Game Corner [Wolvie Wednesday]: X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Editon (Xbox 360)


When readers were first introduced to the character of James Howlett, better known by the names “Logan” and “Wolverine”, it was in the pages of The Incredible Hulk. From his first full debut in issue 181 all the way back in November 1974 to him officially joining the X-Men in 1975, the character has become one of Marvel Comics’ most recognisable and enduring superheroes, regularly featuring in solo and team comics, cartoons, movies, videogames, and countless other merchandise.


Uncaged Edition

Released:  May 2009
Developer: Raven Software
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, PlayStation 2 PlayStation 3 PlayStation Portable

The Background:
20th Century Fox profited greatly after acquiring the X-Men movie rights from Marvel Comics. Under their banner, the first three X-Men movies (Various, 2000 to 2006) made over $600 million and, eager to capitalise on that financial success and the popularity of their star, Hugh Jackman, they quickly began production of a spin-off film focusing solely on breakout star Wolverine. While X-Men: Origins Wolverine (Hood, 2009) proved a financial success, reviews ranged from mixed to scathing (unfairly, in my opinion) but the same couldn’t be said about the obligatory tie-in videogame. Developed by Raven Software, the game was a violent hack-and-slash adventure that expanded upon the film’s storyline using elements from the comic books and emphasised frenetic, gory violence very much like the God of War videogames (Santa Monica Studio/Various, 2005 to present). X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Uncaged Edition was highly regarded by critics and fans alike as one of the most enjoyable and entertaining videogame adaptations ever made.

The Plot:
Decades before he joined the X-Men, Logan (a Mutant with retractable bone claws, a superhuman healing factor, and heightened senses) was a part of William Stryker’s Team X and operated under the codename Wolverine. After many years working alongside his half-brother, Victor Creed, Logan walked away from his violent life only to be forced back into the fight (and to undergo a radical procedure to bond indestructible Adamantium to his skeleton) when Victor killed his lover.

Gameplay:
X-Men Origins: Wolverine is a hack-and-slash action brawler with very light platforming and puzzle elements that sees you cast into the role of the titular Mutant, who has the voice and likeness of X-Men star Huge Jacked-Man Hugh Jackman. The story can largely be summarised as taking “inspiration” from the movie, as the narrative constantly switches back to Africa to follow Wolverine’s final mission with Team X, and to the present day of the mid-1980s in a truncated and decidedly different, if similar, version of the events from the film. The gameplay is primarily geared towards slicing and dicing enemies with Wolverine’s bone or Adamantium claws in a variety of gruesome ways: Wolverine can attack with quick, light strikes with X, heavier attacks with Y (which can also be charged by holding the button), and string together successive presses of X and Y to pull off devastating combos (which you can review at any time from the pause menu) that turn Wolverine into a whirling dervish.

Lunge at enemies, unleash your Fury Attacks, and use Feral Senses spot environmental kill spots.

Wolverine can also jump with A, cling to ledges and climb certain walls, block, reflect, or counter incoming attacks with the Left Trigger, and grab enemies with B. Once grabbed, you can mash X to pummel them or toss them at other enemies (or into instant death environmental traps), or charge Y to perform a “Quick Kill”. Wolverine can also dash ahead with the Left Bumper but I found that this was a bit clunky and awkward as there is a delay between Wolverine stopping at the end of the dash and returning to a run, so it’s far better to press the Right Bumper and LB to perform a rolling dodge instead. One of Wolverine’s most useful skills, though, is his lunge attack. By holding RB to target enemies, you can then press LB to leap towards your target and attack them with X, B, or Y to quickly pounce across gaps and from target to target, which is endlessly satisfying when overrun by enemies. As you progress through the game, you’ll also unlock four Fury Attacks that can be unleashed when your Rage Meter is full and by pressing the Right Trigger and either A, B, X, or Y. Each of these can also be upgraded further and will see Wolverine fly into a berserker rage and becoming a spinning whirlwind of claws and death as you mash buttons to extend the duration of his onslaught. Wolverine also has the benefit of his heightened senses; by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), you’ll see the body heat of nearby enemies, climbable ledges and surfaces, footprints when tracking targets, and an ethereal blue light that points you in the right direction in a mechanic very similar to the Detective Vision from the Batman: Arkham games (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015), though much more basic.

Puzzles are pretty simple and amount to little more than button mashing or powering up consoles.

While the environments you find yourself in are quite linear, they are also made up of a lot of dark, grey corridors, so Wolverine’s Feral Senses are helpful for keeping you on track and spotting opportunities to instantly kill your opponents. I’m not sure why but the developers also allowed you to sheath and unsheathe your claws by pressing down on the D-pad; this doesn’t really seem to do anything but I guess it adds to the immersion of being Wolverine and, very rarely, you’ll be able to instantly kill enemies by sneaking up behind him and pressing either B or X. A good 90% of the game is made up of mindless hack-and-slash combat, usually restricting you to a set area and fending off waves of enemies who can seem never-ending at times. Other times, though, you’ll need to pull off some tricky jumps and awkward platforming; mostly, this isn’t a problem, but that are times when you have to jump from platforms and ledges or ropes and it can be very difficult to make even simple jumps thanks to the dodgy camera and invisible barriers nudging you to your death. Wolverine will also have to zip down wires to cross gaps, precariously walk across balance beams and girders, and occasionally pull or push large objects (usually crates or jeeps) by holding B. Other times, you’ll need to mash A to turn a wheel to open a door or find a crank or power source and carry it to a power node by picking it up with B. It’s all very simple and puzzles generally don’t become more taxing than that, standing on pressure pads, or scaling towers. Given his Mutant abilities, Wolverine is extremely durable, able to sustain prolonged gunfire and attacks and continue fighting. Your health bar will automatically regenerate if you avoid attacks for a few seconds but you can still be “captured” if your bar is completely drained and your vital organs are damaged so, while you can largely leap head-first into situations and groups of enemies, it’s best to keep an eye out from spiked traps and avoid being set on fire or pummelled by larger enemies.

Gameplay is mixed up a bit by a few different sections and mechanics, some more welcome than others.

Wolverine’s biggest danger in this regard is falling while trying to jump or navigating across bottomless pits or large chasms; if you fall, you’ll have to restart from your last checkpoint but, thankfully, checkpoints are quite numerous and generally always come right before a tricky situation. Gameplay is further mixed up by a few quick-time events (QTEs), mainly when opening doors, and slightly different camera angles and chase sequences, such as when Wolverine has to race down the spill well of the Alkali Lake facility and leap from jeep to jeep, dispatching enemies as a wall of water comes inexorably after him. Other times, helicopters will fire at you relentlessly and you’ll have to dart between platforms and cover to avoid fire or frantically run and jump across surfaces that crumble beneath your feet. In another mission, you have to lunge at enemies on speedboats down a racing river; if you fall in the water, you’ll have to restart but you eventually commandeer a machine gun turret and can fire wildly at your pursuers by holding RT. One particularly annoying mission has you dodging between metal shields as automatic turrets fire at you; you’ll need to activate a console to put the shields in place to stave off the heavy ordinance and use similar consoles to position teleporters around the sentinel facility.

Graphics and Sound:
Generally speaking, X-Men Origins: Wolverine looks pretty good; environments can be a bit bland and drab at times but you’re constantly hopping back to the jungles of Africa, which helps add a bit of visual variety to the game even if the environments remain quite linear and have very few opportunities for you to explore in a meaningful way. Character models are decent enough but the developers clearly put the most time and effort into the titular character; no other character from the movie save Victor Creed bares the voice or likeness of their actor, which is disappointing, and most of the enemies you encounter are largely generic soldiers with little to really make them stand out. As mentioned, Wolverine spends a lot of his time flashing back to Africa; here; you’ll run through the ruin-strewn jungle and encounter a number of machete-wielding natives and ancient booby traps and such. It’s a stark contrast to the boring, grey corridors of Alkali Lake (a location I could live with never having to see again) but the game claws back (no pun intended) some visual variety in the Sentinel facility and the casino where you pursue and battle Remy Lebeau/Gambit. These locations are much more interesting to look at, being a vast technological complex full of intricate machinery and Sentinel parts and a neon-drenched skyscraper that sees you climbing horizontally and vertically, respectively.

Environments can be dark, drab, and bland but some manage to stand out regardless.

It’s a shame, then, that the game doesn’t change the location of its finale, which sees you back in dull, concrete surroundings on Three Mile Island, but I did enjoy the visual of battling Wade Wilson/Weapon XI/Deadpool atop the cooling tower like in the movie. The game’s story is largely told during gameplay using the in-game graphics, often with Wolverine conversing with his superiors or allies via an earpiece (again, very similar to the Batman: Arkham games). There are some CG cutscenes here, though, which are quite blurry and muddy as you might expect from an Xbox 360 title. Similarly, the music isn’t really anything to shout about; it’s not exactly memorable or catchy and the only thing really salvaging the audio presentation is Jackman’s unparalleled work as the titular character. There was, however, quite a bit of slowdown whenever there was a lot happening onscreen and the game doesn’t do a very good job of masking its loading times; often, the game stops completely and you’re left with a “Streaming…” message while it loads the next area, which interrupted the flow of the game considerably at times. You’ll find some interesting audio logs and references to (and cameos from) some recognisable X-Men characters, though, and the final cutscene even places Wolverine in the “Days of Future Past” (Claremont, et al, 1981) timeline.

The game’s biggest appeal is in its graphic violence and gore in depicting Wolverine’s brutal nature.

Where the game excels, though, is in its unrelenting gore and violence; ironically, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is more violent and uncompromising than the film it’s based on, meaning that kids who enjoyed the film probably weren’t old enough to play the game at the time! As Wolverine takes damage, his skin and clothing is torn and shredded, revealing his Adamantium skeleton, which is both gruesome and fantastic to see. The wounds heal up over time but you’ll often be running around with a fully metallic arm or half a metal skull, which is something we really haven’t seen in the films yet. When attacking enemies, Wolverine can slice off limbs, impale them on the environment, and set them alight or electrocute them with environmental hazards and you’ll often see dismembered bodies writhing on the floor in agony and heads flying from their shoulders. One of the most brutal kills in the game comes when Wolverine rips a helicopter pilot out of his cockpit and forces him head-first into the blades! There’s no nonsensical censoring in this game; it’s bloody, violent action all the way through and this really helps to make the repetitive hack-and-slash gameplay more interesting and entertaining.

Enemies and Bosses:
As mentioned previously, the majority of the enemies you’ll encounter in the game are machine gun-toting soldiers; when in Africa, you’ll fight wild natives who wield machetes but you’ll also battle some rather generic-looking robots when breaching the Sentinel facility. It doesn’t take long for you to encounter more formidable variants of these enemies, such as the Machete Champion (who can set you ablaze), shield carrying soldiers (whose guard you must break with a charged heavy attack), soldiers packing grenade launchers (whose projectiles you must reflect back), and even invisible enemies (“Ghosts”) who carry shotguns and are be dispatched by grabbing them and tapping Y to blow their heads off. You’ll also come up against more monstrous enemies such as the lava-and-rock-covered Leviathan and the Weaponized Experiment Neurodindritic Incident Gamma Zero (W.E.N.D.I.G.O.) prototypes; these are best attacked with your Fury Attacks as they charge at you, deliver big damage with their swings, and can catch you in mid-air as you lunge if you don’t get around behind them. As you damage the Leviathan, it’ll protect itself with tougher rock and start tossing and smashing boulders at you so you’ll have to lunge at it whenever possible and you’ll soon be faced with two to four of these enemies at a time so it’s best to get a rhythm on.

You’ll be leaping at a lot of helicopters but especially to bring down the sharp-shooting Agent Zero.

You’ll also have to fight “Jungle Mutants” like Shifter, a blue energy being who teleports about the place, traps you in electrical prisms of light, and can duplicate itself (but is, thankfully, easily dispatched with environmental kills). The first time you encounter these enemies, they act as sub-bosses but quickly become regular enemies and you’ll often be faced with a variety of different opponents and forced to adapt to each on the fly. A recurring element in the game are the helicopters that are sent to bring you down; at least three times you’ll have to outrun these pursuers and then lunge at them, moving the left analogue stick to avoid being shot at and smashing your way into the cockpit with X or Y to bring them down. There’s a particularly gruelling battle that has you dodging helicopter fire as four W.E.N.D.I.G.O.s attack you at once but, thankfully, enemies can damage each other so you can position the beasts into each other’s attacks and the bullets from the helicopter. Prior to this battle, you’ll also have to contend with a pretty unique switch in perspective as David Nord/Agent Zero takes shots at you with his sniper rifle and you control Wolverine from the perspective of Nord’s sniper scope.

Creed is a far less pivotal or threatening figure in the game despite being fought twice.

The first real boss you’ll battle is Victor, Logan’s stepbrother (though this plot point, like a lot of plot points from the film, is nowhere near as relevant or emphasised as in the movie). You’ll fight Victor twice throughout the game, with the first bout taking place in and outside of a bar and the second inside of Stryker’s island base, just like in the film. Victor mirrors many of your own abilities and can lunge, swipe, and claw at you; he can also grab you to deliver combos and you’re in just as much danger of being impaled on the environment throughout the game as he and your other enemies are. Still, Victor isn’t much of a threat; although he boasts the same healing factor as Wolverine, I never actually noticed his health regenerating in either fight and it’s pretty simple to lunge at him, block and counter his attacks, and either use the environment or your Fury Attacks to whittle his health down and defeat him in both battles.

The Sentinel poses a formidable threat and must be attacked both on the ground and in mid-air!

As you might expect given that you end up in a Sentinel facility, you’ll have to battle with a Sentinel prototype as well. The first time you encounter the Sentinel, it’s in pieces and you have to solve a bit of a track puzzle to position its hand in place to attack its head but, despite your efforts, Bolivar Trask activates the prototype and you have to fight it outside the facility. The Sentinel is suitably massive and stomps around the place, leaps at you to cause shockwaves, fires laser blasts from its hand, and grabs you to blast you with its eyebeams in a homage to that iconic “Days of Future Past” cover art. To battle the Sentinel, you need to attack its feet and hands; this is best done by luring it towards the electrified panels on the floor, which will stun it for longer (though it’s difficult to tell that you’re actually dealing damage to it because of its high health bar). Once you damage it enough, it’ll take off and you’ll have to freefall down to it, dodging or ploughing through debris and guiding Wolverine to its thrusters. Eventually, you’ll do enough damage that Wolverine targets its main power source, which requires you to mash B to rip open its chest plate before it can blast you.

While the Blob is simple, Gambit leads you on an elaborate chase and is the game’s most frustrating boss.

Immediately after felling the Sentinel, you’ll fight with Fred Dukes/The Blob; unlike in the movie, this fight takes place in a supermarket full of destructible elements. The Blob is very similar to the Leviathan and W.E.N.D.I.G.O. enemies and will charge at you and repel your lunges with his drum-like belly. Once you damage him enough, though, he’ll try to squash you with a belly flop, which stuns him long enough for you to lunge or mount him and claw at him and force him into walls to bring him down. Immediately after that fight, you’ll have to battle what was, for me, the most annoying, frustrating, and long-winded boss of the entire game: Gambit. Gambit attacks with his staff and kinetically-charged playing cards, which must be countered and reflected back, respectively, to stun him. What makes this boss so annoying, though, is that you fight him a whole bunch of times and are forced to chase through up and through a skyscraper. Eventually, you battle him on giant neon letters, lunging at him when he charges and destroys them and mashing A when he tosses you over the edge. This was, honestly, the most exasperating part of the entire game as each fight with Gambit just went on and on and it seemed never-ending; of all the characters and Mutants in the game, I never would have expected Gambit to be so versatile, resilient, and challenging!

Deadpool will push your button mashing skills to breaking point!

After the finale battle with Victor, you are forced to battle Deadpool at Three Mile Island. If you haven’t seen the film, you might be a bit confused about who Deadpool is since he barely appears at all in the game’s story but he’s a pretty formidable boss in his own right. Fighting him is, essentially, the same as fighting Victor except that you’ll damn near break your wrist trying to mash A following a counter of his blades and it’s a two-stage boss fight. In the first, you fight him in an ordinary area of the island, avoiding his spinning blades and jumping attacks and whittling his health down with your Fury Attacks but, in the second, you battle him atop a cooling tower. Here, he demonstrates his ability to teleport and will blast at you with optic blasts that can destroy parts of the environment. Still, he’s pretty easy to defeat; you simply block his attacks, unleash your Fury Attacks, and lunge at him after he fires his eye beams. When you’ve dealt enough damage, the QTE becomes easier to pull off and is a great way to deal additional damage; while Deadpool’s health doesn’t regenerate during the fight, it will fill up at least once, which can make this rather long-winded and frustrating but it’s nothing compared to fighting Gambit!

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you battle enemies and destroy crates, you’ll earn red Rage Orbs to fill up your Rage Meter and experience points (XP) that will see you level-up in time. Levelling up increases your health meter and earns you Skill Points, which you can spend in the “Character” sub-menu. Here, you can increase your maximum health, Rage Meter, and the damage and duration and effectiveness of your Fury Attacks. Each one will cost you more Skill Points as you upgrade them, though, so it’s best to either stock up or focus on one attribute to upgrade at a time. You can also boost your health and earn additional Skill Points by finding power-ups hidden in each environment, generally just off to one side or the opposite way from where you’re being directed to go. Every time you fight and defeat enemies, you’ll also fill up a “Reflex” meter in the Character sub-menu; when each of these is mastered, you’ll find that you deal more damage to, and have a greater defence against, the game’s enemies, which adds an extra incentive to combat. Finally, you’ll also find “Mutagens” hidden throughout the game; up to three of these can eventually be equipped and each one can also by upgraded further to increase you damage, Fury Attacks, or regenerative capabilities as well as boosting the speed which you build up your Reflexes.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements for you to earn throughout the game, the majority of which you’ll get just by playing through the story mode. You get Achievements for killing up to 2000 enemies, performing lunges and Quick Kills, tossing enemies from high ledges, and clearing each chapter of the main story. As you explore your environment, you’ll also find dead bodies and acquire Dog Tags for XP and which count towards Achievements and you’ll need to venture off the beaten path a little bit or attack enemies and bosses in specific ways to get some of the more obscure Achievements but you can track your progress towards them at any time from the “Statistics” menu. When you first start the game, you can select to play on “Easy” or “Normal” difficulty; you may as well pick “Easy” as the only difficulty-based Achievement comes after you clear the game and unlock “Hard” mode. Once you beat the game, though, you can replay any mission you like and pick a costume to wear beforehand but you’ll lose all of your saved progress and upgrades if you want to get the “Walking Death” Achievement so I’d recommend clearing the game and mopping up any Achievements you’ve missed tied to kills and Dog Tags and such before playing on Hard.

Unlock some cool classic costumes and beat the game to access a harder difficulty mode.

Also hidden throughout the game are a number of different Wolverine action figures; finding enough of these will unlock a special challenge from the main menu. Here, you’re pitted against three different Wolverines and, when you defeat them, you’ll unlock a new costume to wear including Wolverine’s classic brown-and-tan outfit, his yellow-and-blue spandex, and his awesome black-and-grey X-Force outfit. There are actually more action figures than you need but collecting them only awards you an XP boost rather than the likes of Wolverine’s Weapon-X outfit or movie costume, and there is a fourth challenge available but it seems that this was a Gamestop exclusive unlockable that would give you access to the X-Men’s Danger Room and it doesn’t appear to be accessible now. Sadly, that’s about it as far as bonus content goes; you can enter some codes to make the game easier but you won’t be able to get Achievements with these activated and it’s a shame that there aren’t more costumes to unlock.

The Summary:
I was very much looking forward to playing X-Men Origins: Wolverine; I’d heard time and time again that it was one of the best licensed videogames out there and actually better than the movie (which I have always considered to be pretty enjoyable and under-rated). However, I was surprised to find that all of the praise I had heard about the game didn’t relate to it doing a very good job of recreating the events of the movie. To be fair, a lot of licensed videogames falter a bit in this regard but X-Men Origins: Wolverine does a pretty lacklustre job of rushing through the film’s story, glossing over Team X and Wolverine’s relationship with the team and his brother, and simultaneously paying lip service to the film’s narrative while also awkwardly staying beholden to it in other ways. The game excels when it veers from the film’s plot, to be honest, and I can’t help but think it would have been better for it to act as a prequel and sequel to the movie rather than actually including events from the film. The sections in Africa are much more visually interesting than those in Alkali Lake (even though the developers tried to mix things up a bit by stripping you of your powers here) and I’d rather infiltrate a Sentinel production plant than visit Stryker’s bland island. This would also have given the developers the opportunity to include more characters, enemies, and elements from the comic books; they hint at this with the final cutscene but fall back on disposable grunts and characters from the movie rather than the likes of Mister Sinister or Omega Red. Thanks to its gore, violence, and frenetic gameplay, X-Men Origins: Wolverine is definitely a fun, if monotonous, experience; it’s probably the best and most accurate videogame portrayal of Wolverine ever made and is worth a play if only to see him hack up enemies and be stripped to his metal skeleton but there’s not a lot in terms of replayability and will probably be a mediocre distraction for fans of the hack-and-slash genre.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of the videogame adaptation of X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Did you prefer it to the movie? How do you feel it compares to other hack-and-slash videogames? Were you a fan of the gratuitous violence and gore? What did you think to the game’s interpretation of the film’s plot; were you also a bit perturbed by the truncated narrative or did you prefer the alterations presented in the game? Which of the bosses was your favourite or most frustrating? Which of Wolverine’s costumes was your default? Which X-Men or Wolverine videogame is your favourite and why? How are you celebrating Wolverine’s debut this month? Whatever your thoughts on X-Men Origins: Wolverine, or Wolverine and the X-Men in general, drop a comment down below.

Game Corner: Rambo: The Video Game (Xbox 360)

Released: 21 February 2014
Developer: Teyon
Also Available For: Arcade, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
In 1972, David Morrell’s First Blood was published; a harrowing tale of the horrors of the Vietnam War, the book was well-received upon release eventually led to a live-action adaptation directed by Ted Kotcheff and starring Sylvester Stallone. A commercial success, First Blood (Kotcheff, 1982) is widely regarded as one of the most enduring and influential movies of its genre and was followed by a series of successful and popular action films that helped make Stallone a household name. John Rambo had featured in a number of videogames, most of which were based on the more action-orientated sequels rather than the more introspective First Blood, before Reef Entertainment acquired the rights to the franchise in 2011. Hoping to capitalise on the recent success of Rambo (Stallone, 2008) and the upcoming The Expendables 2 (West, 2012), Reef opted to use voice clips and dialogue ripped straight from the movies for their rail-shooter rather than record new dialogue with existing actors or soundalikes. This was one of many criticisms levelled against the game upon release; critics were equally unimpressed with the game’s over-reliance upon quick-time events (QTEs), the lacklustre enemy intelligence, and the game’s short length and Rambo: The Video Game was generally regarded as being a disappointing and mediocre use of the license. However, since today marks the anniversary of First Blood’s release, this seems like the perfect time to take a look at this poorly-received shooter and see if it truly deserves its overwhelmingly negative reputation.

The Plot:
Rambo: The Video Game sees players take control of John J. Rambo (and one of his allies, if you have a friend to play alongside) and reenact key events from the first three movies. This sees Rambo enduring horrendous torture in Vietnam, battling bigotry in Hope, Washington, infiltrate the Vietnam jungle to rescue a number of captured soldiers, and finally stand against a Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Gameplay:
Rambo: The Video Game is a first-person rail shooter that places you into the role of Rambo (or the likes of Colonel Sam Trautman and Co Bao) and has you playing through a number of missions that are either based on key moments from the first three films or directly recreate some of the most iconic moments of Rambo’s film career. Since it’s a rail shooter, your control and movements options are a little limited; Rambo moves as the story dictates and you’re left controlling the aiming reticule with the right stick and holding the left stick to take cover from fire. The Right Trigger will see you fire one of your two main weapons, which can be switched with either Y or the directional pad (D-pad), and you can occasionally use an alternate fire mode with the Left Bumper.

Shoot down your enemies to enter a Wrath state and unleash the full force of Rambo’s rage.

Rambo can reload his weapon with either X or the Right Bumper; this will bring up a small reloading wheel and you’ll need to press the button again to reload faster to grant yourself additional ammo (though your overall supply is unlimited). Press it too soon or too late and your gun will jam, giving you less ammo and slowing down your reload time, thus leaving you vulnerable. LB and the B button also allow you to throw one of your limited supply of grenades, while the Left Trigger provides you with an aiming lock to target specific enemies, and you can also use the D-pad to cycle through different types of arrowheads once they’ve been unlocked. As Rambo kills enemies, scoring headshots or disarming them or blowing them to pieces by shooting explosive barrels, he’ll not only earn points but also fill up his “Wrath” bar. When a segment of this is filled, players can press X to enter “Wrath” mode, which slows down time, highlights enemies using their body heat, and refills Rambo’s health for every kill he performs during this limited burst of rage. Rambo: The Video Game allows you to play missions in three different difficulty settings: Private, Sergeant, and Green Beret; each one tweaks the aggressiveness and competence of the enemies, provides a different number of checkpoints, and makes quick-time events (QTEs) either easier or harder. If you’re playing on the easiest setting, you’ll be blessed with an unlimited number of checkpoints but won’t earn as many points for your playthrough; Sergeant or higher will limited your checkpoints to five and three, respectively, and end your game if you run out, though you can lower the difficulty setting from the death screen if you’re having a hard time. As you gun down enemies, you’ll rack up a score multiplier, which is key to increasing your final ranking at the end of each mission; you’ll also gain extra points for your accuracy, headshots, the difficulty setting, and how many deaths you suffered during the mission, promoting more efficient and calculated playthroughs on higher difficulty levels in order to level Rambo up, gain Skill Points, and upgrade his stats and unlock Perks and increase his combat proficiency.

