun with these levels, because the puzzles are more complex and feel rewarding to solve. Ultimately, this game’s more of a mixed bag of tricks than a straight up recommendation. I’d say buy another one first. The Steam price is £13 and CEX asks about £10. This is also available on PS2.


Ah, Batman. It was inevitable I’d buy this someday. So inevitable, I’ve bought it three times. Not because this is the best LEGO game necessarily, but because I’m such a sucker for Batman. The game has two halves, the Hero Missions and their villainous counterparts. This is the only LEGO game to use original plots, such as they are, rather than follow a film chronology. In this, a whole bunch of Batman’s villains break out of Arkham Asylum and split into three groups to do evil stuff. You’re Batman and Robin. You stop them.

Each level has the Dynamic Duo go after one of these baddies in a themed level and then fight them at the end as a boss. To compensate for the limited characters you get to play as in these missions, both the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder get four additional costumes that give them special powers that are scattered throughout the level. They do mean the game gets to be more complex than ‘punch things’, but some of them near useless while others are just annoying. Sure, they’re serviceable, but you’ll probably get fatigued of them before the game’s over. Also, a couple are near useless in the story missions, and almost as much so during free play.

The villain missions let you see the events that led to the levels you played in the other missions. You don’t get to play as every villain, but they’re all unlockable. Also, none of your boss fights here wear a cape. Most just don’t end with one. Most villains have at least two powers that the heroes don’t have access to, so the puzzles in these missions require different things of you, meaning the villain levels are a breath of fresh air.

Despite this being the darkest LEGO game, both thematically and visually (what with it all taking place in Gotham ‘the sun never shines’ City), the cutscenes retain their humour. Special mention goes out to Batman STILL being serious and competent in a LEGO game, while Robin goofs in the background. That said, Batman’ll still get a few laughs out of you. Another thing I love is that while Batman uses big beefy strikes and throws to fight, Robin uses more agile kicks and tumbles. This is a really nice characterful touch.

Damage wise, this is the best deal. roughly £10 both preowned and on Steam.


Finally, we reach the most different game of them all. Remember all that visceral combat in the Harry Potter films? How many times did that Herbology class seem so kick ass you couldn’t wait to play a game about it? Yeah, no and never right? This has been a problem with making Harry Potter games, but Telltale have cracked it with their mix of puzzling and platforming.

As you move through the films your characters learn more spells and gain a few abilities, and you have to use these in the most puzzle based LEGO game yet. The levels aren’t based on the easiest material to use and while there’s nothing really wrong with them, they do suffer from some quite extreme brevity when put alongside the other games. Still, the levels aren’t the real focus of the game. Instead, you get to use these magical powers to explore Hogwarts. As you go to more classes and gets more spells, you can interact with different parts of the castle to find collectibles and secret areas.

This can get frustrating at times because some parts require you having a character you haven’t found the token that lets you buy them, and you’ll have to scour some likely levels to find it, but for the most part the exploration is really fun in a ‘Gotta Catch ‘Em All’ kinda way. In terms of price, Steam’ll give it to you for £20, and preowned it’s between about £15-£20 depending on the platform.

OK so this was another long post, but I reviewed four whole games! C’mon people, work with me here! Anyways, I’d recommend any one of them as a fun distraction or to play with a younger sibling or a friend or partner who’s not particularly interested in games. They’re fun, simple and funny. If you don’t enjoy the LEGO games, you have no soul. Not judging, just saying.

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