QTEs, stealth sections, and explosive vehicle gameplay help add some much needed variety.

However, it’s not just about going in all guns blazing; Rambo will also need to take up his bow and arrow or his iconic knife and sneak through the woods, jungle, or under cover of darkness to take out enemies undetected. This means completing a number of QTEs, which award additional points for pressing the onscreen prompt at the last minute or tapping the button as fast as possible; while QTE time is severely reduced on higher difficulties, the onscreen prompts are always the same so you can simply memorise their order and concentrate on your timing. Sometimes these will crop up mid-mission to have you avoid incoming bullets or mortars, and one particular mission offers you the choice between a stealthy route or a more action-orientated path. You’ll also come across “Cautious Enemies”, indicated by a ! prompt, who will one-shot you if they spot you; enemies can also lean over or shoot through your cover and be bolstered by “Commanders”. Gameplay is given a little variety by the few times you take control of a mounted gun or a helicopter to wreak havoc on the immediate area. These sections are timed and involve blasting at the Hope police station, assaulting a Vietnam base from above, destroying mines and boats while sailing down a river, or blasting away at Soviet forces and their vehicles. These moments of intense action are where the game really excels, though the controls are a little slippery and it can be difficult to aim at your targets with the crosshair slipping all over the screen. This crops up again as Rambo is tasked with disarming and wounding Hope’s police officers for extra points; you can kill them as normal, but you get more points for disarming the cops, which is difficult to do without taking a lot of damage so it’s probably best to turn off the aiming assist option for this mission to make things easier. While sneaking through the Soviet base in Afghanistan, you’ll also have to follow onscreen prompts to arm explosives and can shoot at glowing sections of the cavernous environment to crush your enemies under boulders. If you’re playing alone, you can share your ammo with Co Bao in Vietnam by pressing Y at the right time and she’ll help you out with cover fire, and you’ll even have to take out snipers from afar in Afghanistan. Although the game starts of pretty simply, with you blasting at Viet Cong and diving to cover to reload and catch your breath, things quickly ramp up and get very frustrating and unfair as combinations of the game’s most formidable and annoying enemies ambush you, leaving you on the back foot if you’re out of grenades; things are made all the more maddening by some wonky hit detection than can see your point-blank shots miss or enemies hitting you through normally impenetrable cover.

Graphics and Sound:
I’ve played Rambo: The Video Game in the arcades before; there, on a big screen with a real (albeit plastic) gun in your hand, the game looks and plays pretty well for a standard light gun shooter. However, on home consoles, the game is pretty much an embarrassment from top to bottom; while the missions do a decent enough job of bringing to life the dark, dank jungles of Vietnam and recreating the town of Hope and the Soviet cave from the films, there’s a lot of graphical pop up and corners cut here as it’s simply a rail shooter and you’re not really meant to be stopping and taking in the details around you. Similarly, enemy models are decent enough, but ragdoll all over the place at times and you’ll see the same enemy types again and again with very little variation.

While locations are okay, the character models, music, and audio dialogue are all absolutely dreadful.

The actual character models are pretty laughable; Rambo himself looks more like an off-model action figure than the surly Stallone thanks to his ridiculous mane of a haircut. Trautman doesn’t look too bad, but hardly any of the corrupt cops from Hope resemble their onscreen actors. The game’s story is framed as a series of flashbacks at Rambo’s “funeral” as some nameless, unknown military man gives those in attendance a rundown on Rambo’s career and reputation in order to afford him some anonymity for his excursion into Afghanistan. This allows the game to recreate the most memorable moments of the films with the absolute bare minimum of effort; the music is dreadful, repeating in embarrassing loops mid-mission, but it’s the voice acting where the game really falls flat. Stallone and Richard McKenna’s audio are ripped right from the films, making their words distorted and wildly inconsistent and hilariously out of context at times, and only emphasising the cheapness of the title.

Enemies and Bosses:
Rambo will gun down a whole host of nameless, faceless, interchangeable groups of enemies themed after each of the game’s missions: Viet Cong, Hope’s police department, and Soviet forces all try to fill Rambo with holes, popping up from the background, the sides of the screen, and rolling in to take shots at you. Enemies make use of cover to avoid your shots, can have their hats shot off, and some can even be disarmed to render them harmless to you but, for the most part, they are easily offed with just a few shots. Soon enough, you’ll encounter more formidable and annoying enemies, such as grenadiers (who take cover and toss grenades you can shoot out of the air), “Heavy” enemies covered in armour and vulnerable only in their face masks, and “Flamers” who wield flamethrowers and force you to shoot at their flame tank. Commanders will bolster the morale and efficiency of all onscreen enemies, so you should prioritise taking them out, though you must duck behind cover when turrets are rolled out into the field as they’ll shred you pretty quickly. Snipers, armoured enemies, and groups of these foes can whittle your health down in no time at all so it’s best to make use over cover, shoot any nearby explosives, and try to get off some one-shot headshots to off your enemies as quickly as possible.

Some familiar faces and final encounters close out each of Rambo’s explosive adventures.

Each of the game’s missions includes a timed sequence where Rambo must destroy parts of the environment, usually by making use of a large cannon or a helicopter but, in Afghanistan, you’ll also be hounded by helicopters and tanks that you cannot destroy and must either avoid by taking cover or run past by eliminating all onscreen enemies (and objective the game makes frustratingly vague) and completing some QTEs. Each mission culminates in something that can be generously described as a boss battle; after laying waste to the Hope police station, you’ll need to avoid Sheriff Teasle’s gunfire by pressing the onscreen prompts when it’s safe to move around, then desperately shoot at him when he peeks out at you from his elevated position. After laying waste to his base with your explosive arrows, you’ll find Lieutenant Tay far less of a challenge as you simply have to fire an arrow at him to blow him up, but you’ll need to take the controls of a helicopter and frantically fire your bullets and rockets at an enemy chopper to finish Rambo’s redemption in Vietnam. Finally, after a harrowing rescue mission in Afghanistan that sees you struggling past formidable and frustrating groups of various enemies, you’ll take the controls of a tank and get into a ground-to-air firefight with Colonel Alexei Zaysen. Jeeps and soldiers run around distracting you, but your primary concerns are Zaysen’s missiles and the tanks, which can severely reduce your vehicle’s health and destroy it in one shot, respectively. You’re thus forced to frantically fire your main gun and your cannon like a madman, desperately hoping to shoot down the missiles and destroy your targets before they can do too much damage, before finally ending Zaysen’s threat in this surprisingly aggravating final showdown.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Aside from your Wrath state, there aren’t any in-game power-ups to make use of beyond being tossed a grenade or making use of explosive barrels or other environmental hazards. You don’t need to worry about picking up ammo and health is restored in Wrath mode, so your primary focus should be on staying alive, killing as many enemies as possible, and keeping your multiplier chain and accuracy high. This will net you the Skill Points you need to level-up and improve your efficiency; these can be spent upgrading your resistance to damage, your grenade inventory, the power of both light and heavy weapons, and extending the duration of your Wrath bar. When you level-up high enough, and complete certain requirements (known as “Trautman Challenges”), you’ll unlock additional weapons to take with you into each mission, which can definitely turn the tide in your favour in the game’s tougher stages. You’ll also unlock up to three Perk points and a variety of Perks that allow you to perform perfect QTEs or gain increased health and ammo while reloading or killing enemies in Wrath, for example.

Additional Features:
There are twenty-seven Achievements on offer in Rambo: The Video Game; the vast majority of these are tied to you getting at least a two-star rank on every mission, which will require you to beat the game in at least Sergeant mode, while others include maintaining a high chain multiplier, using every weapon in the game, completing it on Green Beret mode, and killing a total of 3000 enemies. Sadly, none of this is easily accomplished and meeting these criteria quickly becomes a very laborious and needlessly frustrating process as achieving even a two-star rank can be more trouble than it’s worth at times. The game can also be played in two-player co-op, which is very much appreciated and probably makes some of the tougher sections a bit easier, but there’s no head-to-head multiplayer mode and Trautman’s “challenges” amount to fulfilling certain objectives (which you can’t review in-mission) to unlock new weapons. If you simply must have more Rambo, there was some downloadable content released for the game that included some additional missions and Achievements, but I can safely say that I won’t be checking this out any time soon given how infuriating this game can be at times.  

The Summary:
I’d heard nothing but bad things about Rambo: The Video Game; however, even after my last few attempts to play the arcade version resulted in my coins being eaten by the machine, I maintained that it would be an inoffensive enough rail gun shooter to blast through and rack up some easy Achievements. Instead, what I got was an absolute slog of a gaming experience; bland environments which, while somewhat faithful to the movies, are way too dark, unimpressive and frustrating enemies, and a lack of variety really bring down the otherwise enjoyable enough gameplay. The stealth and QTE sections are okay, if painfully simple, and the parts where you’re in control of heavy ordinance and vehicles can be a lot of fun, but the presentation is just so cheap and rushed. The muted dialogue ripped right from the movies is the most glaring offense, of course, but the lack of gameplay options, the stringent criteria for unlocking stuff, and the odd little glitches and annoyances peppered through the game definitely don’t make it worth investing your time and money in when there are far better first-person shooters out there. It’s a shame as there’s definitely a lot of potential here, but the execution screams “cheap cash grab” and you really won’t be missing out on all that much if you skip this title, which I’d argue even die-hard Rambo fans would struggle to find enjoyable.

My Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Terrible

Have you ever played Rambo: The Video Game? If so, did you enjoy it or were you as disappointed by it as I and many others were? What did you think to the Wrath system and the recreation of the film’s moments? Were you also disturbed by the poor quality character models and audio clips? Which Rambo videogame, or videogame appearance, is your favourite? Which of the Rambo films is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Rambo, drop them below or leave a comment on my social media.

Game Corner: Dead Space (Xbox 360)

Released: 13 October 2008
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox Series S/X (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
Dead Space was the creation of Glen Schofield, who was inspired by the likes of Silent Hill (Konami/Various, 1999 to 2012) and Resident Evil (Capcom/Various, 1996 to present) and attracted the attention of a small, but committed, team of developers and Electronic Art’s (EA) Redwood Studios. The team worked tirelessly to put together a proof of concept and push the game within the company, and constantly tweaked the different gameplay mechanics to keep things action-packed and tense. Crucially, Dead Space opted to forgo a traditional heads-up display (HUD) and render cutscenes and story sequences using the in-game engine to avoid breaking the player’s immersion, and combat became more about dismembering enemies rather than mindlessly blasting away. Dead Space is an extremely well-regarded title; reviewers praised the innovative mechanics and horrifying atmosphere, though the story faced some criticism. Still, the game sold over one million copies and kicked off a successful new survival-horror franchise that came to be comprised of animated tie-ins, sequels, and even a next generation remake.

The Plot:
When a massive deep-space mining ship goes dark after unearthing a strange artifact on a distant planet., troubled engineer Isaac Clarke joins the repair mission, only to uncover a nightmarish bloodbath as the ship’s crew have been horribly slaughtered and infected by alien scourge known as Necromorphs.

Gameplay:
Dead Space is a third-person, survival/horror action shooter with an emphasis on atmospheric horror, light puzzle solving, and exploration. Players are placed into the mute boots of engineer Isaac, who spends pretty much the entire game garbed in a steampunk-like work suit and hiding behind a glowing helmet. Isaac comes armed with a Plasma Cutter by default, but has a few options available to him when it comes to combat: players can hold down the Left Trigger to enter aiming mode (and, crucially, can move while aiming and shooting) and press the Right Trigger to fire their weapon. Outside of aiming mode, you can press RT to throw a slow, clunky, and awkward melee attack to fend off Necromorphs, hold the Left Bumper to jog along a bit faster, to press the Right Bumper to deliver a big stomp to downed Necromorphs or break open crates. There’s no jump or dodge function, but you can press A to interact with consoles or shake off Necromorphs when they grab or claw at you; providing you have some Med Packs on hand, you can heal yourself by pressing X, the directional pad (D-pad) functions as a shortcut to your weapons and allows you to quickly switch between up to four guns on the fly, and you can reload by pressing LT and A or switch to an alternative fire mode by pressing LT and RB.

Dismember enemies, move objects with Kinesis, or freeze them in place with Stasis.

While most of this is standard third-person fare, Isaac also acquires a couple of “modules” that allow him to perform a few unique tricks: You can activate the Kinesis Module by holing LT and pressing B, which will allow you to move certain obstacles out of the way, activate certain consoles, and move platforms and doors to progress further and solve problem. While you can use this as much as you like, the Stasis Module is limited by a meter than can only be replenished at refill stations scattered around the game’s locations or with a pickup. Stasis can be used to freeze enemies in place for a limited time, slow fans or other hazards, and is crucial to keeping you safe from attacks or the game’s many instant-kill traps. Unlike many other videogames, Isaac’s health, ammo, and Stasis meter are all displayed either on his suit or on his weapon, a system that easily allows you to see how well you’re doing or when you need to reload or replenish your meters. You can access your inventory, map, and current objectives by pressing the ‘Back’ button (though this won’t pause the game) and are given the option of dropping items if your inventory is full, or dropping them in a safe at Store stations found around the game’s environments. While the map isn’t too clear, you can press in the right analogue stick at any time to drop a light that will briefly point you in the right direction, which is super helpful; slightly less helpful is the abundance of text and holographic imagery that appears onscreen to advance the story and mask the game’s loading screens, though this does flesh out the story and point you towards your next objective. Although you have to manually save the game at save stations, the game does actually contain checkpoints; so, if you die halfway between save points, you’ll respawn pretty close to where you were split in two by a Necromorph.

Puzzles involve activating or repairing consoles, avoiding hazards, and eliminating Necromorphs.

Dead Space’s story is split into twelve chapters, with each one separated by a tram-like system around the ship, and can initially be played on Easy, Normal, or Hard difficulty settings, with additional difficulties being unlocked after you complete the story. You cannot replay previous chapters at will, so if you miss any of the pick-ups or collectibles, you’re either going to have to start over or make multiple save files. For the most part, it’s pretty simple to figure out where to go and what you need to do but the camera is placed very close to Isaac at times; when aiming, I found that his character model took up quite a bit of the screen, which made it difficult to get off a good shot (something that’s pretty important considering you need to dismember the Necromorphs to kill them rather than shooting at their bodies). Isaac’s objectives don’t tend to get more complicated than exploring a foreboding area of the ship, fending off Necromorphs, and recovering key items such as a key card, a piece of machinery, or other object and bringing it (or them) back to another area or non-playable character (NPC) to repair a console, machine, or other part of the ship or progress further. Sometimes, areas will get locked down as a quarantine is put into effect and you’ll need to hold out against waves of Necromorphs; other times, the ship decompresses or starts exploding around you; but, mostly, you’ll need to use Stasis or Kinesis to slow down hazards, move platforms, or activate switches to get closer to your objective. While you’re often tasked with moving big batteries around with Kinesis to power up lifts, you’ll also need to kill special Necromorphs that are poisoning the air in the botanical gardens, watch out for air vents, whipping power lines, and laser cutters that threaten to splatter or skewer you or your enemies, clear an area of radioactive material in order to restore gravity and power, and dash through (or shield yourself) from bursts of flame while shooting electrical panels to open doors.

Watch your air supply in a vacuum, jump around in zero gravity, and blast asteroids with gun turrets.

Indeed, a prominent aspect of Dead Space is the presence of zero gravity areas; here, you need to hold down LT and press Y to leap across the environment, often while fending off Necromorphs, moving items with Kinesis or activating consoles. You can’t jump to every part of the environment, and the game will notify you when you’re trying to jump to the wrong part of the floor (or ceiling), and it can be a bit disorientating trying to direct yourself in these areas, though they do help to break up the gameplay a bit. There are also many sections that take place either in a vacuum or out in the depths of space; here, sounds are suitably muted, your flamethrower won’t work, and you are in a race against time to cross through the vacuum to the next air lock before your oxygen supply runs out. You can replenish your oxygen supply at refill stations or with items, though, and increase your capacity using Power Nodes; sometimes, you’ll have to deal with zero gravity and a vacuum at the same time. A little more variety is added to the game in a couple of sections where Isaac takes the controls of a massive gun turret to fire at incoming asteroids or a gigantic Necromorph using LT and RT (both separately and at the same time) to keep the ship from being destroyed, but don’t get too trigger happy or you’ll have to wait for the turret to cool down from overheating.

Graphics and Sound:
If I had to use one word to describe Dead Space, “atmospheric” would spring instantly to mind. Players spend the majority of the game exploring a deep space mining vessel, the Ishimura, which has been absolutely wrecked by the outbreak of the Necromorph virus. Dead bodies, blood stains, claw marks, and even dismembered NPCs are all over the place; sometimes they’re still alive and shoot themselves in a frenzy, other times they’re torn apart by Necromorphs, and there’s one harrowing moment where it looks as though a mass suicide has taken place. Ominous words written in blood can be seen everywhere and you can never be too careful when turning a corner as Necromorphs have a nasty tendency to burst out from air vents, glass capsules, or from every nook and cranny to attack you. Sometimes, a massive tentacle will grab at you and drag you around by the ankle, forcing you to blast at its tumour-like weak spot, and visibility it often low thanks to a foreboding darkness, intermittent lighting and power failures, and bursts of flames and electrical sparks in the flickering darkness.

The environment is suitably bleak, blood-soaked, and teeming with atmospheric horror.

The best way to describe this game is by calling it Resident Evil meets Event Horizon (Anderson, 1997); the technology and environments all have the same “lived in” feel of that gloriously entertaining space horror and the sense of dread that constantly hangs in the air is just as palpable. Nowhere is this comparison more apt than in one particularly annoying mission where you have to plant markers on a giant asteroid being mined by lasers; the asteroid is protected by huge concentric rings that will slice you in two and is heavily reminiscent of Event Horizon’s Gravity Drive. Other notable areas of the ship include a cargo bay medical facility, the aforementioned botanical gardens, and the main bridge, all of which are crawling with hazards or Necromorphs waiting to pounce on you. You’ll find workstations in disarray, ammo, credits, and collectibles in lockers and crates, and areas frozen from exposure to the void of space. At one point, another ship crashes into the Ishimura and you have to help guide and load up a shuttle with the dangerous “Red Marker” that is the cause of all this chaos, a mission that also forces Isaac to face up to some unsettling truths on the hellish planet of Aegis VII for the finale.

Isaac may not say anything, but he gets lots of video messages and is a surprisingly complex character.

You don’t really interact with too many NPCs outside of holographic messages, video calls, or seeing them shielding behind glass or trapped in other rooms. There are some exceptions, however, such as Isaac’s frequent encounters with his wife, Nicole, who he thought was dead and whose voice and memories haunt him throughout the story. Although Isaac himself doesn’t actually talk (always a weird decision for a third-person shooter, I find), you can review his thoughts in his mission log and objectives, and he cuts a formidable and interesting figure. His suit and helmet are instantly iconic and, though they hide his face throughout the game, they make him seem almost as horrific as the creatures he encounters and his grunts of pain and panting wheezes when in a vacuum or running low on health really add to his otherwise blank personality. Transferring the HUD to Isaac’s suit and weapons is a great way to keep the screen from getting too cluttered, and the use of ambient sounds (particularly a haunting rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”) really add to the game’s horrifying, ominous sense of dread and claustrophobia. Even brightly lit or familiar areas aren’t always a safe haven as the ship can be thrust into a lockdown or dead bodies can suddenly burst to life as Necromorphs, often even while you’re trying to save the game.

Enemies and Bosses:
Isaac is hounded throughout his treacherous and nightmarish mission by demonic Necromorphs, which come in all shapes and sizes and are the result of a horrific alien virus that reanimates corpses and transforms them into shrieking, taloned beasts hungry for human flesh. The most common variant is the Slasher, a blood-soaked, malformed corpse that sports blade-like appendages and shambles towards you either alone or in groups. As with the vast majority of the Necromorphs, these are best dispatched by targeting their limbs rather than their central mass; dismember their insectile arms to keep them from skewering you, and cut off their legs to slow their movement, but be sure to make sure they’re really dead as these bastards have a tendency to take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’! Other common enemies includes the Lurker (a sort of disembodied head that sports three tentacles, hops all over the walls and ceilings, and fire projectiles at you), the Leaper (which, as its name suggests, leaps at you (appearing to float in zero gravity areas) and scuttles across surfaces whipping its scorpion-like tail at you), and the bulbous Pregnant (which lumbers about and bursts forth a swarm of tiny Necromorphs that can quickly whittle down your health bar). Rather than facing off against a boss at the end of each chapter, Isaac will generally encounter newer and deadlier variants of the Necromorphs in each area: The Exploders shuffle about and try to blow you up with their huge, explosive arm (which you can shoot to blow them up, and any nearby Necromorphs), bat-like Infectors will try to attach themselves to you and cause any nearby corpses to burst to life as dangerous Necromorphs, and the corpse-like Dividers are gangly, gory corpses that split into smaller, equally dangerous Necromorphs after being downed.

Some massive monstrosities await you in Dead Space, but most have nice, obvious weak spots to shoot.

Large Brutes often act as sub-bosses and must be slowed with Stasis so you can target their various weak spots across their armour-like hide, and you’ll encounter Guardians merged with the walls and have to fend off the Pods they spit out, watch for their instant-kill attack, and severe the tentacles tying them to the Corruption that covers the environment. That’s not to say that there aren’t encounters that could be called boss battles in the game; the intimidating Hunter regenerates lost limbs and tissue so fast that, at first, all you can do is hit it with Stasis or temporarily immobilise it while running to safety. To properly destroy these creatures, you’ll need to lure them into a cryogenic chamber or behind the thrusters of a space shuttle and hold them in place with Stasis and get them into their regeneration animation to put them down once and for all. You’ll also battle the gigantic Leviathan in the food storage area of the ship; this battle takes place in zero gravity and sees you dodging tentacles and firing at the tumorous lumps on its appendages to kill it off. A similar creature, the Slug, attaches itself to the outer hull of the Ishimura and begins ripping it apart, forcing you to man the controls of a gun turret and blast at its tentacles and the debris it throws your way. After being tricked into activating the Red Marker, Isaac must face down the Hive Mind on Aegis VII; this eldritch abomination is a mess of flesh, tentacles, and teeth but sports yellow/green tumorous growths in its gaping maw that you can shoot to damage it. As long as you avoid its massive tentacles and target these areas when its rib cage opens up, you can put this beast down pretty quickly and bring the Necromorph threat to an end.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Isaac has a decent variety of weapons at his disposal; the Plasma Cutter he begins the game with is pretty much capable of taking care of every enemy you come across, but you can also pick up a Pulse Rifle for rapid fire, a Line Launcher to shoot out explosives, a flamethrower, and the Ripper, which shoots out buzzsaw-like blades that you can direct to chop up incoming Necromorphs. Each weapon has an alternative fire mode and some are more useful against different enemies; you can charge up the Contact Beam to blow apart bigger enemies, for example, but it’s probably best to use the flamethrower when swarmed by little Necromorphs or to subdue large groups.

You can upgrade Isaac’s gear using Power Nodes, and buy and store items in the stores.

It pays to explore your environment from top to bottom, and to ransack the corpses of the Necromorphs you kill, to find ammo, health and restorative items, credits, and other items. These are often found in smashable boxes, crates and lockers or strewn around the environment, but be wary as you only have a limited inventory. You can, however, expand your inventory, health bar, Stasis meter, and the power, capacity, and reload speed of your weapons at Workbenches. Here, you can spend Power Nodes you’ve either found or bought on the skill tree of each weapon, your modules, and your suit, though you’ll need a hell of a lot of them to upgrade all of Isaac’s weapons and equipment. You can also find blueprints to allow you to buy new weapons, better restorative items, and even better suits that increase your maximum health, meter, and air supply, so be sure to search all around and focus your efforts on upgrading what works best for you.

Additional Features:
There are forty-eight Achievements on offer in Dead Space, with one popping after you complete each chapter. You’ll get Achievements for dismembering a certain number of limbs, killing a certain number of enemies with each weapon, acquiring every weapon in the game, and completing the story, and for upgrading every weapon and piece of equipment available to you. There are also audio logs to be found to flesh out the story and earn you some G, secret areas to find, and mini games to play that will pop an Achievement. These include a shooting gallery and a zero gravity ball game, and you’ll also get Achievements for keeping the ship’s hull integrity above a certain percentage when shooting down incoming asteroids. After finishing the game on Easy mode, I unlocked a new suit for Isaac, additional logs, 50000 credits, ten Power Nodes, and “Impossible Mode” (which, I assume, is a one-life-only type of mode). While you don’t get to replay specific chapters, you can replay the game from the beginning with all of the weapons, upgrades, and gear you’ve collected, but the lack of a chapter select means that tracking down the last of those Achievements can be a bit of a slog.

The Summary:
Being a big fan of the Resident Evil franchise, and having largely exhausted the games available to me in that series, I was eager to get my teeth into Dead Space and found that it more than scratched my itch for an atmospheric, claustrophobic survival/horror experience. Infusing a desolate sci-fi aesthetic into the genre was an ingenious idea and had me constantly thinking back to films like Event Horizon and games like Doom (id Software, 1993) thanks to the merger of horror, sci-fi, and demonic imagery. While I could have done with the camera being pulled back just a tad and Isaac could be a little clunky to control at times (a quick-turn function really would have helped), and it was pretty much impossible to upgrade all of his gear in one playthrough, I found myself really enjoying the ominous aesthetic of the game, the tight dark corridors, and the thrill of each encounter and managing my resources. I was worried that the limb-targeting system would be difficult to get the hang of but I picked it up pretty easily and was soon dismembering Necromorphs left and right, but even on the easiest setting the game offers a decent challenge as enemies can take a fair bit of damage before finally going down and it’s easy to get overwhelmed or blunder into traps and instant-death hazards. Still, the game had a fantastic atmosphere, tight controls, and intriguing premise, and a suitably morbid and gory presentation and I found myself thoroughly entertaining as I ploughed through each chapter, splattering Necromorph (or Isaac’s) guts all over the walls and clear just one more chapter and I’m excited to tackle the second game in the near future.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Have you ever played the original Dead Space? How do you think it compares to other survival/horror titles and do you think it still holds up today? What did you think to the game’s enemies, aesthetic, and mechanics? Did you like the mixing of sci-fi with survival/horror or did you find the game a bit derivative? Which of the game’s weapons and was your favourite and what did you think to Isaac as a protagonist? Which game in the Dead Space franchise is your favourite and are you looking forward to the remake? What horror-theme videogames are you playing this October in anticipation of Halloween? Whatever your thoughts on Dead Space, drop them below or comment on my social media.

Game Corner: Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (Xbox 360)

Released: 26 November 2008
Developer: Backbone Entertainment
Also Available For: PlayStation 3

The Background:
In 1987, Capcom released Street Fighter onto the arcade scene; this oft-forgotten one-on-one brawler may have been criticised for its repetitive gameplay and dodgy controls but it certainly laid the groundwork for probably one of the most recognised fighting games ever created. Thanks to game’s special moves, pulled off using directional inputs in conjunction with button commands, and the introduction of a six-button cabinet, Street Fighter gained a modicum of intrigue on the growing arcade scene that exploded with the release of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991). Expanding the playable roster to eight, Street Fighter II changed the genre forever through the accidental introduction of combo moves and gave Nintendo a much-needed edge in the “Console Wars“ of the nineties with its blockbuster release on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Street Fighter II was so universally popular that it revitalised the arcade scene and was bolstered by a number of revisions and expansions that increased the number of playable characters, special moves, and vastly sped up the gameplay. By 2008, there had been at least five of these revisions as Capcom desperately milked their popular title for all its worth, but the idea of giving the title a whole new gloss of HD paint came at the suggestion of Backbone producer David Sirlin, who spearheaded the game’s development, although sacrifices had to be made to keep the digital release small. In addition to a slick graphical aesthetic courtesy of artists at UDON Entertainment, the game also included an overhauled soundtrack by music tribute website OverClocked ReMix and even saw a limited physical release on the Xbox 360. In keeping with the success and popularity of Street Fighter II, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix was met with largely unanimous praise; reviews lauded the new graphical style and arcade-perfect controls, though the lack of additional options was noted as a downside. While it wouldn’t go down in history as the definitive version of Street Fighter II, this HD re-release ensured that Capcom’s influential fighter lived on through another console generation.

The Plot:
The malevolent M. Bison, ruler of the criminal organisation Shadaloo, is sponsoring a martial arts tournament for the world’s best fighters. Twelve such fighters join the fight, battling each other for the right to face M. Bison’s four Grand Masters, with each of them having their own motivations for personal vendetta against the dictator.

Gameplay:
I should preface this review by pointing out a couple of things; the first is that I first played Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix on the PlayStation 3 after buying it on a whim (I think, or at least hope, it was on sale at the time), most likely because I realised that I didn’t currently only a version of Street Fighter II. The second thing to note is that there’s a very good reason for that and it’s simply that I’m not a fan of the series; I’m much more of a Mortal Kombat (Various, 1992 to present) kinda guy as I prefer the simplicity and brutal nature of that franchise to Street Fighter’s more intricate mechanics. I owned a cracked version of Street Fighter II for the Amiga as a kid, which fooled me into thinking I was somewhat competent at the game (infinite health will do that to you), but this didn’t translate when I played versions on the Mega Drive and PlayStation 2. Hell, I struggled with the later games in the series despite desperately wanting to get into it since they all look so appealing and everyone always raves about them, but for the life of me I just cannot seem to click with the franchise and always end up feeling frustrated and defeated as a result. I only say this because my enjoyment and opinion of this game, and the entire series, is thus inherently soured; I can’t be anything but biased against it despite my best efforts, but I went into this new playthrough of Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix hoping that maybe things would be different as I do have a lot of fondness for the franchise.

Be sure to press your attack with the game’s combo system and to be on your guard at all times.

As any gamer will be able to tell you, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix is a 2D, one-on-one tournament fighter in which players pick from a roster of sixteen playable fighters and either take on either the computer in a series of battles in a bid to get to M. Bison and his four Grand Masters or go head-to-head with another player, either on or offline. The game’s controls are exactly as you might expect from a Street Fighter II title; you have three types of punch and kick, ranging from a weak, strong, and fierce attack, with each assigned to different buttons. X throws a jab, Y a strong punch, and the Left Bumper a fierce punch while A throws a shot kick, B a roundhouse kick, and the Right Button launches a fierce kick, though all of these controls can be fully customised to your liking. Combining these button inputs, and directional controls, will allow you to pull off various move combinations to dish out greater damage or pull off your character’s special moves, which are helpfully listed in the game’s pause menu. In Street Fighter II, you hold back to block incoming attacks and use up to jump; you can also throw and grab your opponents, sometimes in mid-air, to deal a ridiculous amount of damage. While you can hit buttons to recover from throws, getting stuck in an enemy’s grasp is basically a death sentence and will see your health whittled down in the blink of an eye; you can also be stunned if you take too much successful damage, which can be catastrophic. Fights are decided in rounds, with the default set to best two out of three, though you can change this to as little as one and as many as five (and rights may go to a sudden death final round in the rare instances of a double knock-out). You’re also battling a timer, though you can again disable this option, and can increase the game’s speed on a scale of one to five (with five being the fastest, which also seems to equate to attacks dealing more damage). Finally, you can set player handicaps for player-on-player fighters and choose from four difficult settings to challenge the game’s two arcade modes.

Stagger your foe with special moves or finish them off with a grandiose Super Finish.

For me, these difficulty settings are a joke; I played with the game speed set to five and on the ‘Easy’ difficulty and still struggled to get past even the first few fighters even with the timer disabled. The computer is an absolute unrelenting machine, making use of combos, frame damage, and cancels to land strings of attacks you have little hope of blocking or counterattacking. The computer is somehow able to hit through your moves at times, grab you in the middle of attacks, and even hit you out of mid-air with low attacks and projectiles, making for an uphill battle right off the bat. As mentioned, you can pull off special moves with each character, though I find these difficult to figure out even with the helpful move list as the require complicated half-turns, charging, and diagonal inputs on the control stick. I find even some of the easiest moves, like Ryu and Ken’s Hadoken, inconsistent to pull off, though projectiles such as this will cancel each other out, which is extremely useful when fighting against spam-artists like Sagat and his constant barrage of TIGER! TIGER! TIGER! shots. As you fight, you’ll build up a little Super meter and, when it’s full, you can try and pull off your character’s Super move, but these are even more complicated to execute and the computer is an expert at blocking and negating all incoming damage. I couldn’t tell you the difference between the ‘HD Remix’ and ‘Classic’ arcade modes as I was barely able to scrape through the ‘HD Remix’ arcade on the lowest difficulty; ‘Classic’ thus seems harder but that might also be because I changed the rounds to win to one, which seems to put the computer in a hyper-aggressive “pinch” mode. Consequently, I can’t say if the classic bonus stages are present in this mode; they weren’t in the ‘HD Remix’ arcade mode I played so, from my perspective, the entirety of the game was geared around tournament fighting, fighting with friends, or desperately trying to get to grips with your character in the game’s training mode.

Graphics and Sound:  
Graphically, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Street Fighter II looking better than it does here; the slick UDON aesthetic really makes all of the fighters and their stages pop out and makes the most of HD overhaul the game has received. Every character has their own eccentricities, loudly announcing their special moves and pulling off a couple of victory poses when the fight goes their way in addition to being followed by a shadowy double whenever they execute a Super move. Little touches such as every character’s unique fighting pose, being able to hit off Vega’s iconic claw, M. Bison tossing aside his cape, and characters like Chun-Li being able to spring off the sides of the screen help to make the game more immersive, and this carries over to the stages as well. Some stages have destructible elements such as crates and barrels to smash your opponent into, and all of them include some kind of animation in the background, from cheering crowds to roaring elephants to fighting cages being lowers and boats rising and falling. The remixed soundtrack is a joy to listen to; memorable tuns such as Ken and Guile’s themes sound great, though the fight announcer remains merely serviceable. Although the game lacks a memorable introductory sequence, each character has their own ending, which you’ll get to see even on the easiest difficulty; rendered using text and static artwork in the style of the UDON comic series, the only thing letting these down is that you can’t unlock them to view anywhere else in the game.

The UDON aesthetic is far more visually engaging than the distorted classic sprites.

If you’re a purist and prefer the classic look of the original games, Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix has you covered; you can enable not just a classic option for the in-game sprites but the music as well. Unfortunately, the sprites really don’t benefit from this; they appear large, garbled messes against an otherwise pristine background and hearing the classic arcade-style move announcements and music doesn’t make this any better to look at. It would’ve been better if the game had the option to switch everything to an optimised pixel-art aesthetic but, as is, it’s a garish reskin that’s probably not going to appeal to fans of the original releases. One area where the game does get some credit, though, is in the inclusion of palette swaps for each character; each button corresponds to a different palette for each character on the character selection screen, which adds a touch of variety to the game as your opponent’s randomly pick different palettes for each bout, though you can’t switch between different styles of fighting like in other Street Fighter games. The game does run as smooth as butter, though; I noticed no input lag or slowdown, even on the highest speed setting, and I’m sure an accomplished Street Fighter II player would appreciate such a smooth presentation to the game’s action. Every bout also ends with with the victory taunting the loser, who’s left a battered mess, and I’ve always found these jabs entertaining; a helpful countdown gives you ten seconds to continue fighting, which will reinvigorate your fighter and return you to the character selection screen to challenge your opponent again.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being a one-on-one fighter with sixteen characters to pick from, every fighter in Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix will inevitably be your enemy at some point and each offers a slightly different, if also similar, level of challenge. It’s not uncommon to have to switch to a different fighter depending on your opponent as it’s some fighters are better geared towards dealing with certain opponents, though I find it better to stick to one fighter (Ken) and power through with an attack that favours fast-paced button mashing and aggression over any kind of actual strategy. Some fighters, like Zangief, E. Honda, and Balrog are slower, much heavier characters who rely more on grapples, powerful punches, and slams; you can sue faster characters, like Chun-Li and Cammy, to negate their power but this isn’t always a guarantee as they’re still able to close the distance despite lacking projectiles thanks to diving headbutts and screen-covering uppercuts, for example. Dhalsim is a pretty unique fighter in that he has super stretchy limbs to attack from afar, can teleport about the screen, and will set you ablaze with his Yoga Fire and Yoga Flame attacks, making him quite the slippery opponent. Similarly, Chun-Li is extremely quick on her feet, able to flip around behind you and send fireballs your way at a higher speed than Ken or Ryu, who are equally formidable thanks to their Shoryuken and throws. Other fighters, like T. Hawk and Fei Long, present their own challenges thanks to their bulk and lightning-fast speed so it’s recommended that you spend a bit of time playing as each fighter and seeing what they can do before you head into a fighter.

Surviving Sagat’s spam and M. Bison is one thing but challenging Akuma is a true test.

Some characters, like my favourite (but not to play as), Blanka, fall back on the unpredictable; not only can Blanka barrel across the screen in a cannonball roll but he can also fry you and chow down on your head if you get up close. Others, like Guile, require more patience to execute their special moves; you’ll need to hold back to charge up before pressing the attack button, for example, but they can catch you unawares because of it as they lure you in for the kill. None exemplify this more than M. Bison and his four Grand Masters, who act as the game’s bosses. Things start off pretty simple against Balrog; while he can deal tremendous damage with his charged-up punches, he’s slow and not too difficult to get around. Vega, on the other hand, is the exact opposite; he flips and whoops about the place, dancing around you and slashing with his claw and easily catching you in a German Suplex or a horrendous rolling throw. Vega can also scale the cage in the background to dive down at you and has a great aerial game, which can make him a tough opponent, but I’ve hit a brick wall with DeeJay just as often as Vega thanks to the former’s aggravating Capoeira style. Things really get serious when you face off against the walking mountain of muscle that is Sagat, the former Street Fighter champion; this absolute spam-artist of a bastard will relentlessly throw projectiles high and low, lure you in to knock you flying wit his TIGER!UPPER-CUT!! and flies across the screen with his TIGER!KNEEEE! attack, all of which make him easily the most formidable of the four Grand Masters on Easy. M. Bison represents the game’s final challenge but is nowhere near as spam-happy as his chief lieutenant, though he’s no less dangerous as a result. M. Bison likes to bounce off your head, land multiple hits with his bicycle kick, and send you careening through the stage statues with his Psycho Crusher attack. On higher difficulties, his challenge only increases with a heightened aggression, but you’ll need to get to M. Bison within twenty minutes if you want the honour of being absolutely obliterated by the game’s secret boss, Akuma, a psychotic variant of Ryu who fills the screen with fireballs and leaves you lying with his destructive Shun Goku Satsu Super move.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As it’s a one-on-one fighter, there’s nothing to help you out here except for the Super meter; land hits, blocks, and reversals and you’ll build it up and then it’s just a question of mastering the button inputs and landing the move through your opponent’s block to hopefully score an impressive finish to your fight.

Additional Features:
Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix has twelve Achievements on offer, though I’m not holding out hope in earning any more than the paltry one I got for limping my way through the game’s arcade mode. You’ll snag an Achievement for earning five perfect rounds in a row (achieved by not taking a single hit, so well outside my skill), landing a Super Finish (possible, but most times when I tried it the computer obliterated me as I was trying to input the combo), winning a round in fifteen seconds (I was thoroughly slaughtered on every attempt), and landing ten throws in a single match (also not outside the realm of possibility, though I have trouble executing throws). In addition to a bunch of Achievements being dished out for online play, there’s also Achievements for beating Akuma in arcade mode and for landing Ryu’s Super Finish on Sagat, all of which is probably very doable and appealing for more accomplished Street Fighter II players. Other than that, there’s not much on offer here beyond some run of the mill online modes (including ranked matches and the like) and player-on-player play, though you can input a button code to play as Akuma if you fancy it.

The Summary:
Look, okay, I’m sorry I’m not a more accomplished Street Fighter II player. I’m sorry I haven’t master frame-perfect combos and move cancels and all that nonsense. I’m sorry that it was a constant fight against not only the computer but my desire to rage-quit the game and just relegate this to a Bite-Size review, but I’ve just never got on with Street Fighter II. Having said that, I don’t think I’m wrong to say that the difficulty curve here is pretty unforgiving; you can’t just pick up and play Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix and expect to be good at it; button mashing works, to be sure, but only on occasion and some rounds will fly by in the blink of an eye without you even landing a single hit if you’re not using a bit of skill. Consequently, as always, I struggled with Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix; I was able to make it through the ‘HD Remix’ arcade with Ken after numerous losses, but I couldn’t make a dent in the ‘Classic’ mode and the experience is so draining that I’m not sure when or even if I’ll go back to try and get at least one more Achievement. The fact of the matter is that no game should every require you to go into it as a master, or even a high-intermediate, player; that’s what difficulty settings are supposed to be there for, to incentivise replay and the building of confidence and skill. Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix opts instead to whack you over the head with its unforgiving arcade-style difficulty and force you to earn every win, no matter how cheap. On the plus side, the game looks, sounds, and plays great; I might suck with the combos and special moves, but everything runs super smooth here, it’s just a pity that it’s such a barebones release. It can’t be denied that there are better versions of Street Fighter II out there, and compilations that allow you to sample the length of the series, but this is still a pretty decent conversion and representation of one of gaming’s most successful and influential fighters…I’m just hopelessly bad at it and that apparently will never change.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you ever played Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix? If so, what did you think to it and how do you think it holds up against other versions of Street Fighter II? Which version of the game is your favourite, or which one did you play the most back in the day? What did you think to the game’s graphical overhaul and lack of additional features? Which fighter was your favourite, or least favourite? Have you ever beaten this game on the hardest difficulty? Are you an accomplished Street Fighter II player and, if so, how much of a noob do you think I am? Which fighting game franchise is your favourite? Whatever your thoughts on Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix, your memories of Street Fighter II, and your opinions on the franchise in general, feel free to share them below or on my social media.

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Origins (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 25 October 2013
Developer: WB Games Montréal
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 (via PlayStation Now) Wii U, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
Batman’s, shall we say “difficult” relationship with videogames was forever turned around when Eidos Interactive, Rocksteady Studios, and celebrated Batman scribe Paul Dini collaborated on the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady Studios, 2009). They followed this success with the bigger and better sequel, Batman: Arkham City (ibid, 2011), that was even more well-received than its predecessor, ranking as one of the best videogames ever released. Arkham City’s monumental success meant that the bar was raised and expectations were even higher for another sequel after the developers left so many loose threads dangling in the game’s side missions. However, Rocksteady Studios required a lot of time to craft the sequel they had in mind and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment were in no mood to wait that long. So, they turned to WB Games Montréal to develop a prequel set during Batman’s early days and placed more emphasis on vertical movement and Batman’s detective skills. The result was a game that was met with mixed reviews; although the plot and certain mechanics drew praise, the game was seen as largely derivative thanks to copying and replicating, rather than properly expanding upon, Arkham City’s mechanics. Still, Arkham Origins was expanded upon with a fair amount of downloadable content (DLC) and I remember it being more of a good thing when I first played it on PlayStation 3 and particularly enjoying the new Christmas aesthetic and the game’s more challenging boss battles.

The Plot:
It’s Christmas Eve, some two years into Bruce Wayne’s crimefighting career as Batman. The city police, particularly Captain James Gordon, and public view Batman with scepticism and fear, feelings only exacerbated when Roman Sionis/Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on the Batman’s head! These eight assassins spread terror, death, and destruction throughout Gotham City but they’re nothing compared to the appearance of a new, sadistic villain known as “The Joker” who begins a campaign of unrelenting, psychotic terror.

Gameplay:
Just like the last two games, Batman: Arkham Origins is a third-person, action/adventure game. This time around, rather than change the formula too much, the new developers simply took the gameplay mechanics and game world of Arkham City and tweaked them, expanding on a few areas here and there and basically coating the previous game with a slightly different coat of paint. The result is a game that is immediately (and, perhaps for some, disconcertingly) similar to the last Arkham title in numerous ways but still different enough, in my opinion, to stand alongside its predecessors and, as I always say, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing.

Batman’s abilities and skills are almost unchanged from Arkham City.

In terms of controls, they remain exactly the same as before (which is interesting as I could have sworn that they were a little different when I first played it on PlayStation 3…). You still select one of Batman’s many gadgets and weapons (the majority of which return from Arkham City in some way, shape, or form even when they don’t make narrative sense) using the directional pad, ready a gadget or quick-fire with the Left Trigger and press the Right Trigger to use the gadget or crouch, and you can still use Batman’s cape to stun enemies, glide around the city, and dive bomb onto enemies or to gain extra height and distance. Similarly, the “freeflow combat” remains virtually identical to that seen in Arkham City; you strike with X, counter incoming attacks with Y, and build up combos by directing Batman towards different enemies, mixing up your attacks, and performing takedowns to disarm and/or knock out foes one at a time as gangs of thugs swarm over you. Stealth remains an important aspect of the game and, just like in the last game, Batman can crouch around undetected, grapple to vantage points (usually stone gargoyles) to observe groups of enemies, and perform double or even triple takedowns in certain situations. Batman can venture through vents to avoid detection and take down enemies, interact with his environment using his gadgets to take enemies down or disorientate them, smash enemies into walls and floors and other parts of the environment when he’s near them, interrogate certain enemies for information and to uncover secrets, and deliver a “Knockout Smash” when choking thugs out (though this will attract nearby enemies).

Batman’s detective skills get much more focus this time and allow him to reconstruct crime scenes.

As always, these tactics are best utilised during the “Predator” sections of the game and using Batman’s patented “Detective Vision”; tapping the Left Bumper allows Batman to see an x-ray-like layout of the game world and highlight nearby enemies, secrets, and points of interest, all of which are invaluable when going up against armed thugs. Detective Vision is greatly expanded upon in Arkham Origins, though, and the game goes to great lengths to emphasise the “detective” aspects of Batman’s character at numerous points and during side missions. When discovering a dead body or the scene of a crime, Batman can set up a crime scene with LB and you must hold the A button to scan in various pieces of evidence. As you do, Batman will piece together the crime not only through his monologue but also through the use of a holographic recreation, which you must advance and rewind to solve the crime or locate objects in order to progress. At the same time, though, the Detective Vision often feels a little neutered in some situations; like, I found myself stuck in rooms and locations with no real idea of where I was supposed to be going, which was very confusing. Although the map and onscreen compass return just as in Arkham City and it’s great for directing you to where you need to go in the overworld, it falters a bit inside buildings and locations at times, which can get annoying.

The game world is bigger than ever but, luckily, Batman can fast travel by using the Batwing.

As for the game world, while it contains the same locations and areas seen in Arkham City, it’s actually far bigger thanks to the addition of a (super long) bridge connecting the recognisable parts of the city to a new area down South. You’ll notice that the recognisable areas are in much better shape than in Arkham City since the area hasn’t been condemned or turned into a prison and some buildings that were only background elements or Easter Eggs in the last game can now be entered to complete story or side missions. The game world is so much bigger that the developers saw fit to include a fast travel mechanic; after hacking into various control towers across the city and liberating them from the control of Edward Nashton/Enigma, Batman can freely fast travel to every prominent area of the map via the Batwing. While this does result in more loading times than in the previous two games, and you cannot control the Batwing or fast exit areas, it is really handy for quickly getting from one end of the city to the other. Also included for the first time is the ability to visit the Batcave; from here, you can converse with Batman’s loyal butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, progress the story, acquire new gadgets and upgrades, switch to a different costume, or engage in some training by taking on various combat and stealth challenges. It’s not an especially big or well-implemented area, to be fair, and you’re only really forced to go there a handful of times in the main story but it’s a nice addition, at least.

Arkham Origins has some odd difficulty spikes that aren’t present in the previous two games.

There are, however, far less destructible elements dotted around the city this time around but you can still earn experience points (XP) and level-up to upgrade Batman’s suit and gadgets and stuff by taking out thugs, scanning points of interest with your Detective Vision, or finding Engima’s informants and Data Packs (which replace the usual Riddler Trophies). Batman: Arkham Origins is probably the hardest of the Arkham games so far; perhaps because of the developers assuming players would be familiar with the franchise and the gameplay, you quickly encounter armoured thugs, goons with knives, batons, and shields, and bigger, more formidable enemies during the opening part of the game. The city is, again, awash with thugs from different gangs (mostly Black Mask’s but also Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin’s) and you’ll even have to fight against the Gotham City police, specifically their S.W.A.T. division, given that Batman is seen as a disruptive vigilante in this game. The game’s difficulty can, again, be set by the player to increase the challenge offered to you but the two hardest modes, “New Game Plus” and “I Am The Night”, will remove the counter indicators, increase enemy aggressiveness and mix up their placement, and give you only one try to finish the game in the latter mode. This can be extremely challenging when facing off with the game’s bosses, the majority of which will tear through you like paper or have you ripping your hair out trying to figure out how to beat them and counter their attacks as the counter indicators are basically useless.

While the menus can be difficult to navigate, the increased puzzles adds a new dimension to the game.

Although Arkham Origins is bigger than its predecessor and instantly familiar, there are some things that let it down in terms of its presentation. For one thing, the menus (particularly the upgrade trees) are much more cluttered and far less intuitive to navigate. It seems like the developers were running out of ideas for things for you to unlock and view from these menus, though you’ll get all the usuals (biographies, side stories, story synopses and the like) and be able to chart the progress of your side missions, set waypoints to travel to, and see secrets or points of interest on the comprehensive map but, again, I found it stupidly easy to get trapped in a room and unable to figure out where I was supposed to go. There are also far more quick-time event-like moments in this game where you must counter an attack during a cutscene or mash A to open a door or break free of an enemy’s grip or avoid an attack, which can actually be more laborious than fun. Finally, you’ll find that there is a far greater emphasis on vertical traversal and puzzle solving this time around; you’ll have to activate a lot more consoles to break through walls or open doors, for example, and when navigating through the Joker’s funhouse in the Gotham Royal Hotel you need to use Batman’s Batarangs and gadgets to free hostages from timed traps and scale up the outside of the buildings using his grapnel gun. Entering an area or hacking a device is also generally made much more annoying thanks to the inclusion of jamming devices that you’ll need to disable with the new Disruptor gadget, meaning that a lot of your traversal is hindered by “busy work” at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Fittingly, given that its basically just slapping some additions onto Arkham City, Arkham Origins continues to be an impressive feat in terms of rendering the gothic, crime-ridden, anachronistic streets of Gotham City. Yes, many of the areas will be familiar to you but they’re far less rundown and have been recontextualised thanks to the Christmas time setting. Snow falls constantly, covering the ground, and Christmas decorations, trees, lights, and presents are in abundance; some enemies even wear Father Christmas hats and even the score is punctuated by Christmassy bells and all of the dialogue you overhear makes constant reference to the Yuletide season. It’s just enough of an aesthetic reskin to make the game world look and feel new and different and it’s great seeing ice in the water, the Penguin’s ship, the Final Offer, moored up at the docks, and buildings like the police station and steel mill in full, working order rather than abandoned like in the last game.

Gotham is expanded to include new areas and territories alongside familiar regions.

All of the regions from Arkham City return but you’ll enter different buildings and explore different areas this time, such as the haberdashery in the Bowery and the courthouse, but you’ll also be traversing (or fast travelling) the Gotham Pioneers Bridge down to the new areas in the South of the game map. Here, you’ll explore a high-end apartment building to solve Black Mask’s apparent murder, battle and scale up the aforementioned Gotham Royal Hotel, and fight and sneak your way through the hallways of the Gotham City Police Department. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Arkham game without a load of dank sewers and catacombs to explore and it seems you venture down into these depths a bit more often this time around but they’re a little easier to navigate through. You’ll also fly over to Blackgate Prison to quell a riot there, where the game’s visual presentation closely emulates that of the penitentiary on Arkham Island thanks to its large, automated doors and prison aesthetic.

Nightmarish renditions of Wonderland and Batman’s worst fears twist the game world.

As is a tradition with the Arkham games, things also take a turn to the bizarre when you hunt down Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, who drugs Batman and forces him to navigate through a twisted version of wonderland in sections very closely modelled after the nightmarish sequences that pitted him against Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow in the first game. Here, you’ll need to dodge electrified floors while using Batman’s gadgets to progress through sidescrolling sections, battle thugs in his mind-controlling rabbit masks who pour through a mirrored doorway, and scale up a twisted clock tower. It’s only one section, unlike the Scarecrow’s three, but it lasts quite a while and can get a bit annoying, especially the part where your vision is reduced to seeing through a keyhole and you must guide Batman through the correct doors to progress. Another standout moment comes late into the game and sees you taking control of the Joker as he recounts a version of his origin story to Doctor Harleen Quinzel; similar to how he played in the DLC for the first game, the Joker is a wild and crazed character who attacks in manic bursts, tosses razor sharp playing cards, and electrocutes enemies with his joy buzzer and you also get to guide him in his Red Hood persona past bursts of flames in a nightmarish funhouse of sorts. There’s also another opportunity to revisit the deaths of Bruce Wayne’s parents and suffer a bunch of unnerving hallucinations after Batman is poisoned by Copperhead, which distorts the screen and your controls at various points throughout the fight, and a pretty cool (if all-too-brief) moment where you must fight some thugs on a rooftop from the perspective of Vicki Vale’s helicopter.

Some shifts in perspective help to keep things interesting and add some variety.

The in-game graphics are just as impressive as the last two games; the game engine is tighter than ever, allowing for the biggest game world yet that is full of thugs and Easter Eggs and things to see and do, and character models still look really good. Batman’s suit, especially, is much better in this game, resembling military/riot armour and, in many ways, actually looks more durable and plausible than his suits from the previous games (which take place after this one). He still accumulates battle damage as the game progresses, which is always a nice touch and even though Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill aren’t present, their replacements (Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker) do an excellent job of filling in (even if they do seem emulating their predecessors a little too closely, which I guess is natural but keeps them from doing their own take on the characters). However, the game kind of drops the ball a little with its pre-rendered cutscenes, which look…a little more out of place compared to the in-game graphics and the previous Arkham games. Everything in these cinematics seems a little too plasticy and hyper-realised; it’s not a game-breaker, though, just something I happened to notice.

Enemies and Bosses:
All of the standard thugs and enemies you encountered in Arkham City are back this time around, but with a new coat of paint in many cases. Gangs of thugs roam the streets or patrol rooftops, often with sniper rifles; enemies will grab broken bottles or slash at you with knives, swing metal bars and baseball bats at your head, and even lay mines and booby-trap vantage points to reduce your manoeuvrability in Predator sections. The sword-wielding assassin enemies return from the last game, as do the bigger, more armoured enemies who require you to cape stun them and beat them down by mashing X, but there are a bunch of brand new enemies in this game, too. One of the most prominent are the martial artists you’ll encounter, who will test your countering ability with their quick kicks and shoves; another are the muscle-bound thugs juiced up on Venom who you must beat down and use takedowns to pull out the tubes feeding them the substance. Larger, more powerful enemies will rush at you and grab you or hold you in place so other enemies can beat on you and you’ll have to battle variations of these as the game progresses, which forces you to adapt your combat strategies on the fly.

While Killer Croc is similar to battles you’ve fought before, the Electrocutioner is a complete joke.

Of course, the main thrust of the story is that the Joker (under the guise of Black Mask) has hired eight assassins to take out Batman on Christmas Eve so, of course, that means you’ll encounter these assassins throughout the course of the game. The first of these is Waylon Jones/Killer Croc, which is a fight you should be well familiar with at this point as it’s the standard fare of stunning him three times with your cape and putting a beatdown on him. Things do get spiced up a little but when he grabs a gas canister to throw at you; at this point, you have to quick-fire a Batarang to explode it and whittle his health down. in a recurring theme, you’ll need to mash A to fend him off when he tries to bite you and also have to battle waves of thugs who jump into support him and distract you but, as first boss battles go, it’s pretty simple and basically the same as fighting the TITAN enemies and even Bane from the previous games. The next assassin you’ll battle is Lester Buchinsky/The Electrocutioner but this is played more for laughs as you take him out in one hit and then have to battle a gauntlet of the Penguin’s goons before he’s unceremoniously killed off by the Joker later on.

Deathstroke will truly test your mettle in one of the more frustrating boss battles.

The battle against Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, however, more than makes up for this. This is a complex and multi-stage fight that really comes out of left field and suddenly spikes the game’s difficulty in frustrating ways. Deathstroke has a counter for all of your attacks, many of which are nigh-impossible to defend or counterattack as the counter indicator window is next to useless in this fight. Without it, it’s damn near impossible but, by staying on the move, dodging over him, and utilising the quick-fire Batclaw, you can slowly (and I mean slowly) whittle his health down enough to trigger the next phase. Deathstroke tosses a smoke grenade to sneak attack you with his bo staff, forcing you to mash Y to counter his attacks and then mash X to beat him down, similar to the fight against Rā’s al Ghūl in Arkham City, but he also fires his Remote Claw at your chest to send an explosive barrel flying at you. You need to quickly counter this and throw it at him to keep him from shooting you and, eventually, you’ll snap his bo staff and the fight continues with Deathstroke now attacking with a sword! This doesn’t make things any easier as it’s hard to build up your combos and strikes or get a rhythm going since he counters you so quickly and hits so hard that you can only afford to make a couple of mistakes throughout the fight (which has no checkpoints). This fight is easily the most challenging in the series so far and it would be fun if the counter window wasn’t so damn small but, as it is, it can be one of the most aggravating boss battles in any of the Arkham games because of how brutally unfair it gets.

Lady Shiva and Copperhead recall previous battles against Rā’s al Ghūl and his assassins.

One of the other assassins is Lady Shiva, who is relegated more to a side mission and who challenges you to rescue an innocent man from a death trap. In doing so, you have to battle her sword-wielding ninjas and, similar to when you tracked the assassin’s blood in Arkham City, track her down by following a blood trail to the bottom of Wonder Tower using your Detective Vision. This leads to a fight against her, her ninjas, some martial artists, and a bigger martial artist variant in what is, essentially, a scaled down version of the sword fight with Rā’s al Ghūl (or, alternatively, a more troublesome version of the fights against the assassins in Arkham City). Basically, your standard striking, counter, and combat skills are more than enough to win the day here but watch out for Shiva’s random attacks in the city as you’ll need to be quick to counter these. The fight against Copperhead also recalls the Rā’s al Ghūl fight; she poisons Batman and causes him to hallucinate being attacked by multiple versions of herself, dashing at him from the darkness much like Rā’s al Ghūl but attacking with agility and claws similar to Selina Kyle/Catwoman. She also leaps onto you, requiring you to mash A to throw her off, and it can be quite a headache dealing with the distorted camera and trying to land a decisive hit on the real Copperhead (though, once Batman is cured, she goes down in one hit).

Bane is your most recurring foe and requires both agility, brute force, and stealth to defeat.

One of the more recurring antagonists in the game is Bane, who you’ll battle multiple times throughout the story. In the first instance, he charges at you very much like a TITAN enemy and will deal massive damage if he hits you or grabs a hold of you. Simply cape stun him three times and beat him down and then perform a takedown, however, and he’s not too difficult to overcome. However, he then overdoses on Venom and takes the fight out onto the rooftop; when full of Venom, he charges at you like a rhino and is very hard to dodge out of the way of, and he also leaps at you, causes shockwaves to ripple across the ground, and can easily spam-charge you to death if you’re not careful. You also have to be wary of the never-ending supply of goons who join the fight to distract you but, again, your cape stun and beatdown will do the trick, as will the Shock Gloves, but it can get very aggravating trying to avoid his charges. Later, in the finale, you have to go through it all again but this time, Bane also powers himself up with TN-01 and becomes a hulking, mindless brute who rips you out of floor grates and stomps around a small enclosed area looking for you. Similar to the fight against Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze in Arkham City, you must sneak around behind Bane and use the vents to your advantage to surprise him from behind and then ram him into electrified walls before finally subduing him in a QTE with your Remote Claw.

While Firefly requires your projectile-based gadgets, the Joker fight is basically a QTE.

Another of the game’s more troublesome and complex boss battles is the encounter with Garfield Lynns/Firefly, who is raining destruction down on the bridge. Before you can even reach him, you need to take out his goons and disarm three bombs while forging a practical relationship with Gordon and then battle Firefly amidst the wreckage on the bridge. Firefly hovers out of reach of your strikes, blasting at you with his flamethrower, so you need to dive out of harm’s way and toss Batarangs, Concussion Detonators, and Glue Grenades at him until he’s stunned. Then you can quick-fire your Batclaw, mash A to haul him down, and put a beating on him and damage one of his wings. In the second phase, after chasing you around the twisted underside of the bridge, you have even less opportunities for cover and Firefly now tosses grenades at you but the tactic remains the same. It can be tricky to dodge and quick-fire your gadgets at him but by far the hardest part is firing your Batclaw and countering his final attack when he flies off with you attached to him via your line so be sure to keep your wits about you. The final moments of the game finally see you track down and get your hands on the Joker, the mysterious anarchist who has been causing death and destruction across the city and who causes a full-blown riot at Blackgate Prison that more than recalls the tense, claustrophobic moments of the first game where the Joker would taunt you constantly. This fight is little more than a QTE, really, requiring you to hit Y to counter the Joker’s attacks and then pummel him into submission with presses of X. It’s a satisfying conclusion given all the chaos the Joker has wrought and how quickly the animosity between him and Batman escalates and, fittingly, is in no way a physical challenge for Batman (there’s enough of that with the likes of Deathstroke and Bane).

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Like its predecessors, Arkham Origins features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, pick up Data Packs, scan parts of the environment, and such, you’ll gain XP and, eventually, level-up. This allows you to upgrade Batman’s armour (again, into two blocks to improve damage from melee attacks and gunfire, respectively), add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (all of which return from Arkham City), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Upgrading can be tricky this time around, though, as the menus aren’t as easy to navigate; you can still view tutorials and such and you’ll actually receive a grade and additional XP depending on how dangerous a combat or Predator scenario was and how versatile you were in beating it, which will net you more XP if you happen to meet certain criteria in movement, combat, or Predator scenarios and you can get more by talking to Alfred in the Batcave and hearing his wisdom. All of Batman’s gadgets from Arkham City make a return, with many looking and acting a little differently or being expanded upon in new ways. The main exception to this is the Line Launcher, which is entirely absent and replaced with the Remote Claw; this fires a line between two specific points that you can grapple up to, crouch-walk across, or speed along on a zip wire to effectively fulfil the same function but in a way that ties into the game’s more vertical layout.

Batman has a few new gadgets, most of them repurposed variants of those from Arkham City.

There are some other new gadgets here, too. The Disruptor is now a gun-like device that disables enemy weapons, speakers, and jamming devices from a distance (which is super useful when facing armed goons), and the Freeze Blast is eventually evoked in Batman’s Glue Grenades, which can trap enemies in glue and allow him to form rafts. The Remote Electrical Charge gun is gone but Batman acquires the Electrocutioner’s Shock Gloves, which charge up as he deals damage and can dish out extra hurt to enemies (even punching through shields and negating the need to cape stun) once activated by pressing in the analogue sticks (they also come in handy for charging electrical panels and opening doors and for resuscitating characters). The Concussion Detonator is a bit like the R.E.C. blast in that it goes of and disorientates and confuses enemies after a short time and, if you purchase the ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ DLC, you’ll gain access to a new Batsuit and thermal gloves to dethaw Mr. Freeze’s victims and heat up your Batarangs.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Origins has fifty Achievements to earn, the vast majority of which will pop as you play through the story, taking down the assassins, and completing side missions. There are specific Achievements for taking out thugs in certain ways (such as not being seen), stopping twenty random assaults in the city as they pop up on your radar, gliding a certain distance, and fast travelling to every point on the map but you’ll also get them for collecting all of Enigma’s Data Packs and finishing the game on New Game Plus. Doing this unlocks the one-life, “I Am The Night” mode that sounds gruelling, at best, though all of your XP and upgrades do carry over to each of these save files.

Batman encounters some of his most infamous rouges for the first time in side missions.

As in Arkham City, there are numerous side missions to fill up your time with: Enigma’s data collectors need to be interrogated and his Data Packs found to bring him to justice, Black Mask’s drug stashes need to be destroyed (similar to the Bane side mission in Arkham City), and Barbara Gordon tasks you with destroying the Penguin’s weapons caches across the city. You’ll also have to find and deactivate three bombs placed around the city by Lonnie Machin/Anarky (and you’ll find his tags spray painted all over, too) before confronting him at the courthouse (where you’ll have to fight a wave of goons and Anarky himself, who is armed with stun batons). One of Bane’s henchmen, Bird, is also at large and inspiring gang fights all over the city, as is Floyd Lawton/Deadshot, and the chaos doesn’t end after the main story is cleared as Gordon tasks you with hunting down a number of escapees from Blackgate. Challenge Mode appears once again, now accessible from the main menu and from the Batcave in the main game world. Just like in Arkham City, you can take on self-contained combat and stealth challenges based on encounters in the game that see you battling waves of increasingly difficult enemies and racking up points by sustaining and varying your combos, or picking off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as enemies having access to gun racks and weapons or Batman’s gadgets or combos being disabled).

Replayability is bolstered by a variety of DLC and a team-based multiplayer mode.

There is also a series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. As before, all of this can be further expanded by purchasing a range of DLC. This includes a whole bunch of new skins for Batman (including Jean-Paul Valley’s “AzBats” armour), additional challenge packs that see you playing as Bruce Wayne during his training years, and even the ability to play as Deathstroke in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty cool. The “Cold, Cold Heart” story pack adds a whole extra story-based mission that takes place after the main campaign and features an encounter with Mr. Freeze; it even includes additional Achievements, gadgets, and things to scan and find (though they are limited only to this story mode). The biggest additional mode to Arkham Origin, though, was the inclusion of an online multiplayer that sees players battling as a member of the Joker’s gang, Bane’s gang, or Batman and Dick Grayson/Robin. Unfortunately, though, I never experienced this mode even when I played on the PlayStation 3 so I can’t really comment too much on it but it sounds like a standard, team-based deathmatch kind of mode; my only real grip is that the developers didn’t incorporate Robin into the main game or even as a playable character in the Challenge Mode this time around, and that the DLC can no longer be purchased.

The Summary:
Even now, Batman: Arkham City remains one of my favourite videogames and a standout in the Arkham series; it expanded upon all of the mechanics and features of the first game and truly defined the standard for Batman videogames. For me, then, Batman: Arkham Origins is a lot of fun; it’s (literally) everything Arkham City was but more; it’s not like they just slapped on a reskin or opened up the map a little bit either like some glorified DLC, there is a lot of story and additional features at work here that expand the game world considerably. The Christmas setting is inspired and seeing Batman nearer to the beginning of his career and encountering some of his famous villains for the first time is a blast, as is the intricate development of Batman’s character from a wanted vigilante to a trusted ally of the city and, especially, Jim Gordon. The Batwing, additional gadgets, bigger emphasis on Batman’s detective skills, and the unique, challenging boss battles are all really solid additions and help to make the game very unique. What lets Arkham Origins down a bit, especially compared to its predecessor, is undoubtedly how derivative it can be and how needlessly frustrating many of these boss fights can be. The lack of inspiration in the game’s Enigma puzzles, simple reuse of many of Batman’s gadgets (when this would have been a great opportunity to strip him of many of them to really evoke the gritty feel of the first game), and reskinning of areas we’d explored to death in the last game do take it down a notch but I still maintain that there’s plenty to like about Arkham Origins. I’m not sure if it was worth developing the multiplayer component and it would have been nice to see some of these elements incorporated into the single player story but, overall, I feel if you enjoyed Arkham City then you kind of have to enjoy Arkham Origins as it’s the same game but with a new coat of paint.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Origins? How do you feel it compares to the other Arkham games, particularly Arkham City? Did you think the game was too derivative or did you enjoy the additions it made to the gameplay mechanics and revisiting the world in a new, expanded way? Which of the game’s assassins was your your favourite, and how did you fare against the likes of Deathstroke and Bane? Did you ever play the online multiplayer mode and, if so, what did you think to it? Did you enjoy the game’s DLC and the side missions? How are you celebrating Batman Day and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham Origins, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for one more Arkham review!

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham City (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’m dedicating every Wednesday of September to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 18 October 2011
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii U, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Batman quickly became a successful and dynamic character after his 1939 debut in DC Comics; over the years, the character’s world and mythos has grown considerably to include numerous spin-off comics and adaptations into not just cartoons and movies but also videogames. While Batman has fared rather well in that department, it can’t be denied that there were a few stinkers as well before Eidos Interactive acquired the rights to make a Batman game and brought in both Rocksteady Studios and celebrated Batman scribe writer Paul Dini to create the critically and commercially successful Batman: Arkham Asylum (ibid, 2009) at a time when the character was hot off a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman: Arkham Asylum was a celebrated triumph that perfectly captured Batman’s essence.

Development of a sequel began work before Arkham Asylum had even been completed; despite apprehensions about system limitations, Rocksteady had big ideas for the sequel, which would move away from the claustrophobic trappings of Arkham Island and into more open world territory. Having learned from their mistakes and feedback from the first game, the developers greatly expanded Batman’s arsenal, animations, and gadgets to make him a more capable character and significantly expanded the range of exploration and side missions available to players in the much-larger game world. All of that hard work paid off as Arkham City became one of the fastest selling videogames in history. Critically, the response was universally positive; critics lauded the voice acting and additional features and the high quality of the game’s mechanics and content. The game was so successful that it was released in multiple editions with access to different downloadable content (DLC) and won numerous awards for the sheer expansiveness of its included, and additional, content.

The Plot:
Some time after the events of Arkham Asylum, the city’s criminals and maniacs have been locked up inside a walled off section of Gotham City known as Arkham City, from which there is no escape and both supervillains and TYGER mercenaries under the command of Doctor Hugo Strange enforce martial law. Infiltrating the prison to investigate Strange’s unlawful incarceration of those who spoke out against him, the odds against Batman increase when the Joker shows up, apparently dying from TITAN poisoning, and infects Batman with his blood, forcing him to delve into the city’s underworld to find a cure.

Gameplay:
Like its predecessor, Batman: Arkham City is a third-person, action/adventure game but, this time, you’re prowling the streets and rooftops of “Old Gotham”, a dilapidated and rundown area of Gotham that has been encased in high perimeter walls sporting gun turrets to house the city’s undesirables. Arkham City’s game world is five times the size of the one seen in Arkham Asylum and features even more recognisable landmarks from Batman’s famous city and areas to explore, as well as an endless supply of inmates and lowlifes to get your fists on. One of the best things about Arkham City is how the control scheme and core mechanics remain exactly as in the first game, just expanded considerably. Once again, Batman’s main method of traversal is his operatic cape and grapnel gun, which can now be used in conjunction and upgraded to allow him to effortlessly zip across the city. You can also dive bomb while gliding to take out enemies or pull up and gain additional height and length on your glide, allowing you to traverse the city prison in no time at all.

Combat and stealth are more fluid and satisfying than ever thanks to additional animations and options.

This more than makes up for Batman’s continued inability to jump and allows him to easily dart out of danger when spotted; Batman can still crouch with the Right Trigger and toss a quick Batarang with the Left Trigger, but now he can also quick-fire other gadgets, which is incredibly useful in combat and for solving the myriad of brain-teasing puzzles scattered around the city by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler. The “freeflow combat” mechanic of the previous game returns intact but greatly expanded thanks to the addition of more attack animations and combos; X allows you to strike in quick succession while a well-timed press of Y (indicated when the “counter” indicator appears) will allow you to block and counter incoming attacks and rack up a bigger and more fluid combo. The higher your combo, the more damage you’ll deal and the more dynamic the perfectly-placed fight camera will move to allow you to lunge at other enemies before they can land a blow. Since the streets are crawling with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of thugs this time around, there are far more opportunities to sneak up on them and perform a “Silent Takedown”, but this time you can perform a “Knockout Smash” (though this will attract nearby enemies) and you can even perform takedowns from floor grates, double or even triple counters and takedowns when in combat, attack parts of the environment (like fire extinguishers and electrical boxes) to disorientate or disarm opponents, and even slam inmates into walls or dangle them over ledges during combat or interrogations.

New additions to the Predator sections increase the threat to Batman and his takedown options.

Also returning is the stealth-based “Predator” mechanic; in addition to sneaking up on enemies, Batman can grapple up to stone gargoyles and other high ledges to review rooms of armed thugs using the x-ray and thermal vision offered by his “Detective Mode”. A simple press of the Left Bumper and you’ll be able to see enemies by their body heat, their current condition, and any interactable parts of the environment. Batman’s new array of gadgets (easily accessed using the directional pad) can also be used in new ways to lure enemies into traps or take them down and, while traversing the city, you’ll need to make liberal use of these (and Batman’s new smoke pellets) to dart away from gunfire and dispatch gun-toting enemies. Again, Batman is tough but can’t take sustained gunfire or explosions; however, his health will replenish after you clear out all nearby enemies, solve riddles, or find the many Riddler Trophies. These same criteria will earn you experience points (XP) to improve Batman’s armour, abilities, and weaponry once more but the game definitely mixes things up by having enemies be able to jam your Detective Vision and electronics and lay traps of their own.

Navigation is easier than ever thanks to a comprehensive map, waypoint, and compass system.

If you thought Arkham Asylum had a lot of riddles and Riddler Trophies, then Arkham City will blow your mind! The Riddler has placed his trophies not just out in the open but hidden behind walls, in cages, and a myriad of pressure pads and context-sensitive puzzles that will require all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to acquire. Similarly, there are riddles to find across the city and you can solve them by tapped LB to scan the environment when you spot glowing green question marks or the answer to the riddle. This time, there are also far more destructible elements to snag you some XP; the chattering Joker teeth return but you’ll also be destroying TYGER security cameras, balloons, and massive bobbleheads of Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, which all adds to the fun, as well as more opportunities to use your gadgets to open vents or shut off steam from pipes. The map screen returns, far more expansive and user friendly (as are all of the menus) than before; you can now set waypoints to your next mission or any other location on the map and a very useful onscreen compass and Bat-Signal will direct you towards your location with a minimum of fuss. Take note, though, that these features are suppressed when you have Detective Mode activated but, again, there are some opportunities to track targets using this vision mode.

The streets are crawling with more baddies than ever and they’ll repopulate areas as you progress.

Like the first game, Batman: Arkham City gets progressively difficult as you play but this is expanded upon greatly. You might come across a gang of Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s minions and engage them in combat, only for more and more nearby inmates to hear the fight and join in, for one thing. These enemies will, eventually, repopulate areas after you’ve cleared them out so you constantly have to be aware of enemies on the streets and rooftops and, like in the last game, enemies will increase in their aggressiveness and capabilities as you progress through the story. Also, like before, you can select different difficulty levels to play the game on from the start, with “Hard” mode including counter indicators this time but increasing the damage enemies will put out, but there are no Achievements tied to playing on Hard mode so you may as well play on “Easy” or “Normal” since “New Game Plus” offers an even tougher challenge than the game’s Hard mode. Where Arkham City excels, though, is in its sheer size; Arkham City is full of buildings to enter, Easter Eggs and references, riddles to solve, and side quests to keep you busy. For a returning player like me, it’s really easy to get distracted with side quests on your way to the main story objective and you can keep track of all outstanding missions from the main menu. From here, you can also view stories and character biographies, review Batman’s moves and abilities (and even view a tutorial if you need a refresher), and check up on any outstanding riddles and such. In fact, the only real downside to Arkham City is, again, the inability to quickly exit an area, which can be particularly bothersome when deep in the bowels of the city subway or the forgotten steampunk city, Wonder City, as it can still be a tad laborious to find your way back out sometimes.

Graphics and Sound:
Batman: Arkham Asylum managed to hold up impressively well over time and Arkham City holds up even better; it was already a big step up in terms of graphical quality and visual presentation so it’s only natural that it’s aged even better. As before, it’s a very dark game and takes place in one night so you might be relying on your Detective Vision or brightness settings to navigate in some areas but, thanks to many of the game’s locations taking place in indoor, more suburban (if equally dilapidated) areas, there are far more opportunities to bask in the impressive art direction of the game. Arkham City is split into different regions, with each one being primarily controlled by gangs of thugs affiliated with a different supervillain (Oswald Cobblepott/The Penguin, Two-Face, and the Joker) and having a distinctive feel to them.

Each region of Arkham City is controlled by a different villain and has a different look to it.

Because the game takes place within a walled off cityscape, it must be said that it’s not immediately as visually distinctive compared to its predecessor as you’re surrounded by skyscrapers but I can forgive this as there are far more opportunities to see and explore the wider mythos of Batman’s world. You’ll stumble across Crime Alley, explore the remains of the old Gotham City Police Department (complete with Bat-Signal on the roof), fight through the museum and into the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge, and take on the Joker’s gang at the dilapidated remains of the Sionis steel mill over on Amusement Mile. Similar to Arkham Island (which you can still see lingering in the misty distance), the city prison is a rundown, desolate place full of graffiti, burned out cars, litter, and chaos and there’s a real sense that the dogs have been literally let loose within its high walls and have turned the city into a veritable war zone. As you might expect, there are some more intricate and elaborate areas of the city, too. You can venture down into the abandoned subway and, of course, navigate through some stony catacombs and sewers beneath the city but, luckily, the game is far bigger and makes much better use of these environments when it comes to utilising Batman’s abilities so there’s far less awkward jumping and climbing and much more emphasis on the Line Launcher and grapnel boost, though you will need to get used to the new dive bomb mechanic in order to swoop in through some tight areas and get 100% completion.

Some nightmarish sequences, jump scares, and chilling encounters add to the world’s mythos.

Things definitely start to take a more visually interesting turn once you venture into the abandoned Wonder City, a town populated by deactivated robots and lost to the midst of times, and scale Wonder Tower to confront Hugo Strange. Sadly, there aren’t the same dynamic sections as those involving Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the last game but Arkham City does go to some lengths to recreate these sections when the plot demands that Batman suffer the effects of his poisoning. Later, during a side quest involving Jervis Tetch/The Mad Hatter, you’ll experience a much more similar, twisted nightmare world but the game does include far more elaborate and layered areas to explore that change as the story progresses. The GCPD will freeze over because of Doctor Victor Fries/Mister Freeze, the steel mill needs to be cooled down and then you have to enter through a different entrance that involves navigating past giant machinery and drills, Julian Day/Calendar Man is imprisoned beneath the courthouse, and the museum contains a gigantic frozen pool with a very large and unfriendly denizen awaiting you.

The attention to detail, new villains, and cameos are even better than ever this time around.

Thanks to the diversity in the game’s inmates, enemies have a lot more visual variety this time around as they wear different colourings and outfits. There is also a lot more chatter as Batman picks up on his enemy’s radio signals and broadcasts, with both Joker and villains like Penguin taunting you and issuing commands to their underlings. Batman’s suit, while visually very similar to the last one, still takes on battle damage as the story progresses and, as you’d expect, both Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill knock it out of the park with their stellar work as Batman and Joker, respectively. Like before, Batman stops to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle but he also talks with his faithful butler and father-figure, Alfred Pennyworth, who sends additional equipment and offers council. The game also features far more references to Batman’s cast of characters and the wider DC universe and there’s even a much-appreciated cameo from a really well-designed version of Tim Drake/Robin for good measure. Cutscenes still make liberal use of the in-game graphics, which are even closer to the higher quality cinematics, and you’ll now see a helpful little recap of the story and your current outstanding missions when reloading a save.

Enemies and Bosses:
With Arkham Asylum gone, its inmates and the rest of Gotham’s criminals have been tossed into Arkham City instead; for the most part, the bulk of the game’s enemies are the same scumbags you fought in the last game but in different clothing and with more jeers to throw your way. Inmates will throw punches, grab weapons, toss items at you, and attack with both knives, guns, grenades (in a new twist), electrical batons, and will even pick up car doors to use as shields and ram you. Eventually, you’ll also have to contend with snipers, enemies wearing collars that will attract their allies when they’re downed, enemies that can jam your technology, ones that take hostages, and thugs will even use thermal vision to spot you and start destroying the ledges you’re hiding on if you linger too long or fail to stay hidden. While the crazed lunatics from the last game are gone, the TITAN monsters make a return and some inmates with be decked out in protective armour. A simple Batarang to the face is no longer enough to dispatch these goons; this time, you must use three cape swipes to stun them and mash X to beat them into submission while also countering incoming attacks. You’ll also have to contend with the one-armed Abramovici twins a number of times; these big bastards swing huge sledgehammers or scythes and must be blasted with a bolt from Batman’s Remote Electrical Charge gun to inflict damage on nearby enemies and pummelled with your attacks as they can’t be stunned so you have to strike, hop over to avoid their swings, and strike again to defeat them.

Solomon Grundy more than makes up for Two-Face and Penguin’s lack of physical challenge.

Arkham City is populated by a number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, basically all of them being new additions to the roster of bosses. The first you’ll encounter is Two-Face, who has taken over the courthouse and held Selina Kyle/Catwoman hostage. This is more of a tutorial for the basics of combat and Dent is dispatched by Catwoman in a cutscene rather than in an actual boss fight, and the following encounter with the Penguin is quite similar. This is basically the culmination of a side mission that sees you rescuing frozen police officers, freeing Mr. Freeze, and acquiring tech from his suit to deactivate his freezing gun (which the Penguin is using to keep you at bay). In fact, the first real physical challenge you have (aside from gladiatorial bouts against swarms of inmates or fights against one of the Abramovici twins) follows this encounter with the Penguin, which sees you facing off against the hulking zombie Solomon Grundy. You fight Grundy in a kind of gothic laboratory and must use your quick-fire explosive gel to close up three holes on the floor that regenerate Grundy’s health with lightning (while dodging said lightning) and allow you to put a beating on Grundy. This continues into the next phase, where Grundy tries to crush you with leaping attacks and two giant wrecking balls and sends weird little mice-things scuttling towards you. The third phase is more of the same but Grundy has one arm trapped in a machine; this time, the floor holes open sporadically for even shorter bursts and you need to avoid the shockwaves Grundy produces. Once he’s finally defeated, you have to dodge out of the way of the Penguin’s missile to punch him out once and for all, all of which is more interesting and engaging than the final boss of the last game.

While Rā’s tests your reflexes, you’ll need to use all of Batman’s skills and gadgets to bring down Mr. Freeze.

The next main story boss you’ll battle is Rā’s al Ghūl but, before this, you must first track down one of his ninja assassins by her blood trail, get past more of them in Wonder City (they can dodge your strikes and teleport in puffs of smoke before attacking with sword swipes), and endure the “Demon Trials” (gliding sections through a twisted hellscape where you can’t touch anything but the highlighted areas). You’ll face Rā’s in a desert that is part delusion, part reality, and have to take out hoards of sand men while he dashes at you from out of nowhere. Once you get past them, you must dodge the shurikens and blades he sends your way while blasting at him through his human shield with your Disruptor, and then mash Y to counter his attacks. The speed and aggressiveness of his attacks increases as the fight goes on but the final blow comes down to a well-timed toss of the reverse Batarang and Rā’ later meets a very gruesome end for his part in the game’s events. Next, you’ll have to take on easily the most intricate and complex boss of the game (or most games, for that matter) as Mr. Freeze betrays you and forces you into a confrontation. Depending on the difficulty you’re playing on, you may be forced to use every single one of Batman’s gadgets and abilities to deal damage and leave him vulnerable for a beatdown as Mr. Freeze learns and adapts his strategy as the fight progresses. Mr. Freeze will plod around the laboratory searching for you and sending heat-seeking globes to seek you out; you can use Batman’s glide attack, takedowns, and gadgets (like the explosive gel and Remote Electrical Charge gun) to deal damage but he’ll take action to ensure that you can’t do this twice (he freezes the ledges, grapple points, and vents, destroys parts of the environment, erects a shield, among other defensive measures), which forces you to think on your feet and explore options you might not normally use.

After stopping Strange and defeating Clayface, you’ll find some other villains to take down.

In the game’s finale, Strange activates the mysterious “Protocol 10” and commences a strategic bombardment of Arkham City; this briefly forces you to hack into circling helicopters in order to get inside of Wonder Tower and shut Strange down but, after you do, you’re forced into a confrontation with the Joker, who seems revitalised and has taken Talia al Ghūl hostage. Earlier in the game, you actually fight the Joker in his base form while his goons and out of control dodgem cars fill the arena but, when you confront him at the end, it’s revealed to have been Basil Karlo/Clayface in disguise; thus, the finale is, again, a battle against a hulking enemy. This time, you have to dodge Clayface’s cannonball attack and swinging arms while repeatedly spamming Freeze Blasts to whittle his health down. In the second phase, you grab a sword and slice up the mud men he spawns while repeating these tactics and avoiding his big sledgehammer shot in order to take him down. In between each of these main mission boss fights, you’ll come across a number of side missions that will draw you into confrontations with more of Batman’s rogues gallery: Floyd Lawton/Deadshot has been killing targets all over the city but Batman eventually tracks him down and must sneak past his one-shot rifle-arm to take him down; Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz has been killing people by luring them to ringing phones so Batman has to listen to his macabre life story to triangulate his location and then sneak around him in a partially flooded area to rescue his hostages; the Mad Hatter abducts you and forces you to battle waves of demonic rabbits; and the Riddler has also taken five hostages and placed them in Saw (Wan, 2004)-like traps. These hostages can only be saved by finding the Riddler’s Trophies, solving riddles, and interrogating his informants (highlighted in green) to gain access to his “Enigma Device” and locate each one in turn using the Cryptographic Sequencer.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As before, Arkham City features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and destroy cameras and such, you’ll gain XP. Upon levelling-up, you can again upgrade Batman’s armour (now separated into one that improves damage from melee attacks and one from gunfire) to gain additional health, add more elaborate takedowns to his repertoire (including a swarm of disorientating bats, bone-breaking takedowns, and weapon disarmaments), and upgrade his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. Again, it’s pretty easy to fully upgrade all of Batman’s abilities if you engage with enemies and search out riddles on a regular basis, and it’s best to mix and match your upgrades for a balanced playthrough but you can choose to focus on making Batman more durable if you so wish.

Batman’s new toys let him charge power points and create temporary platforms, among other things.

Batman begins the game with many of the gadgets he had at the end of the last one, making him far more equipped for the rigours of Arkham City; many of his weapons, such as the grapnel gun and explosive gel, can now be used as quick-fire attacks to mix up your combos to allow for more diverse combat. Although Batman can no longer rip down walls with his grapnel gun, the Line Launcher can be upgraded to fire a second line and allow Batman to walk along it like a tightrope and he also has access to some new toys. The smoke pellets allow him to disorientate enemies and make an escape if needed, the Remote Electrical Charge gun allows him to power up electrical appliances, the Disruptor deactivates mines and renders up to two enemy guns useless, and the Freeze Blast (and upgraded Freeze Cluster) can plug up steam pipes and form ice floats on bodies or water to allow Batman to float around by grappling onto conveniently-placed hooks around the environment.

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham City has fifty Achievements to earn, with the bulk of these popping simply by playing through the story, meeting certain objectives, and defeating bosses. One has you fiddling with the Xbox’s internal date and time in order to hear Calendar Man ’s chilling acts while most of the others are tied specifically towards starting or completing the game’s many side missions rather than solving or finding riddles (although this is a factor since you need to do this to rescue the Riddler’s hostages). No matter what difficulty you complete the game on, you’ll unlock a New Game Plus mode that offers and additional difficult challenge, mixes up the enemy placements, allows you to play the story with any additional DLC costumes, and carries over all of your gadgets and upgrades to a new game file. You’ll also be able to return to your original save file in a post-game world where the inmates will comment on the dramatic conclusion of the game and be freely able to switch to Catwoman at certain points on the map.

Alongside the Riddler challenges, there are a number of additional side quests to occupy your time.

This is super useful if you have any outstanding side missions to complete; not only are there some diving simulations to complete and a bunch of Riddler challenges tied to performing combat and gameplay manoeuvres, there are many other mysteries and villains out there to confront, such as tracking down Thomas Elliot/Hush (who has been mutilating victims to impersonate Bruce Wayne), figuring out the motives of the mysterious Michael Lane/Azrael, saving a number of political prisoners from random acts of violence, locating and reunited Nora Fries’ cryogenically frozen body with Mr. Freeze, and destroying TITAN containers in a fragile alliance with Bane. Additionally, there are way more Riddler Trophies hidden throughout Arkham City, many of which require precision gliding, pressing pressure pads, and using a variety of Batman’s gadgets to pick them up. Catwoman also has her own Riddler Trophies to pick up and, while there are no audio tapes to find this time, you can still unlock biographies, news stories, and audio clips by solving and finding riddles. As before, the game features a Challenge Mode, now rebranded as “Riddler’s Revenge”, which allows you to take on self-contained combat and predator challenges based on encounters in the game. You’ll battle a few waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rack up points by sustaining and varying your combos and pick off goons from the shadows while handicapped by a number of modifiers (such as disabling your Detective Mode, shielding enemies from damage, or having reduced health).

Arkham City makes up for the last game with a whole bunch DLC skins, characters, and challenge maps.

There is also a new series of “Campaign” maps that mix up the two challenges to present a sort of adjacent side story to the main game and you can compare your high scores against friends and other using the online leaderboards. These challenge maps, and the main game itself, can be expanded by purchasing the many different DLC packs for the game. As mentioned, Catwoman was a big selling point of the game and those who pre-ordered Arkham City or purchased her DLC can switch to playing as Catwoman during the story to follow a side mission involving Poison Ivy and stealing from Hugo Strange. The DLC for Arkham City is such a massive step up compared to the last game, adding twenty Achievements to collect and numerous costumes for Batman to use in New Game Plus and on challenge maps, and, best of all, the ability to play as Robin and Dick Grayson/Nightwing in the challenge maps. Each of the four playable characters plays a little differently (Catwoman is faster but weaker, slashes with her claws and tosses bolas; Robin uses his bo staff, riot shield, and faster (but shorter) version of the Batclaw; and Nightwing batters thugs with batons and utilises his acrobatic skill to take out enemies) and has their own gadgets but, sadly, only Catwoman is available to play as in the main game. Robin does take centre stage in a post-game DLC story, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge”, that sees him infiltrating the steel mill to rescue Batman; I had all of this DLC on the PlayStation 3 and greatly enjoyed the variety offered by the skins and each character but I do wish that the studio had allowed these additional characters to be used in the actual main game.

The Summary:
I was massively impressed with Batman: Arkham City when I first played it on the PlayStation 3; the game was just so much bigger and better than the original thanks to expanding the scope of the game world and the range of Batman’s abilities and gadgets. Everything that worked in the original game is back and improved upon, making combat even more fluid and diverse and truly defining the essence of Batman to set the standard for the remainder of the series. Rather than being confined to a claustrophobic, gothic prison, Batman is freely able to roam and fight around a dilapidated, walled off section of the city full of Easter Eggs, references, inmates to fight, secrets to find, and side missions to keep you busy for far longer than the first game. Best of all, the game is packed full of post-game and additional content thanks to these side missions, the New Game Plus mode, the expanded Challenge Mode, and the impressive abundance of DLC. Including additional skins, a short post-game story, and two of my favourite Batman characters in Robin and Nightwing really helps to expand the lore of this interpretation of Batman’s world and offers far more replay value. For me, Arkham City is still the gold standard for the Batman: Arkham series (Various, 2009 to 2015) and, while Arkham Asylum finally offered all of Batman’s abilities in a fun and engaging way, Arkham City expanded on them to the nth degree and truly defined what it means to play as Batman in an open world environment and it definitely deserves all of the praise it earned upon release and even to this day.

My Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fantastic

What did you think about Batman: Arkham City? How do you feel it holds up compared to the original games and its sequels? Did you enjoy that the game world was expanded into a city-sized open world or did you prefer to more claustrophobic aesthetic of the first game? Which of Batman’s new gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever track down all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Which of the side missions was your favourite to complete? What did you think to the game’s DLC and would you have liked to see Robin and Nightwing playable in the main game? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever you think about Batman: Arkham City, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the next Arkham videogame!

Game Corner [Bat-Month]: Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360)


In the decades since his first dramatic appearance in the pages of Detective Comics, Bruce Wayne/Batman has become a mainstream, worldwide, pop culture icon. The brainchild of writer Bob Kane, Batman was brought to life by artist Bill Finger and has been a popular staple of DC Comics and countless movies, videogames, and cartoons over the years. Accordingly, September celebrates “Batman Day” and is just another perfect excuse to celebrate comic’s grim and broody vigilante and, this year, I’ll be dedicating every Wednesday to Gotham’s Dark Knight Detective.


Released: 25 August 2009
Developer: Rocksteady Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X

The Background:
Ever since his debut in the pages of Detective Comics back in 1939, the Batman has been a popular staple of DC Comics and has appeared in numerous comic books, cartoons, live-action films and, of course, videogames. The first videogame adaptation of Batman was an isometric adventure game released in 1986 and, over the years, Batman has been placed into numerous different videogame genres, from beat-‘em-ups, sidescrolling brawlers, and adventure games, but it’s safe to say that there have been more than a few duds during that time. By 2009, Batman’s videogames had been very hit and miss but the character’s popularity had received a resurgence thanks to the recent success of The Dark Knight (Nolan, 2008).

Batman has starred in many videogames over the years but not all of them have been well-recieved.

After Eidos Interactive bought the rights to make a Batman game, they turned to developers Rocksteady Studios after being impressed with their prototype for the title. Noted writer Paul Dini, who had spearheaded the popular DC Animated Universe (DCAU), was brought on to develop the game’s story and characterisations, which drew inspiration from some of Batman’s grittier and more grounded tales and included the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to capitalise on their success in the DCAU. Rocksteady spent their time not only meticulously crafting a unique world that drew from Batman’s vast comic history to create a dark, claustrophobic game world, but also building an intuitive combat system and perfecting the depiction of Batman’s cape and gadgets to really encapsulate the feeling of being the Batman for the first time. The result was a game released to widespread critical acclaim; critics praised the game’s story and mechanics, and intricate marriage of combat and stealth and the game was later bolstered by some downloadable content (DLC), various re-releases and remasters, and kicked off one of the most celebrated and successful superhero videogame franchises ever seen.

The Plot:
After apprehending the Joker and bringing him to Arkham Asylum, Batman finds himself trapped on Arkham Island when the Clown Prince of Crime causes a mass breakout. With guards, doctors, and other innocents at risk, and hoards of his rogues and other rabid criminal thugs freely roaming the asylum, Batman has no choice but to use his skills and gadgets to fight back and uncover the true nature of the Joker’s plot.

Gameplay:
Batman: Arkham Asylum is a third-person, action/adventure game that takes place in a quasi-open world; though not as large as other open world videogames, such as those seen in the subsequent sequels, Arkham Asylum still presents Batman with a number of different locations and areas to explore on the grim, gothic island that houses Gotham City’s most depraved and dangerous criminal maniacs. While other Batman videogames often focused purely on mindless combat or poorly implemented his gadgets and skills, Arkham Asylum featured the most diverse and intuitive range of movement for the Caped Crusader that players had ever seen at that point. Although players cannot make Batman jump, they can hold down the A button to sprint and vault up/over walls and Batman will automatically hop across gaps and spread his elaborate cap to glide through the night air. Pressing the Right Bumper will see Batman grapple to nearby ledges and higher areas (usually stone gargoyles) to avoid enemies or reach new sections of the asylum. Holding the Right Trigger sees Batman drop into a crouch to stay hidden and sneak up on thugs while tapping the Left Trigger will see him tossing a quick Batarang to stun foes or activate switches (holding LT will allow you to better aim and direct this projectile) and you can select any of Batman’s gadgets using the directional pad (D-pad) to access his gadget wheel.

Combat is fast and fluid, allowing Batman to strike and counter with a deft swiftness.

Of course, one of the most prominent aspects of Arkham Asylum is the game’s unique combat system.; rather than simply mashing buttons, combat is a fluid and slick affair somewhat akin to a rhythm game. Pressing X will see Batman strike the enemy nearest to him; repeated presses begin a combo and you can stun enemies with Batman’s cape by pressing B or hop over them by tapping A. During combat, the camera automatically pans to show you the best view of your immediate area and any enemies around you and, when enemies try to strike at you, a “Counter” indicator will appear. When it does, tap Y and Batman will automatically counter the oncoming attack and, by successfully stringing together strikes and counters, you can build up bigger and more elaborate combos and fluidly take down multiple enemies at once. Once an enemy has been knocked down, or when sneaking up on them, you can press RT and Y to perform a takedown that will knock them out cold and, as you defeat enemies and uncover secrets, you’ll earn experience points (XP) which can be spent purchasing new takedowns and combat options when you level up.

Batman’s Detective Mode is perfect for striking fear into armed thugs and taking them out silently.

Another important aspect of the game is stealth; utilising the “Predator” mechanic, Batman can sneak up on enemies and make use of high ledges to stalk rooms full of armed thugs and pick them off one at a time by utilising the infrared filter offered by his “Detective Mode”. This is activated by pressing the Left Bumper and will wash the environment in a grainy, black and white filter that highlights enemies by their body heat and shows their current condition. Using the shadows and your gadgets, you can drop down on enemies from above, sneak through grates, and set up traps to take them down and pick them off and their cohorts will react accordingly, becoming increasingly agitated and trigger happy as the section progresses. Batman is extremely vulnerable to sustained gunfire so it’s better to be patient and take down each enemy one at a time but you can grapple away to safety if you’re spotted and are even able to take down enemies while hanging from ledges or from afar with Batman’s many toys. Detective Mode also allows you to scan your environment; for the most part, this will be to solve riddles placed all over Arkham Asylum by Edward Nashton/Edward Nygma/The Riddler but, at various times during the game’s story, you’ll have to set up a crime scene to scan evidence and filter out aromas and other elements that will lead you to your next objective as long as you have Detective Mode activated. Although there is no onscreen map, you can view a comprehensive blueprint of Arkham Island by pressing the “Back” button. From here, you’ll see all of the unsolved riddles in the game and where your next objective is, as well as being able to enter any of the game’s environments to review the layout and any remaining secrets to be discovered.

The game world is constantly changing and you always need to find new ways to progress.

You can’t set up a waypoint and there’s only a few sections where you’re literally shown the way but, thankfully, Arkham Asylum isn’t too difficult to explore or navigate for the most part (though there some areas that are quite frustrating or mired in overly dark lighting). Batman: Arkham Asylum features not only a level-up system but also a progressively increasing difficulty curve; while the game’s “Hard” mode will obviously offer the most challenging experience (enemies are more aggressive and counter indicators are omitted entirely), the game world will constantly change as you progress through the story. New areas become accessible as you acquire and upgrade Batman’s many gadgets and areas that you’ve previously visited will become populated by snipers, maniacs, or over-run by Pamela Isley/Poison Ivy’s monstrous plants to keep the game feeling fresh and allowing your actions to actually have an impact on the environment. Backtracking is a prominent feature of the game as some areas will be locked off until you get a new gadget; other areas are locked off entirely, forcing you to use vents, grapples, or explode walls in order to progress and you’ll definitely need to explore every nook and cranny to solve all of the game’s riddles and collect all of the pickups. Although there is no manual save option, the game is extremely generous with checkpoints (which, thankfully, also appear mid-way through certain boss battles) and Batman’s health bar is replenished after successfully defeating enemies in combat, solves riddles, or finds secrets.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, some fifteen years after its original release, Batman: Arkham Asylum is a visually impressive game. The entire game takes places in a single night, meaning the gothic, decrepit asylum is constantly bathed in an ominous, murky darkness that goes a long way to adding to the game’s claustrophobic and oppressive atmosphere. At times, the game is a little too dark and you’ll either be relying too much on Detective Mode or adjusting the brightness settings to get around but I can forgive this as the dark, moody aesthetic really encapsulates the nature of what it means to be Batman. Arkham Asylum is quite an elaborate environment for what amounts to a glorified sandbox; the prison/facility has been depicted in many different ways over the years but, here, it’s a gloomy, gothic prison confined to an island separated from the greater city. The island itself adds as the hub world, of sorts, and you can travel to different areas by passing through large, automated doors (that are clearly masking loading zones) or using Batman’s various gadgets and skills, and at each compass point you’ll find a different area to explore.

Environments are seeped in a dark, ominous aesthetic that adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere.

The island is home to a high-tech penitentiary, a dilapidated mansion, a dock, a hospital/morgue, a cemetery, and even has a large botanical garden to visit. Each area is suitable foreboding and shows signs of wear and tear (to say nothing of death and anarchy from the breakout of the inmates) and, despite the overwhelming use of blacks, greys, and darkness, stands out from each other through their unique layouts and gameplay mechanics. The island is also home to a vast network of sewers and caves; Batman has even set up a small Batcave on the island, where you’ll travel a few times to acquire upgrades, but these stone catacombs are by far the worst areas to explore in the game. The sewer system that Waylon Jones/Killer Croc has taken as his home isn’t too bad but the caves are dark and crumbling, meaning that your grapnel gun is all but useless and you’re forced to rely on Batman’s jumping skills. For the most part, these are serviceable, but the game’s focus is not on precision platforming so it can sometimes be a pain to get Batman (and the camera) pointed in the direction you need to go. When you later revisit these areas to mop up any unsolved riddles, it’s easy to get lost and confused and it’s a shame that the game doesn’t give you the option to fast exit an area or building from the map screen as there’s nothing worse than venturing deep into the catacombs and then struggling to find your way out.

Your encounters with the Scarecrow will have you questioning the stability of the game!

While the game is tight as a drum in terms of its stability, there are noticeable times where you’ll have to sit and wait as the next section loads and it can sometimes be a little too easy to get caught on the environment or botch a ledge grab but these moments are few and far between. By far the game’s most impressive sections, though, are the nightmarish illusions and hallucinations brought about by exposure to Doctor Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow’s fear gas and toxins; these cause the game to warp, restricting your moment, perception, and controls, and transform the environment into a chilling recreation of Crime Alley or show Batman visions of his dead parents and allies. This leads to a series of really unique, 2.5D sections where you must navigate a disparate hellscape, avoiding the Scarecrow’s gaze and trying not to get too freaked out by his Freddy Krueger-like appearance or Batman’s character model briefly flashing to that of Scarecrow’s. Easily the most memorable moment of all of these sequences is the moment the game abruptly appears to crash and resets on you, only to restart with a recreation of the game’s opening cutscene with the Joker delivering a manic Batman to Arkham while his villains taunt and jeer at him.

In-game graphics are top notch, with Batman’s suit progressively taking damage over time.

In terms of character models, Arkham Asylum also still holds up really well. While generic thugs and goons quickly get a bit repetitive, the game’s interpretations of Batman’s different rogues is very unique and compelling and the influence of the legendary artist Jim Lee is readily apparent in the appearance of Killer Croc, Doctor Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn, and Batman himself. Fittingly, Batman benefits the most from the game’s graphics; not only does Kevin Conroy deliver sterling work as always as the character but Batman’s suit will accrue damage as the story progresses, with rips, tears, bullet holes, and other bits of wear and tear showing up as you progress through the story. So strong are Arkham Asylum’s in-game graphics that they are generally the default for the game’s cutscenes; many times throughout the story, Batman will stop to converse with Barbara Gordon/Oracle to comment on and progress the plot and his current investigation but there are instances of higher quality cutscenes as well, which aren’t too far off from what is seen during gameplay. The game’s music is suitably brooding and gothic, picking up when enemies spot you or you’re in combat and being used very effectively to establish a foreboding mood to the game’s events. Finally, not only do the thugs and inmates constantly chat, banter, and taunt you but the game is frequently punctuated by announcements from the Joker. Like Conroy, Hamill excels in the role and adds a glorious entertaining dark humour to the events, stealing the show every time his voice is heard and, overall, music, sound effects, and visuals are all married perfectly to encapsulate the dark, moody atmosphere of the game and really add to the experience of being the Batman.

Enemies and Bosses:
Being that it’s home to the criminally insane, Arkham Asylum is populated by all kinds of maniacal inmates; however, as part of his elaborate plan, the Joker also struck when a number of Blackgate Penitentiary’s prisoners were on the island, and these are the thugs you’ll encounter the most. Generally, goons are spread across the hub world or waiting in corridors or large, open rooms and can either be engaged head-on or from the shadows if they have firearms. Enemies will attack as a group, meaning you’ll have to be constantly aware of incoming attacks, and will even grab items and objects to throw at you or use as makeshift weapons.

Eventually, more dangerous and monstrous enemies spread across the asylum.

As the story progresses, you’ll encounter more formidable enemies: snipers will take up positions above and must be taken out before they can put a bullet in you; inmates with knives must be stunned with your cape before you can attack them; those with electrical batons must by jumped over and attacked from behind; and crazed lunatics will leap at you and must be countered at the right time to stop them from pinning you down. You’ll also have to contend with those exposed to the Joker’s “TITAN” serum, which transforms them into monstrous, hulking beasts; these guys will charge at you, necessitating a quick toss of a Batarang and a dive out of the way to stun them so you can land a few shots and, eventually, hop on their back to whittle their health down and batter about any nearby enemies. Sometimes you’ll have to fight two of these at once, alongside a variety of other thugs, and you’ll also have to dispatch Ivy’s TITAN-infused plants, which spit out homing spores and must be slowly approached in order to destroy them.

Battles with Mr. Zsasz and Bane will teach you fundamental, life-saving tactics for later in the game.

The Joker’s plan also requires him to unleash a very specific number of Batman’s most notorious rogues, who you must take down in a series of encounters as boss battles. The first of these you’ll go up against is Victor Zsasz/Mister Zsasz in what is, essentially, a glorified tutorial to teach you about grappling from cover to cover to sneak up on an enemy. You’ll also encounter him later in the game in a similar situation designed to teach you how to use the reverse Batarang feature and, in both cases, you can easily take him down with no trouble at all as long as you’re not spotted. Similarly, though she’s a constant thorn in your side throughout the game, you can easily apprehend Harley Quinn after battling a short gauntlet of goons, which is only fitting considering that neither villain is much of a physical match for Batman. Bane, however, is. Like the TITAN goons, he must be stunned with a Batarang when he charges at you and battered with a quick combo to yank out the Venom pipes supplying his superhuman strength. However, as the fight progresses, goons will drop into the arena to distract you; again, like the TITANs, Bane can grab downed enemies and launch them at you as projectiles but he’ll also toss parts of the environment your way as well so it have to constantly be thinking on your feet and ready to dodge out of the way. As long as you can deal with the annoying goons, avoid Bane’s wild strikes and ground pound, and dodge out of his charges, he’s not especially difficult and battling him (and the TITANs) serves as great practise for the game’s final boss.

You’ll need patience, skill, and gadgets to conquer Killer Croc and the Scarecrow.

Before that, though, you’ll have to contend with Killer Croc in the sewers. Down here, you must slowly walk across wooden platforms to avoid attracting Croc’s attention; when he lunges out of the water, you must quickly toss a Batarang to subdue him and make a run for it when he starts smashing up the platforms. Eventually, you’ll avoid him and collect the samples Batman needs to synthesise an anti-virus for the TITAN formula and Croc will chase you down. This forces you to run towards the camera as quickly as possible and then detonate explosive charges before Croc can reach you to send him plummeting down a deep chasm. As mentioned before, you’ll also have to contend with the Scarecrow on no less than three occasions. Each time, you must navigate his hellscape using your stealth, gadgets, and jumping/shimmying skills to avoid being spotted but, as the encounters progress, you’ll also have to fend off waves of skeletons. In the final encounter, Scarecrow summons more of these enemies, including a TITAN variant, in three waves; after defeating each one, Batman activates a Bat-Signal and will eventually dispel and break free of the Scarecrow’s harrowing nightmares once and for all.

Sadly (or thankfully), the final boss isn’t anywhere near as interesting as the one with Poison Ivy.

By far the most frustrating boss battle of the game, though, is the one against Poison Ivy; encased in a monstrous man-eating plant, she sends out a bunch of tentacles that will choke the life out of you in seconds, commands besotted thugs and guards to attack you, and fires super-fast and painful bolts your way. To defeat her, you must avoid her attacks, defeat her goons, and toss a quick Batarang at her when she exposes herself while firing at you. When she collapses, you can use your explosive gel to damage the pod but this battle can get very harrowing on the game’s Hard difficulty. When you finally confront the Joker for the final showdown, he arranges a gaggle of thugs to greet you at the door, tries to kill you with an exploding television, forces you to fight a whole bunch of enemies and two TITANs at once, and then transforms himself into a TITAN monster for the finale. In this fight, you must avoid his claw swipes and then dispatch the goons that come into the arena, destroying exploding teeth and avoiding the electrified walls until it’s safe to pull the Joker down from his ledge and put a beating on him. Sadly, it’s not a very compelling final boss battle as it’s fundamentally the same as battling the TITANs and Bane, and it’s a bit of a missed opportunity to not have Batman undergo a similar transformation, but it’s decent enough for what it is and not too surprising that you wouldn’t fight the Joker one-on-one.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Batman: Arkham Asylum features a level-up progression system; every time you defeat enemies, solve riddles, or pick up Riddler Trophies and other items (like audio tapes and so forth), you’ll gain XP. When you level-up, you can spend the Skill Points you earn on improving Batman’s armour to give him more health, adding additional takedowns and combat moves to his repertoire, or upgrading his various gadgets to improve their range and efficiency. I recommend pacing these upgrades out (armour once, then a new takedown, armour again, maybe upgrade a gadget, and so forth) and fighting every enemy you see in order to upgrade Batman as fast as possibly. It’s very easy to fully upgrade Batman on even a casual playthrough on Hard mode, though, so it shouldn’t be too hard to get there.

Use XP to upgrade Batman’s abilities and gadget, and acquire new toys to progress further.

Along the way, Batman will acquire or construct new gadgets to help him progress. Explosive gel will allow him to knock enemies off balance or break through certain walls, the Line Launcher will allow him to cross chasms and gaps too wide to jump or glide across as long as there’s a solid wall behind and in front of him, the Sonic Batarang can be used to lure enemies away from each other or into a trap, the Ultra Batclaw allows Batman to tear down certain walls by tapping A after firing, and the Cryptographic Sequencer allows him to hack security panels by matching radiowaves with the analogue sticks to access Riddler Trophies, secret rooms, or open previously-inaccessible areas. The Batmobile and Batwing also make an appearance but you cannot utilise these in the game, unfortunately, but you can upgrade the Batarang to throw up to three at separate targets or be remote controlled (though this is also quite limited in its application).

Additional Features:
Batman: Arkham Asylum has forty-seven Achievements for you to earn, the majority of which are acquired simply by progressing through the story and clearing certain missions or defeating bosses. Some require you to defeat enemies in certain ways or rack up a certain combo score, others are tied to gliding consecutively or completing the game on each difficulty setting, but the majority are tied towards finding the Riddler Trophies, solving his riddles, and completing combat and predator challenges in the game’s “Challenge Mode”. To elaborate, the Riddler has hidden numerous glowing green trophies all across Arkham Island; some are hidden in plain view, others require your gadgets or a bit of exploration to find. Pretty much every single room or area of the island also has a number of riddles associated with it that you must solve by scanning parts of the environment; these are generally linked to Batman’s history or rogues and will unlock character biographies of guys like Harvey Dent/Two-Face and Arnold Wesker/The Ventriloquist. Every time you solve or find these, you’ll gain XP and get one step closer to 100% collection so it’s worth taking time to look for a small tea set or a plague dedicated to Martha and Tomas Wayne.

Riddles and secrets are scattered all over the damn place.

Additionally, there are stone monuments to Amadeus Arkham, the founder of the island and its facility, to be found and scanned to learn more about Arkham’s morbid history as well as audio tapes and maps to further flesh out the characters’ backstories and reveal the Riddler’s secrets. From the main menu, you’ll also see the option to take on Challenge Mode. These are specific, self-contained combat and predator sections based on encounters in the game and pit you against waves of increasingly difficult enemies and rooms full of thugs, respectively, and are unlocked by finding Riddler Trophies and solving riddles. When you take on a Challenge, you’ll either have to face a number of rounds against different enemies in different environments or pick off thugs from the shadows according to a number of requirements (such as using explosive gel or a vertical takedown). Each time you successfully meet these criteria, or rack up enough points, you’ll earn up to three medals, and eventually some Achievements, and can compete against friends and others using the online leaderboards. Sadly, though, unlike subsequent games in the series, there is no “New Game+” option, you only unlock one alternative outfit for completing the game and it’s restricted to the Challenge Mode, and the only DLC available is for additional Challenge maps. Those who have the PlayStation 3 or Return to Arkham (Rocksteady Studios/Virtuos Studios, 2016) versions (which I also do), though, can choose to play as the Joker in the Challenge Mode, which is pretty entertaining as he comes with his own unique and madcap fighting style and gadgets that separate him from the Batman.

The Summary:
I remember the first time I played Batman: Arkham Asylum when I first got it for the PlayStation 3 and being just blown away by how intricate, smooth, and impressive its controls, mechanics, and presentation were. Never before had a videogame offered such a range of versatility for Batman; rather than simply focusing on combat or one aspect of the character, Arkham Asylum really delved into what it means to be Batman and gave players the chance to experience each of those elements in a new, dynamic, and incredibly entertaining way. Combat is fluid and easy to master, stealth sections are exhilarating even when it can take a while to pick enemies off, and even the game’s more frustrating enemies or bosses are fun to encounter thanks to the overall aesthetic and top-notch presentation given to the game. It truly feels like a legitimate, authentic, heartfelt attempt to capture the “spirit” of being Batman and some of his most notorious villains. Restricting the action to Arkham Island may make the game much smaller and quaint compared to its successors but it adds to the claustrophobic tension that permeates the narrative and the desperate situation Batman finds himself in as he’s trapped on an island with no means of escape and duty-bound to hunt these criminals down. While the sequels may have expanded and improved upon literally aspect featured in this first game, as well as adding much more fan service and additional features, Batman: Arkham Asylum is still a really enjoyable experience and I had a blast playing through it again for this long-overdue review.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

What did you think to Batman: Arkham Asylum? How do you feel it holds up compared to its sequels and other, similar videogames? Did you enjoy being restricted to the titular asylum or do you prefer the bigger, more open worlds of the later games? Which of Batman’s gadgets and rogues were your favourite to use or fight against and why? Did you ever find all of the Riddler’s trophies and secrets? Were you a fan of the game’s freeflowing combat system and the various gameplay options available to you? How are you planning on celebrating Batman Day this year and what is your favourite Batman videogame? Whatever your thoughts on Batman: Arkham Asylum, or Batman in general, please leave a comment below and check back in next Wednesday for my review of the sequel!

Game Corner [Spidey Month]: Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions (Xbox 360)


Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!


Released: 7 September 2010
Developer: Beenox
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PC, and PlayStation 3

The Background:
Eager to capitalise on his success with the Fantastic Four, Marvel Comics editor and head writer Stan Lee conceived of Peter Parker/Spider-Man alongside Steve Ditko and the troubled teenage superhero first appeared in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. A near-instant hit, Spider-Man quickly made the leap to cartoons, films, action figures, and a number of videogames as well as seeing numerous other incarnations in the pages of Marvel Comics. In 2010, developers Beenox brought together four distinct versions of Spider-Man, each with their own aesthetic design and playstyle, for Activision’s next Spider-Man game. The developers sought to have the bosses of the game be just as distinct, as well as including some first-person sequences to break up the action and employing the talents of many notable Spider-Man voice actors to pay homage to the character’s long history. Although the game received mostly positive reviews, in addition to some downloadable content (DLC), it was eventually de-listed after Activision lost the Spider-Man license.

The Plot:
During a fight between Spider-Man and Quentin Beck/Mysterio, the mythical Tablet of Order and Chaos is shattered into fragments, causing chaos throughout the multiverse and falling into the hands of some of Spidey’s most notorious foes. To retrieve the pieces of the Tablet, Cassandra Webb/Madame Web unites four versions of Spider-Man from across the multiverse: the classic “Amazing” Spider-Man, the grim and stoic Spider-Man Noir, Miguel O’Hara of the futuristic 2099, and the black-suited teenaged “Ultimate” Spider-Man.

Gameplay:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions is a linear, mission-based third-person action title that has players battle a number of Spider-Man’s most iconic foes as four distinctively different versions of Spider-Man, each with their own unique appearance, levels, and personality. While some Spider-Men have slightly different abilities, combat styles, and gameplay, there are many fundamental gameplay mechanics which the four Spider-Men share: they all jump with A (and tapping A again in mid-air will perform a double jump), can land a fast strike with X and a strong attack with Y (and holding down either button performs a charge attack and an air launcher, respectively), and web or grab objects and enemies with B and you can mix and match these attack commands to string together a few basic combos. Naturally, you can web-sling by holding the Right Trigger; release the trigger and hold it again to perform successive web-slings or tap RT to perform a super handy web-zip to quickly dash to perches and platforms. Tapping the Right Bumper sees you fire off a quick web shot (which I found to be largely useless), you can press up on the directional pad to enable the spider-sense (which acts almost exactly like the “Detective Mode” from the Batman: Arkham videogames (Rocksteady Studios/Various, 2009 to 2015) and allows you to see through walls and obstacles to highlight enemies and collectibles), and you can also hold the Left Trigger to enter an “Evasive Stance” that lets you dodge and roll away from enemy attacks.

While the Amazing Spider-Man takes the direct approach, his Noir counterpart sticks to the shadows.

Each Spider-Man has a few different options available to them that make their gameplay a little different; the Amazing variant is a pretty standard Spider-Man with no additional abilities whose gameplay consists of a mixture of combat, web-slinging, and wall-crawling with some very light puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure. His Noir counterpart may not have any additional abilities but he plays considerably different from his mulitversal allies; for one thing, Spider-Man Noir’s world is rendered entirely in the moody black-and-white of the 1930s and, for another, he’s far more reliant on stealth. Again, like the Batman: Arkham games, Spider-Man Noir has to stick to the shadows and avoid spotlights and being spotted by gangsters, who will fill him full of lead if they spot him and briefly hunt him down unless you flee to the shadows. This means you have to stay up high, out of the way, and in the darkness, sneaking up on enemies or taking them down from a variety of positions with the B button. Spider-Man Noir does also get to engage enemies in direct combat but only in specifically designed sections; most of your time will be spent webbing up gangsters from the shadows, which is pretty fun but nowhere near as challenging or varied as in the Batman: Arkham games as Spider-Man Noir doesn’t have any gadgets or options to distract or toy with his prey.

Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099 have special abilities that are unique to them.

Both Spider-Man 2099 and Ultimate Spider-Man make use of the Left Bumper; since he’s wearing the bestial black suit, Ultimate Spider-Man can build up a “Rage” meter by attacking enemies and, when it’s full, pressing LB sees him fly into a rage and attack enemies faster and with more powerful tendril attacks. In this regard, Ultimate Spider-Man seems to be more geared towards combat but, in practise, I found his gameplay mostly the same to his Amazing counterpart but with the added bonus of a useful attack buff. Spider-Man 2099 can utilise LB to activate his “Accelerated Vision”, which briefly slows down time and allows him to better dodge and react to incoming attacks and obstacles, and this meter will automatically refills over time. Spider-Man 2099 also has to endure a number of freefall sections that see you holding A to dive faster towards a target and use B to grab them and X to punch them all while avoiding debris and other obstacles.

Annoying first-person segments and rescue missions mix up the gameplay.

Other than that, the four Spider-Men share the remaining gameplay mechanics: this means you’ll be mashing B on certain walls and objects to rip them down or toss them at enemies and bosses, rescuing and protecting civilians and scientists by fending off enemies, swinging over to them, picking them up with B, and carrying them to a safety point; and taking part in some awkward first-person punching sequences. These appear during the majority of the game’s boss battles and see you using the two analogue sticks to punch or dodge, which is an interesting mechanic to add in but ultimately seems like something that could have been restricted to just the Amazing Spider-Man to help him stand out from the others. Other challenges include web-slinging away from danger (sometimes towards the camera, which can be very disorientating), web-zipping to enemies perched above, destroying certain objects, or activating or deactivating generators. Each level generally repeats these sections at least three times; if you have to rescue three civilians in the early part of a level, you can bet that you’ll be rescuing five a little later on, for example.

The game’s not especially difficult but can be long and tedious at times.

When not in combat or an action situation, each Spider-Man’s health will slowly regenerate, though you can also replenish it with Gold Spider Emblems scattered throughout each level. Occasionally, you’ll find water, acid, or electrified pits that will cause an instant respawn; other times, if you fall or fail a web-sling, you can recover with RT to save yourself. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has three difficulty settings (Easy, Normal, and Hard), though the game isn’t massively difficult on Normal. Hard mode obviously results in more durable and aggressive enemies, and mixes up their placement and how many hits will defeat a boss, but there are many checkpoints and respawn points sprinkled through the game’s levels, which can get quite long and tedious as you progress. Additionally, like many Spider-Man videogames, mechanics such as wall-crawling and web-slinging can get a bit janky in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions thanks to the controls bugging out when on walls and ceilings and the camera proving unreliable and jerky at times.

Graphics and Sound:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimension’s levels are entirely linear; there’s no free roaming or overworld to be found here, which is fine as that can be a little daunting, and instead you’ll explore a variety of levels that can be both large and intimidating and narrow and claustrophobic. When in wider, more open areas, your options for exploration are largely limited by walls (both visible and invisible) and gameplay objectives that constantly push you forwards. Still, there are at least a wide variety of locations on offer; you’ll scale Osborn Tower in the city, a disused desert mine, a ruin-filled jungle, and a hydroelectric dam amongst others. Primarily, the game leans towards a vibrant, quasi-cel-shaded style, especially for the Amazing and Ultimate Spider-Men, though not to the extent where it looks like ugly 2D characters monstrously rendered in 3D as in other games.

The game is full of visual variety in its levels, graphics, and characters.

Where the game really shines, though, are in the Noir and 2099 levels; the Noir levels are rendered entirely in monochrome, with sporadic use of colour only appearing when using the spider-sense. The heavy shadows and stark contrast of white on black immediately makes these sections stand out not just from the rest of the game but also its closest competitors, the Batman: Arkham titles, and reminds more of MadWorld (PlatinumGames, 2009) and Frank Miller’s Sin City comics and films (ibid, 1991 to 2002; ibid and Rodriguez, 2005; 2014). Similarly, the 2099 levels are an explosion of futuristic neon and technology; indeed, I found the 2009 levels to be a bit of a sensory overload and a bit difficult to digest, making it tricky to know where I was supposed to go since every level was so bustling with lights, metal, and colours. Still, it’s a great way to make each Spider-Man’s locations even more visually distinct from each other, though there was maybe a missed opportunity to mix things up a bit later in the game to have, say, Spider-Man Noir in the 2099 world.

The graphics hold up really well but it’s the voice work that really makes the game shine.

While the game’s music isn’t much more than the standard superhero fare of rousing horns and tunes, the voice acting is absolutely top notch! Each Spider-Man is voiced by a notable and popular Spidey voice actor from his many cartoons, which saw not only Dan Gilvezan’s return to the character after a twenty-five year absence but also the return of Christopher Daniel Bares, who voiced the Spider-Man I grew up with in the nineties cartoon. Neil Patrick Harris is easily the best of the four, though; he always makes for a fun and fitting Spider-Man and his delivery really sells the character’s many quips and witticisms. Stan Lee narrates the start and end of each chapter and Nolan North even reprises his role as Wade W. Wilson/Deadpool, who steals the show in his oil rig-turned-reality show by constantly berating and taunting Ultimate Spider-Man and breaking the fourth wall at every opportunity. The in-game graphics are brilliant; levels and enemies are as visually distinct as the four Spider-Man and the game runs very fast and smooth (when the camera isn’t freaking out on you). The cutscenes are equally impressive, if a bit inconsistent as they’re comprised of the in-game graphics, higher quality cinematics, and partially animated sequences, but they tell the story well enough and are always fun to watch.

Enemies and Bosses:
There are a number of goons to pit your spider-powers against in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but, for the most part, once you’ve faced the first wave of enemies in the first level, you’ll encounter the same troupes again and again but in new skins. You’ll find regular enemies who come at you with their fists and melee weapons (baseball bats and swords and such), gun-toting enemies who either chip away at your health or blast you full of holes when playing as Spider-Man Noir, shield-carrying enemies who you must zip towards and hop over with A to attack from behind, and larger enemies who will put up a block that you need to break with your air launcher attack. Other enemies include smaller versions or duplicates of the level’s main foe that can generally be taken out in one or two hits but swarm all over you, larger enemies that toss out grenades or seeking rockets, and all manner of zombies and genetically-engineered monstrosities. One aspect I really enjoyed was that enemies can actually attack and harm each other, which is incredibly helpful when swarmed by foes, and you can also throw objects such as barrels and flaming debris at enemies to help whittle them (or, at least, their health) down.

The Amazing Spider-Man battles Kraven, the Sandman, and the Juggernaut for the Tablet pieces.

Each level is structured around locating, pursuing, and/or confronting one of Spider-Man’s villains and retrieving a piece of the Tablet from them; thus, each level concludes in a boss battle but you’ll actually battle each boss a number of times throughout each level. The first boss the Amazing Spider-Man comes up against is Sergei Kravinoff/Kraven the Hunter, who leads you on a merry jaunt through the jungle, shoots at you through his sniper rifle, and initially battles you inside of a caged arena. Here, you’ll need to dodge and evade his jumping strikes and counterattack in response, web-zip to the convenient columns to avoid the floor spikes, and finish him off with some first-person punching. In the second battle, he’s much stronger and faster thanks to the Tablet fragment but the strategy remains the same; take advantage of the spawning columns to avoid his attacks and strike as and when you can but don’t linger in one area for too long or he’ll knock your ass down. Later, you’ll have to pursue Flint Marko/The Sandman through an abandoned mine, using your web pull to drench his raging sand tornado and battle his gigantic form within the mine itself. Here, you must trick him into slamming his fists into water carts to muddy them up and make them vulnerable, then toss barrels at his face to defeat him. Afterwards, he draws you within his chaotic sandstorm and his personality begins to unravel; you must web-zip around the floating debris avoiding his giant fists and tossing water barrels at his face so you can deal some real damage and put him down once and for all. Finally, you’ll battle and purse Cain Marko/The Juggernaut in a construction site, through the city, and in the wreckage of Osborn Tower; initially, you simply have to avoid his charge attack to cause him to ram into specific towers and beat on him when he’s lodged in the ground, but his later empowered form sees him add a whole bunch of annoying ground pounds and smashes to his repertoire. Still, as long as you dodge away and stay away from his powerful grapple moves, it’s not too difficult to avoid his attacks and projectiles and put a big beating on him when prompted.  

Spider-Man Noir’s bosses can be a bit tricky, confusing, and mundane, respectively.

In the train yard, Spider-Man Noir follows Joseph Lorenzini/Hammerhead and it’s in the first fight against him that you might hit a considerable difficulty wall; Hammerhead uses a huge Gatling gun to keep you at bay whenever his lights (or the spotlights in the arena) spot even the slightest part of you. After taking cover behind walls, you must wait for Hammerhead to rotate away and run around behind him, staying wide and in the shadows, and press B when prompted to put a beating on him but the game doesn’t make this very clear and Hammerhead spots you way too easily. In the second fight, you have to avoid his machine gun fire and toss barrels at him to force him to blow up a piece of machinery with his rocket launcher, then zip up to the higher platform as he fires wildly into the fog to do big damage with a takedown, and then avoid his head-on charge to finish him off. Later, Spider-Man Noir pursues Adrian Toomes/The Vulture through the grimy streets and confronts him in a large warehouse; the Vulture is another annoying and confusing boss as he darts around slicing at you and tossing knives and you’re encouraged to use the spotlights to blind him and deal big damage but it’s unnecessarily random and difficult to get him into position to actually utilise this mechanic. When powered by the Tablet fragment, the Vulture’s claws and bite need to be avoided in first-person and then you go through the previous battle again but this time he also tosses Molotov cocktails at you (which you can cause him to drop to damage him instead). Finally, Spider-Man Noir tracks Norman Osborn/The Goblin to a warped fairground and has a number of first-person encounters with him before finally facing him inside the circus tent. The Goblin isn’t really all that, though; simply web towards him and jump over him to attack the glowing weak spot on his back, then zip up to higher ground when the lights go out to hit a takedown, before fending off his goons (or causing the Goblin to attack them himself) and avoiding the swipes from his column and pummel him when he’s stuck in the ground.

Ultimate Spider-Man’s bosses were probably the most fun and varied for me.

Ultimate Spider-Man’s first foe is Max Dillon/Electro, who he battles and pursues through a hydroelectric power plant to a huge dam; the first fight is quite annoying as Electro blasts at you with a huge laser and protects himself with an electrical field but the second bout is initially quite confusing as Electro teleports across generators and shields himself from your attacks. Soon, he drops to the floor and sends electrical blasts your way, but these leave him exhausted and vulnerable to your attacks. After fending off his electrical minions and draining his health, he’ll use the Tablet fragment to grow to gigantic properties and become invulnerable, similar to the Sandman fight. To defeat this giant Electro, you need to use your webbing on his hands to cause him to damage the dam behind him while avoiding his laser beams. When the fight switches to the other side of the dam, you’ll need to survive against the enemies he spawns and avoid his fists on an increasingly-small platform until prompted to web his head so the breached dam can finish him. While on the oil rig, Spider-Man is forced to take part in Deadpool’s warped reality show; this inevitably leads to a showdown between them that sees Deadpool teleporting around, slicing at you with his swords, and shooting at you all while his devoted fanboys rush in to join the fight. When he’s standing with a B prompt above his head, don’t web-zip over to him or else he’ll just teleport away; instead, rush over and approach from the ground to best him. After outrunning a tidal wave, you’ll battle him inside a caged arena, where he uses the Tablet to duplicate himself and rains explosive punching bags between rounds. However, simply evade these, and his attacks, and target each of his duplicates in turn and he’ll soon go down, but the final battle against Carnage is particularly striking since the creature has ransacked the Triskelion and corrupted its inhabitants into bloodthirsty monsters! In the first fight against Carnage, it leaps about the remains and wreckage of Quinjets and Helicarriers swiping and skewering you with spikes, but is perfectly susceptible to your attacks and can be dealt big damage by web-zipping it into the conveniently-placed furnaces nearby. In the second phase, Carnage encases itself in a bulbous, tentacled shield that some mechs will destroy with flamethrowers; this leads to a first-person sequence and Carnage blasting spikes, maniacally hopping around the place, and it draining your health to replenish its own if it gets hold of you!

Spider-Man 2099’s bosses tend to be very samey, tedious, and chaotic.

Spider-Man 2099 first butts heads with the Hobgoblin during a freefall sequence that sees you pummelling him and smashing him through obstacles. When you hit the ground, Hobgoblin hovers out of reach and tosses pumpkin bombs at you that you must grab with your webs and throw back at him to down him for a beating. After being empowered by the Tablet, the Hobgoblin conjures gargoyles to distract you and adds a bombardment of bombs to his arsenal, but the strategy remains the same; he’s just faster and more aggressive and you have to finish him off with a mid-air, first-person pummelling. O’Hara’s second boss is Kron Stone/The Scorpion, who leaves explosive, acidic eggs and spawns smaller versions of himself; the Scorpion initially charges at you and tries to smash you with his tail, but if you evade these attacks he’s left vulnerable to a beating and you can easily toss his eggs at him when he takes the high ground to spit acid at you and use B to beat him down. When powered by the Tablet, things are mostly the same but there’s also a large pit in middle of the room that Scorpion pounces at you in and fills with acid; however, throwing eggs at him will cause him to take a dip and be left wide open for a beating. Finally, O’Hara has to fight through Doctor Serena Patel/Doctor Octopus’ elaborate facility, avoiding her mechanical arms in freefall and trashing her gigantic Mecharms before confronting her at the heart of the complex. Here, you need to web pull three generators to lower her shield while avoiding her lasers, then jump over her energy shockwaves to do damage on her. When she powers up, she scuttles around fully shielded and firing lasers across the ground, but you can easily trick her into offing her own minions and defeat her by tossing their explosive cores at her.

All four Spider-Man take it in turns to whittle down and defeat Mysterio in the finale.

Once all of the bosses are beaten, the levels cleared, and the Tablets recovered, all four Spider-Man are thrown into a dimension of pure chaos as Mysterio uses the completed Tablet to become a gigantic, all-powerful God. First, you have to web-zip across floating, fragment platforms as Spider-Man Noir; there are no enemies to fight but you must make sure to avoid the light or else Mysterio will fire projectiles your way, and then simply press B when prompted to web pull his head into a rock. Ultimate Spider-Man then has to fend off a whole bunch of illusionary goons and then destroy the floating orbs after they’ve conjured an illusionary version of a boss, which hurts Mysterio, before quickly web-zipping across the wreckage when Mysterio destroys your platform and then hitting another web pull. Spider-Man 2099 has the easiest time in this fight as you simply have to freefall past Mysterio’s projectiles and magic obstacles to grab and pummel him, but the Amazing Spider-Man has to endure a gruelling gauntlet against a whole bunch of monsters while avoiding Mysterio’s projectiles. Once the enemies are cleared away, you can use the web pull to send a rock flying at Mysterio and must then web-zip to another, smaller platform and repeat the process until he’s downed for one last smash of his helmet to defeat his aspirations for good.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you explore the various levels in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, you may be disappointed to find that there aren’t any power-ups to find beyond the odd health-restoring Gold Spider Emblem. However, every level contains a number of challenges that make up the “Web of Destiny”; while most of these are unavoidable and story-based, many others are optional an easily missed unless you check the Web in each level. You may have to complete certain sections under a time limit, defeat certain enemies in certain ways, or perform certain moves a number of times in order to clear the challenges but the reward is some extra “Spider Essence”.

Collecting Spider Essence allows you to upgrade your abilities and unlock new costumes.

As you clear defeat enemies and bosses, clear levels, and complete these challenges, you’ll be awarded with Spider Essence, which essentially acts as a combination of currency and experience points and can be spent upgrading your health and regenerative capabilities, and unlocking new costumes and attacks, all of which make the game even easier and more chaotic as you plough through enemies with a longer health bar and additional strikes. You can also acquire additional Spider Essence by finding Silver Spider Tokens and Hidden Spiders in every level, which also count towards completing the Web of Destiny, so it pays to give each area a quick scan with your spider-sense for any collectibles.

Additional Features:
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions has forty-two Achievements on offer, with the vast majority of them popping as you play through the story and take down the game’s villains. There are also Achievements for completing the Web of Destiny, unlocking all the upgrades, and finding every Spider Token and Hidden Spider, which adds some replayability to the game. Other Achievements pop when you defeat up to five-hundred enemies, complete the game on each difficulty (which are stackable), maintain Ultimate Spider-Man’s Rage mode for a full minute, and perform a combo of up to two-hundred hits but there aren’t too many fun or quirky ones that ask you to go off the beaten track. Otherwise, that’s about it; you receive either a Bronze, Silver, or Gold Medal and unlock character models and concept art after clearing levels and there were some additional costumes for those who pre-ordered the game back in the day but there’s not really anything else to come back to besides any Achievements you missed. It might have been nice to include a boss rush or a survival mode, or as mentioned earlier mix and match the Spider-Man in a free play mode, but the Web of Destiny will keep you pretty busy for a few hours, I’m sure.

The Summary:
I’ve wanted to play Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions for years; sadly, I missed out on it when it first released, and the game has become very expensive and hard to come by since then. Thankfully, I was able to snap it up and finally get to grips with it and it was actually a pretty good way to spend a few hours. It’s not especially long or difficult, at least not on Normal mode, and can probably be finished in a day if you play non-stop from morning the late evening but there’s a fair amount to come back to once you’re done. Fittingly, the four Spider-Men are the main highlight of the game; each one looks, sounds, and plays a little differently from the other and it’s fun to go nuts with Ultimate Spider-Man’s rage and then stealthily stalk gangster as Spider-Man Noir. Splitting the game into individual levels helps to keep things interesting and fun, but levels do tend to drag on and enemy and boss variety doesn’t really hold up under close scrutiny. Most of the bosses boil down to winning one of those annoying first-person sequences, pursuing them through the level, battling their first form (usually with hit-and-run tactics, using their own attacks against them, or taking advantage of them getting stuck) and then fighting their Tablet form, which is either a giant version of the boss or a faster, more powerful version. A janky camera and awkward wall-crawling and web-slinging can make the game frustrating but these are recurring concerns in Spider-Man videogames and, overall, I found the game to be pretty fun and entertaining for the voice acting and visual variety alone.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Have you played Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions? If so, what did you think to it? Which of the four Spider-Men was your favourite? What did you think to the way the game handled the four Spider-Men and the different playstyles? Which level and boss battle was your favourite (or most frustrating)? Are you a fan of Spider-Man teaming up with his multiversal incarnations?? Which Spider-Man videogame is your favourite? Whatever you think, sign up and leave a comment or let me know on my social media and check in next Friday for more from Spider-Man Month.

Game Corner [Sonic Month]: Sonic Unleashed (Xbox 360)


Sonic the Hedgehog was first introduced to gamers worldwide on 23 June 1991 and, since then, has become not only SEGA’s most enduring and popular character but also a beloved videogame icon and, in keeping with tradition, I will be dedicating an entire month’s worth of content to SEGA’s supersonic mascot.


GameCorner

Released: 18 November 2008
Developer: Sonic Team
Also Available For: Mobile, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5 (via PlayStation Network/Now), Xbox Series S/X, XboxOne (Backwards Compatible)

The Background:
These days, people would have you to believe that Sonic the Hedgehog (ibid, 2006) is an under-rated classic and worthy of your time and attention. Don’t listen to them. Play it if you must but make no mistake about it, take it from a life-long Sonic fan: Sonic ’06 is an absolutely dreadful experience. Great cutscenes and music, yes, but the gameplay (the core of any videogame) is diabolically bad and there’s a reason that the game was not only received terribly and is almost universally seen as one of the lowest points in the franchise…it’s because it’s a travesty of a videogame. Following that game’s dismal release and reception, Sonic Team scrambled to make good on their next mainline Sonic title, which started out as a semi-continuation of the Sonic Adventure games (ibid/Sonic Team USA, 1999 to 2002) but soon took on a life of its own and began the annoying trend of having Sonic be the only playable character. Sonic Unleashed saw the development of many new lighting, graphical, and gameplay mechanics for the series, chief amongst them the “Hedgehog Engine”, which allowed Sonic to boost ahead at breakneck speeds without losing graphical fidelity, while also incorporating 2.5D  perspectives to hearken back to the series’ roots. The game was somewhat controversial for also including brawling combat in the form of the “Werehog” in stages that were criticised for their length and tedium. Regardless, Sonic Unleashed was just the shot in the arm the franchise desperately needed after Sonic ’06; the game was a commercial success and critics lauded the speed and exhilaration offered by Sonic’s gameplay.

The Plot:
Sonic is unsuccessful in his attempt to thwart Doctor Eggman’s latest scheme and the mad scientist fires a giant laser cannon at the planet, blasting chunks of the surface to the atmosphere and awakening the ancient beast “Dark Gaia”. Though outpouring of evil energy causes Sonic to transform into the animalistic Werehog at night, he resolves to travel across the world, accompanied by an amnesic sprite nicknamed Chip and his old friends Miles “Tails” Prower and Amy Rose, to restore the power of the seven legendary Chaos Emeralds and undo the damage caused to the planet.

Gameplay:
Sonic Unleashed is a 3D action/platformer that switches to both a 2.5D perspective and a third-person brawler during your progression through the main story. Very similar to Sonic Adventure (Sonic Team, 1998), Sonic navigates a variety of hub worlds across the globe, talking with non-playable characters (NPCs) and performing a number of challenges and side quests in his quest to activate the seven Gaia temples (and the Chaos Emeralds) to restore the splintered planet.

Sonic boosts, grinds, and blasts his way through stages at breakneck speeds!

Players are put into the high-speed shoes of Sonic the Hedgehog; Sonic can jump with A (which you can tap for a hop and hold for a higher jump) and attack enemies either with his regular jump or by pressing X when in the air to perform his patented Homing Attack. An aiming reticule directs you towards the nearest target and you can chain together successive Homing Attacks to hit springs or cross gaps over bottomless pits to progress. Sonic can also crawl and slide (and perform a sweep kick) with a press of the B button; this doesn’t come up often but it’s essential for getting you through small spaces when running at high speeds. This is the big gameplay mechanic for Sonic in Sonic Unleashed; similar to the God-awful “Mach Speed” sections of Sonic ’06, pressing and holding X while running will send Sonic boosting ahead at breakneck speeds. When boosting, you can charge right through enemies without fear and will also suck up any nearby Golden Rings, which are essential for maintaining your boost as they power the mechanic. While this can cause you to fly right off the edge of stages later in the game and can cause the game to spaz out on occasion when Sonic’s speed increases, you can perform quick-steps with the Left- and Right Bumper to dart through narrow alleyways and such, and perform quick turns to stay on course on tight curves. Overall, the boost mechanic is exhilarating fun and it’s brilliant to fly through stages at full speed, crashing through enemies and bouncing and grinding your way towards the Goal Ring.

Fight, swing, and platform your way through slower, trickier stages as the Werehog.

Of course, you can also play as the much slower “Werehog” in the game’s night-time stages; Sonic Unleashed has a rudimentary day and night mechanic where, by attacking hourglasses in the hub worlds, passing time on the main map screen, or as dictated by the story, day will turn to night, transforming Sonic into this monstrous little brawler. Clearly taking inspirations from popular hack-and-slash titles, Sonic Team made the Werehog distinct by having him attack with his elongated limbs and perform grapples to take down his opponents. While the controls remain mostly the same, there are some differences: you can now perform a double jump with A and the X and Y buttons allow you to pull off different strikes and combos. Holding the Right Trigger allows you to dash on all fours (and can extend your jump) while LB puts up one of a limited number of shields to protect you from attacks. Pressing B lets you grab onto objects and ledges to save yourself from falls, grab objects to throw at enemies, or grapple enemies to pull of quick-time events (QTEs) to deliver massive damage. As the Werehog attacks enemies or smashes barrels and such, you’ll build up your “Unleash Meter”. Once it’s full, or hits the minimum marker, you can press RB to “unleash” the Werehog’s true power, which will dramatically enhance his strikes and speed to help you clear out groups of enemies or larger foes. The Werehog’s stages are far longer than Sonic’s and also involve a bit of puzzle solving (usually mashing B to pull switches or open doors or bringing gems to special alters to progress further) and some very tricky platforming. This involves a combination of jumping to and from platforms, grabbing to poles, and balancing on narrow beams, all of which can be extremely difficult as the game’s camera often makes it hard to judge the distance between your targets, button inputs can be a bit slow and clunky, and a lot of the platforms you’ll be grabbing and jumping to will either be moving, collapsing, slippery, or damaging in some way, which can lead to a lot of annoying deaths.

Perform QTE tricks and defeat enemies with style to get EXP and a sweet S rank.

As is the standard for Sonic titles, Sonic is protected from damage by Golden Rings. This time around, when Sonic is hurt, he won’t lose all of his Rings and, when playing as the Werehog, you have a more traditional health bar that is replenish by the Rings. Collecting one-hundred Rings awards you with an extra life, which you will also find scattered here and there around stages (usually right before a dangerous area), and you pass through checkpoints to allow you to continue from later in the stage should you die. Deaths can be quite frequent as Sonic gets a bit slippery at times and it’s pretty easy to blast off out of bounds or over the edge and to your death, and you can also fall to your death in hub worlds! When you complete a stage, though, you’ll be given a grade based on how fast you finished and how any tricks you performed as Sonic (by jumping through special hoops and performing QTEs), among other things. This, and defeating enemies, will provide you with experience points (EXP) that you can use to power-up Sonic’s base speed and Ring Energy, and the Werehog’s strength, Unleash Meter, maximum life, and learn new combos and attacks.

There are many hub worlds and Medals to collect but I could’ve done with more Tornado sections.

Out in the hub world, you can spend your Rings on food and other items and must perform a few tasks to open up stages. The main way you’ll access new areas, though, is by finding Sun and Moon Medals; I’ve heard many complain that this slows the game down as you have to replay stages or hunt around to find them just to progress but, honestly, I have never experienced this problem. There is a bit of backtracking and replaying of earlier stages required, though, as you sometimes need to farm for extra lives and need to hop from one location to another, playing stages out of order in order to access the next boss or area as part of the story. Gameplay is given a bit more variety when you acquire a camera that you can use to battle Gaia Beasts that have possessed NPCs and through the inclusion of auto-scrolling shooting sections in which Sonic mans the armaments of the Tornado while Tails flies him towards their next destination. Unlike in Sonic Adventure, this involves pressing the right buttons when they flash up on screen and alternate between mashing LB and RB to refill your power meter if you press the wrong button or are hit. Also, these sections only appear twice in the game, which is a shame as they’re quite fun, though you can replay them (and any other stage of boss) from the main world menu.

Graphics and Sound:
Even now, Sonic Unleashed looks absolutely fantastic; the game has a crisp, colourful presentation and everything really pops when onscreen, especially compared to how drab and muted Sonic ’06 was. Sonic looks fun and full of energy and has a number of idle animations in both his base and Werehog form; Sonic is also constantly accompanied by Chip, who acts as an annoying guide, and is voiced by Jason Griffith who was always my least favourite voice actor for the character. The rest of the Sonic X (2003 to 2004; 2005 to 2006) voice cast are fine, with Mike Pollock absolutely nailing Dr. Eggman, but I always found Jason to be so lifeless and boring as Sonic, though the game does stand out by briefly having Sonic’s usual confidence shaken by his monstrous appearance. Graphically, though, the game is gorgeous; Sonic, the Werehog, Tails, and Amy all look vibrant and full of life and fit perfectly with the game’s Pixar-like aesthetic for the NPCs. Rather than have the NPCs be realistic-looking humans like in Sonic Adventure, Sonic Unleashed’s are exaggerated, cartoony characters with large eyes, noses, and larger-than-life properties that help them to be visually interesting even when they mainly just wander around in short animation cycles, stand in one place, or communicate using text boxes and gibberish. The most prominent human NPC is the kindly Professor Pickle, who offers advice and exposition regarding Dark Gaia and has a penchant for cucumber sandwiches and souvenirs.

Stages are gorgeous and varied and full of unique elements, gimmicks, and jaunty music.

The game’s hub worlds and stages are all based on different societies and cultures of the real world. Apotos is based on Greece, Spagonia on Italy, Mazuri on Africa, Holosoka on Antarctica, Chun-Nan on China, Shamar on Egypt, Empire City on New York City, and Adabat seems to be based on the likes of Hawaii. This means that every area feels distinctive and unique, mainly thanks to having different seasons, hub worlds of various sizes that all look and feel different, and are populated by different NPCs. This translates into the playable stages as well as you’ll blast through the air, grind on rails, and plough through alleyways, race up winding paths, and fall through the sky in a variety of colourful and action-packed environments. When playing as Sonic, you’ll naturally often blast past your environment without really noticing little details here and there but, when the game switches to its 2.5D view or you tackle the Werehog stages, these subtleties are brought to life wonderfully. This means you can see markets, animals, and entire cities in the background, discover alternative paths by jumping through boost rings or hopping up walls and rails, and run up and along pathways at breakneck speeds while dodging axes, laser traps, and blasting through enemies. Stages become increasingly bigger and more complex as the game progresses, with you hopping from collapsing ice floats and using a killer whale and a bobsleigh to progress in Cool Edge, grabbing onto rockets and hopping to spinning platforms in Dragon Road, and running across water and through ruins making tight, dangerous turns in Jungle Joyride.

The game’s high-quality cutscenes are incredible and the best in the series at that point.

As beautiful and detailed as the game’s stages are, though, Sonic Unleashed goes above and beyond with its high-quality cinematics. While these are a notable highlight of Sonic ’06, even the cutscenes that use the in-game graphics are a joy to watch here as Sonic and Chip bond and overcome numerous obstacles on their journey. When the cinematics kick in, Sonic and his world are rendered magnificently and it honestly baffles me that Sonic Team never used this style of animation to produce a CGI feature film. These sequences, and the graphics in general, are only bolstered by the game’s jaunty, uplifting, and varied soundtrack; the game’s main theme, “Endless Possibility” by Bowling For Soup’s Jaret Reddick, is a catchy little punk-rock piece that captures the high-spirited adventure aspects of the game while the ominous Gaia themes help sell the threat and menace of the monstrous Dark Gaia. Even better is the fact that the day-time Savannah Citadel stage uses a remix of the ending credits theme from the 8-bit Sonic the Hedgehog (Ancient, 1991), which was especially pleasing to me since I am a big fan of that game and it was the first Sonic title I ever played.

Enemies and Bosses:
As you blast through Sonic’s stages at full speed, you come across a number of Dr. Eggman’s robots; mainly comprised of Egg Fighters, these robots will throw slow punches or swing swords at you and defend themselves with shields. Later, they’ll bounce you back with springs, blast at you with laser bolts or homing missiles, and attack with electrified swords but, for the most part, they’re largely disposable pawns that you can bash through with your Homing Attack or boost. You’ll also use the small robots (who sometimes blast at you or defend themselves with electrical shields) to get across gaps and have to watch out for spikes, Eggman-branded springs that often push you into spikes, crushing platforms, and other environmental hazards that can mess up your run.

Bash through Dr. Eggman’s robots and beat down Dark Gaia’s minions with your combos!

Although Sonic also has to fight Dark Gaia’s minions, you’ll mainly battle against these as the Werehog. Gaia’s creatures take a variety of forms, from small, annoying little critters to the larger, more commonplace “Nightmare” variants. These guys will attack as a group with their own punches and combos and even defend themselves from your attacks by putting their guard up. You’ll also have to contend with Dark Masters, wizard-like enemies who can fire elemental blasts at you or replenish the health of other Gaia creatures, and the ever-annoying Killer Bees, who always seem to hover just out of reach and dive at you with their stingers. The Werehog also has to battle the much larger Big Mothers and Titans, often while dealing with many other enemies at the same time; the Big Mother will endlessly spawn smaller Gaia creatures and its rotund belly allows it to absorb a great deal of punishment. The Titans are much worse, though; attacking with giant clubs and causing shockwaves to cover the immediate area, they can blast you into a stun (which you must desperately mash A to get out of) or even off rooftops and to your death with a ridiculous amount of ease. For both enemies, I recommend expending your Unleash Meter and using the Werehog’s QTE combos/grapples to take them down quickly.

Sadly, as fun as they are, the boss battles against Dr. Eggman are all very similar.

Just as there are two distinct playstyles in Sonic Unleashed, there are also two types of boss battles; those against Dr. Eggman and his latest contraption and those against Dark Gaia’s gigantic guardians. The battles against Dr. Eggman, however, are largely similar in each instance; when you battle the Egg Beetle, Egg Devil Ray, and Egg Lancer, you’ll be continuously running around an endlessly-looping track, collecting Rings to boost towards Dr. Eggman and ram into his cockpit. Each machine sports a variety of lasers, missiles, and bombs and tries to fry and bombard you with its armaments and you’ll have to use the quick-step and the advantages of the 2.5D sections to dodge these hazards. The battles do get more difficult as they, and the game, progresses, though; I recommend avoiding using the Homing Attack when running across walls or ceilings as you can sometimes drop to your death and you’ll also have to complete a QTE when hopping from wall-to-wall to land hits on the Egg Lancer. Dr. Eggman also erects protective shields and drops flaming hazards into the arena and also challenges you in the Tornado sections in the Egg Cauldron, though here it’s simply a case of hitting the right buttons to destroy his missiles and damage his weak spot.

Dark Gaia’s minions may be big and require more strategy but they all come down to QTEs.

The Werehog’s boss battles are much more varied and interesting by comparison. When battling the Dark Gaia Phoenix, you need to throw barrels of water at it to douse its flames while avoid its flaming shockwaves and feather barrage; the Dark Moray is protected by a shield that can only be lowered by attacking the eel heads around the base of the arena, then you have to freeze the beast (while also avoiding being frozen yourself) to attack its glowing weak spot; finally, the Dark Guardian is similar to a Titan, but a bit smaller, and must be stunned long enough for you to push blocks over to a switch to weaken it. In all three cases, the bosses become tougher and increase the rate of their attacks as the fight progresses and you’ll be tasked with performing a series of QTEs in order to deal massive damage and put them down. Thus, the length and difficulty of these fights depends greatly on how good you are at QTEs as, if you fail, you’ll have to go through all the motions to get to that point again, which can be annoying.

After conquering the gruelling Eggmanland, you’ll battle Dr. Eggman’s most dangerous machine yet!

Speaking of annoying, while the game is generally a lot of fun with only a few frustrating moments, Sonic Unleashed really kicks you in the balls when it presents you with its final stage, Eggmanland. A giant amusement park literally filled with traps, hazards, bottomless pits, and every kind of enemy and obstacle you’ve encountered so far, this stage is a true test of anyone’s mettle as you’re forced to switch between Sonic and the Werehog and take on a series of incredibly challenging platforming and combat tasks in order to progress. Easily the longest and most difficult stage in the game (or any Sonic game for that matter), Eggmanland can take up to an hour to get through and will have you tearing your hair out at its finicky platforming and frustrating sections. Once you finally get through his chore of a stage, though, you’ll have to battle Dr. Eggman one last time in his most interesting and dangerous contraption yet, the Egg Dragoon. You battle this as the Werehog and run around a small platform in freefall while avoiding Dr. Eggman’s shots and taking out his robots to attack the glowing green core on the machine’s tail. Once you do enough damage, you have to pull off another QTE sequence and then the fight moves to the next stage, which involves more aggressive attacks from Dr. Eggman and less windows of opportunity to strike. Still, it doesn’t seem as though you can fall off the platform you’re on and your attacks still do damage even when Dr. Eggman is guarding himself so just keep pressing your attack and make sure you don’t fail the QTTEs and this boss is nowhere near as intimidating as it first appears.

Plot the unwieldy Gaia Colossus then battle the tricky controls and camera to finish Dark Gaia.

Although Dr. Eggman is defeated, Dark Gaia rises from the planet’s core so Chip, finally remembering his true purposes as Light Gaia, causes all of the Gaia Temples to come together as the titanic Gaia Colossus and engage with his dark counterpart one-on-one. To do this, you need to hold X to boost the slow, clunky ass of the Dark Colossus towards the beast, guarding against or desperately trying to punch the flaming boulders it sends your way. When Dark Gaia charges up its big energy beam, try to move out of the way but for God’s sake put your guard up as it can instantly drain all of your health otherwise! Once you get close enough, you’ll have to perform another QTE and then you’ll switch to Sonic and be given a few seconds to race past Dark Gaia’s deadly tentacles and energy blasts and bash it in the eye (again, after completing a QTE). This must then be repeated twice more, with Dark Gaia’s attacks and ferocity growing each time; thankfully, your health is restored for each phase of the battle and you don’t have to restart right from the beginning if you die but this is still one of the more frustrating parts of the game. Dark Gaia isn’t so easily defeated, though, and mutates into the gruesome Perfect Dark Gaia. Of course, Sonic uses the Chaos Emeralds to transform into Super Sonic for the final battle of the game. Unlike other Super Sonic levels, you don’t have to worry about a time limit as your Rings aren’t depleted over time; instead, you must fly/boost towards Perfect Dark Gaia, who has encased itself in an impenetrable shield, collecting Rings to fill up your health bar and dodging asteroids. While the Gaia Colossus distracts the creature, Super Sonic must fly around the shield avoiding obstacles, flaming meteors, and that same massive energy beam to attack the snake-lake tentacles that poke out sporadically through the barrier. This is easier said than done, though, as it’s really hard to see where you’re going or target the heads (there’s no aiming reticule this time); there are also no extra Rings to get and it’s ridiculously easy to get hit by Perfect Dark Gaia’s attacks or ram into an asteroid and deplete your health bar. Once you do finally destroy all of the heads, you’ll of course have to complete one last massive QTE sequence but, as long as you hit the right buttons and mash them into oblivion, you’ll finally destroy the beast and return the planet to normal.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Unlike many Sonic videogames, there aren’t actually that many in-game power-ups on offer in Sonic Unleashed. Gone are the speed-up shoes, invincibility, and protective bubbles, replaced by simple Golden Rings and a few extra lives floating about the place. The Werehog is able to pick up power-ups that will instantly fill his health and/or Unleash Meter, power-up his attacks, increase his shield count, or bath him in a protective aura, though, which makes it worth your while to smash crates and doors in search of them.

Sonic can grab new shoes to perform additional abilities and reach new areas.

In addition to increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities with EXP, Sonic can also purchase a variety of foods that, when he eats them, will award him additional EXP (they can also be fed to Chip to increase his bond with Sonic, though this has no impact on the actual gameplay). Furthermore, like in Sonic Adventure, you can acquire additional abilities by finding special shoes in the hub worlds; the Stomping Shoes allow Sonic to perform a stomp to bash downwards through glass and blocks and onto enemies with a press of B in the air, the Light Speed Shoes let you dash along rows of Rings, the Wall Jump Shoes allow you to jump vertically up walls to reach new areas, and the Air Boost Shoes let you blast through the air by pressing X while jumping in order to cover large distances quickly.

Additional Features:
There are fifty Achievements to earn in Sonic Unleashed; six of these are awarded simply by playing through the story and restoring the planet to normal but you’ll naturally also earn others through regular gameplay as you get Achievements for increasing Sonic and the Werehog’s abilities and finishing stages with an S ranking. Sadly, considering the vast potential for fun and quirky Achievements, most of Sonic Unleashed’s are quite by-the-numbers; finish a Tornado section without missing a shot, talk to every NPC all over the world, collect half of (and every) the Sun and Moon Medals, and use the different shoes and you’ll snag some G but by far the most challenging Achievement sees you having to complete the various “Hot Dog” challenges in each area. The various Hog Dog Vendors will let you take on a series of challenges for the cost of a few Rings; these have you collecting a certain number of Rings, defeating a certain number of enemies, or finishing stages in a certain time limit but these aren’t like challenges in some Sonic games as you still have to finish the entire stage even once you complete the objective, By far the most difficult of these tasks you with completing Eggmanland in just forty-five minutes, which is all-but-impossible given that you’re guaranteed to die at least once during this stage and dying in these challenges means having to restart from the beginning. In the hub worlds, and scattered throughout the stages, you’ll find CDs, books, and videotapes that allow you to view the game’s cutscenes, artwork, characters, and listen to music in Professor Pickle’s laboratory. To do this, though, you’ll need to buy certain furniture from the game’s various shops, where you can also purchase some of these items and souvenirs to gift to the Professor. Other NPCs will give you side quests, such as finding lost children or clearing out enemies, or even challenge you with answering quizzes to help mix things up a bit. Finally, you can take on perilous obstacle course-like additional stages in each area and these can be expanded upon with some downloadable content that truly test your speed and reaction times.

The Summary:
Sonic Unleashed was exactly the breath of fresh, exhilarating air the franchise needed at the time; after Sonic ’06 proved to be such a broken, glitchy, disappointing mess of a game, it’s no exaggeration to say that even I had started to lose faith in Sonic Team. Thanks to the Hedgehog Engine, which allowed for crisp, vibrant visuals and high-speed action to be the order of the day, Sonic Unleashed was an incredibly fun and exciting gameplay experience that was an absolute blast to play through again. At the time, Sonic had never looked or played better and the game’s many varied locations and fantastic music and graphics really went a long way toward making up for the awfulness of Sonic ’06. And then there’s the Werehog stages. Truthfully, I didn’t really mind these all that much; yes, they could get overly long and annoying and very repetitive but they did help to break up the gameplay a bit. I think if maybe they had been a bit shorter (and fairer), and if Sonic Team had scrapped the Sun and Moon medals, these stages might have been received a bit better (or if the Werehog had been scrapped completely and replaced with, say, Knuckles the Echidna!) If there’s one area that truly lets the game down, though, it’s the entire finale. Eggmanland is an absolute ball-breaker to get through and is less a test of the skills you’ve built up throughout the game and more a test of your sanity and patience. Similarly, while I enjoyed the Egg Dragoon fight and playing as Super Sonic, the final battles against Dark Gaia and its perfect form were a clunky, frustrating end to an otherwise solid gaming experience. Thankfully, once you clear the game, you never have to endure these sections again unless you’re a sadist and can focus on replaying the games other, more entertaining sections instead.

My Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Great Stuff

Are you a fan of Sonic Unleashed? Did you enjoy the boost-based mechanics introduced in the game or did you feel they made it too simple? What did you think to the Werehog and its gameplay sections and would you have preferred to see Knuckles used instead? What did you think to the story and Dark Gaia as the main antagonist? Which of the game’s stages or bosses was your favourite and why? Whatever your thoughts on Sonic Unleashed, sign up leave a comment below or share your thoughts on my social media and be sure to check back in for more Sonic content next Saturday!

Game Corner: The Simpsons Game (Xbox 360)

Released: 30 October 2007
Developer: EA Redwood Shores
Also Available For: Nintendo DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable

The Background:
The Simpsons was created by Matt Groening as a series of short cartoons created for The Tracey Ullman Show; jumping at the chance to produce an alternative to the “mainstream trash” that was currently airing, Groening’s yellow-skinned creations soon became a multimedia sensation as “Bartmania” swept the nation. The Simpsons featured in every piece of merchandise imaginable, from action figures and comics to videogames, though the franchise doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to videogame adaptations. For years, Konami’s 1991 arcade game was the stand out but Electronic Arts (EA) sought to change that by working closely with Groening and notable Simpsons writers on a new Simpsons videogame, which was written as a parody of popular videogame tropes and incorporated a cel-shaded graphical style to recreate the aesthetic of the show. The game received a mixed reception; some praised the game’s humour and appeal for die-hard Simpsons fans but others took issue with the game’s mundane combat and puzzles. While EA initially planned to produce a sequel, it was ultimately cancelled and The Simpsons eventually ended up moving to mobile gaming, but, since today is Whacking Day, I figured it would be a good excuse to revisit this title and see how it holds up today.

The Plot:
In a self-referential plot, the Simpsons family (Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie) discover that they are part of a videogame world when they acquire a game guide that grants them the superpowers necessary to not only star in what they hope will be a successful videogame for a change but also defend their town from attacks by aliens and explore videogame worlds in a quest to confront their creator, Matt Groening.

Gameplay:
The Simpsons Game is a third-person action game in which players explore a relatively faithful three-dimensional recreation of Springfield, which acts as something of a hub world where you can access the game’s story-based missions as well as enter certain houses, view collectibles, change costumes, and find collectibles. At any one time, you’ll control two of the titular family members; you can switch between them using the directional pad (D-Pad) and swap them out for other combinations at a number of bus stops dotted around the city. If you have a friend, you can play in split-screen co-op but, for the most part, the computer does a decent enough job of following you around, attacking enemies, and pressing switches as needed (and if they don’t, you can just swap over to the other character using the D-Pad).

Homer puts his weight to good use while Marge nags others into doing her bidding.

The game’s basic controls are the same for every character with the exception of Maggie: X punches (press three times and hit Y for a pretty basic “Power Combo”), Y allows you to interact with the environment to pull levers, press buttons, and talk to non-playable characters (NPCs), and A sees your character jump (press again in mid-air for a double jump). You can also hold down the Left Trigger to target enemies or objects, bring up your current objectives with the ‘Back’ button, and will automatically cling to certain ledges when you jump or fall down near them. However, each Simpsons character has different Special Attacks performed by both pressing and holding the B button and use of certain intractable objects and the Left and Right Triggers. Homer can stun enemies with a burb, transform into a massive Homer Ball that lets him blast along at high speeds and slam into enemies and destructible objects by jumping and pressing X, use air canisters to become the light-weight Helium Homer and float about with A or blast ahead in a burst of gas for a short period of time, and later transform into a gelatinous form that lets him toss gummi projectiles. Marge uses her megaphone to recruit nearby NPCs, whom she can direct to attack enemies, destroy targets, or clean up the environment. She can also send Maggie into special vents; Maggie is controlled through a first-person perspective and simply crawls around until you find a button or object to fire her dummy at with Y.

While Bart fires pellets and glides, Lisa blasts enemies with her sax and the Hand of Buddha.

Bart comes armed with his slingshot, which fires a number of different projectiles that change depending on your environment; Bart’s ammo, like all of the character’s Special Attacks, is limited only by your Power Meter, which automatically refills over time and can be refilled by defeating enemies or collecting dropped power-ups like food or flowers. Bart can also turn into Bartman and glide for short periods by holding RT, ride air currents in the same way, climb up vines and certain surfaces, and grapple to special hooks to reach new areas sand solve puzzles. Lisa can stun nearby enemies with a blast of her saxophone or compel them to fight on her behalf. By interacting with Buddha Statues, she can also control the Hand of Buddha to lift and drop objects, freeze, flick, and electrocute enemies, all of which is essential for creating bridges, solving puzzles, and completing story-based objectives.

The game features a few puzzles but only a handful amount to more than switches and buttons.

The Simpsons Game is made up of sixteen missions, labelled “Episodes”, indicated by beams of light around Springfield. Springfield is quite large and full of things to distract yourself with, such as collectibles and recreations of iconic locations from the show, such as the school and Kwik-E-Mart, with your opportunities for exploration opening up as you progress and unlock more of the Simpsons’ abilities. While the game only features a map on one particular mission, the levels are so linear that you won’t really need one and you can utilise a fast travel system to quickly get around Springfield if you need to. The Simpsons are relatively durable; your character’s health will slowly refill if you avoid damage for a short time and you can revive your fallen partner by pressing Y near their downed body. A series of checkpoints and auto saves help to keep you going when you inevitably slip off a ledge thanks to the game’s janky camera, which can get a bit stuck and troubled when you’re not in a wide, open area. Combat is quite monotonous, for the most part as your character’s attack range is quite short and your fighting ability is basically limited to that one combo (though each character pulls it off a little differently). Combat is made more interesting by the different Special Attacks, allowing you to pick enemies off at a distance with Bart, have Marge direct her mob to overwhelm foes, or blast them away with the Hand of Buddha, and it’s generally kept to short, sharp bursts. The remainder of the game is made up of some awkward platforming (as mentioned, it’s pretty easy to slip off ledges and jumping across platforms can be a bit tricky as your jump doesn’t take you very far and they can be difficult to judge) and some pretty simply puzzles. These mainly consist of pulling a lever, standing on pressure pads (often with both characters), and pressing buttons as well as using your Special Abilities to reach one of these intractable objects.

Gameplay is given some variety by parodying other, more successful videogames.

Occasionally, you’ll have to battle against a time limit, fending off enemies and activating switches to reach new areas, and more often than not you’ll be using your Special Attacks to progress through levels; this amounts to shooting targets, moving stuff about with the Hand of Buddha, or having Marge direct a mob towards specific targets. Invariably, gameplay is broken up with a few sections that are clear references to classic videogames; these see you hopping from logs and crocodiles across a river, fending off waves of aliens, and keeping ice cream trucks safe in clear tributes to Frogger (Konami, 1981), Space Invaders (Taito, 1978), and Missile Command (Atari, Inc., 1980). You’ll also be platforming across conveyor belts, dodging wood cutting machinery, and be joined by a recognisable NPC in a couple of missions who’ll help you fend off killer dolphins and aliens. It isn’t really until the penultimate Episode of the game that you’ll see some proper variety in the gameplay, however: here, you play through four missions parodying more modern titles, such as Medal of Honor (DreamWorks Interactive, 1999) and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (Rockstar North, 2004), gaining new abilities and outfits in the process. This sees you defending a town of fantasy creatures from a two-headed dragon and navigating through both a top-down and third-person dungeon in a parody of fantasy role-playing games (RPGs), collecting flags, defending a jeep from turrets and mines, and using C4 to scale a battleship, traversing a Japanese land of fire and ice that resembles both Ōkami (Clover Studio, 2006) and Pokémon (Game Freak/Various, 1996 to present), and battling through a rundown neighbourhood of pimps and hoes. Essentially, however, you’ll encounter the same puzzles and obstacles repeated over and over but in different environments and with slightly different enemies, which is just enough to keep things relatively interesting despite how troublesome the combat and platforming can be.

Graphics and Sound:
Thanks to incorporating a cel-shaded graphical style, The Simpsons Game holds up relatively well; Springfield is easily the game’s most impressive environment, being unquestionably the largest and most accurate videogame interpretation of the famous fictional town, but it is quite barren. Sure, NPCs wander around and spout lines at you and it’ll be invaded by aliens later in the game, but you can only enter a handful of the most recognisable buildings and houses and there aren’t any side quests to occupy your time beyond hunting down each character’s collectibles.

Many of the environments are decent recreations of memorable Simpsons episodes and locations.

Environments continue to shine in each of the game’s Episodes; these will load in new areas of the city that are self-contained levels separate from the overworld and are full of awesome call-backs to popular videogame franchises. These are most evident in the videogame factory, which contains parodies of Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog and enemies lampooning the Madden NFL (EA Tiburon/Various, 1988 to present) and Street Fighter (Capcom/Various, 1987 to present) franchises, and the aforementioned fantasy mission that parodies both EverQuest (Verant Interactive/989 Studios, 1999) and the Legend of Zelda (Nintendo EAD/Various, 1985 to present) franchise. You’ll also visit a number of recognisable locations from the Simpsons cartoon, such as the pier, the Land of Chocolate, Mayor “Diamond” Joe Quimby’s building and office, the Springfield Natural History Museum, and the game features a couple of Episodes based on specific “Treehouse of Horror” episodes.

The in-game cutscenes and 3D models pale in comparison to the top-notch 2D animation.

For the most part, the in-game graphics are perfectly suited to rendering these environments and the character models. Everything is very bright and light on detail, similar to the cartoon, playable characters all have idle animations and plenty to say, and the game does its best to recreate the aesthetic style of the show at every opportunity. Unfortunately, the game also features a number of traditionally animated cutscenes that stand out in stark contrast to the ugly cel-shaded, 3D models that can look distorted and disturbing when characters talk and interact using the in-game graphics. Why the developers didn’t simply use 2D animation for all the cutscenes is beyond me but ugly 3D models are expected when creating a videogame based on a traditionally 2D medium. The game somewhat makes up for this by featuring an abundance of voice acting from the entire Simpsons cast; while you’ll recognise a lot of jokes recycled from the cartoon and quickly grow tired of the same exclamations and catchphrases being spouted again and again, the game’s writing and humour is generally on-point for the show and I was mostly satisfied with the game’s overall presentation.

Enemies and Bosses:
You’ll battle against a wide variety of enemies in The Simpsons Game. Well, I use the term “variety” loosely because while you’ll face lumberjacks, thinly veiled parodies of Ryu, gun-toting Scratchys, aliens wielding boards with nails in them, and killer dolphins, they generally all fall into the same predictable categories. This means that battling sumo wrestlers who resemble Comic Book Guy is very similar to fending off Groening’s army of lawyers as, beyond a handful of unique attacks for some enemies, enemies can generally be categorised as melee attackers and ranged attackers. Typically, enemies will spawn in from a central point (a porto-potty or pimpmobile, for example) and you’ll need to destroy these spawning points to clear enemies out of the area and you’ll have to battle all of the game’s enemies when you reach the game’s final mission. Easily the most annoying enemies come before this, however, as Matt Groening spawns in an infinite number of Benders and Doctor Zoidbergs to hassle you as you try and bring him down.

The game’s larger bosses require a bit of team work to bring down.

Each Episode ends in either a boss battle or something akin to it; while fighting through the Springfield Natural History Museum, you’ll run across bullies Jimbo, Dolph, and Kearny and you’ll need to take each of the three out by shooting targets to drop them or chase them away and then glide and platform across planets in the planetarium to finish off Jimbo all while dodging blasts from their laser guns. You’ll also need to blast Homer through a renaissance fayre and smash up a recreation of the Statue of Liberty to win his eating contest and use the Hand of Buddha to rescue Lenny and Carl from a giant woodchipper as Lisa and Bart. When in the “Game Engine” Episode, you’ll have to platform your way through a factory of parodies to battle a satire of Donkey Kong; the giant ape tosses explosive barrels at you and sends an infinite number of minions your way who you’ll need to flick back at him with the Hand of Buddha when he steps forward on his stage. Perhaps the most well-known boss is Lard Lad, a gigantic doughnut mascot come to life who rampages through a construction site blasting at you with his eye lasers and who sends swarms of evil Krusty dolls your way. To take Lard Lad down, you must distract him with Homer so that Bart can get around behind him and blast at the three targets on his back and butt, which briefly opens up panels you can glide to in order to rip out his wires and send him crashing to the ground.

While some bosses require a bit of strategy, Mr. Burns folds faster than Superman on laundry day.

Rather than have to battle with recurring antagonist Sideshow Bob, Bart’s would-be-murderer is restricted to, and defeated in, a cutscene, leaving you to fend off aliens in that Space Invaders homage I mentioned above and alongside Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel when inside their mothership. You’ll also have to contend with Snorky, leader of the killer dolphins, who stands far out of reach in the Springfield aquarium; luckily, you can send him tumbling into the water beneath him with Bart’s slingshot and then drop an electrifying jellyfish into the water three times to defeat him as the Sea Captain helps you fend off his minions. In the EverQuest parody, you’ll have to battle a two-headed dragon baring Selma and Patty’s faces; the first time you encounter this, she’s flying around a village and setting fire to houses. You need to have Marge direct her mob to put out the fires and then have Homer bash into the dragon when she hovers between one of the village’s bridges and then have the mob attack her when she’s downed. After fighting through the dungeon, you’ll battle her again in a homage to single-screen arcade games like Mario Bros. (Nintendo R&D1, 1983) that sees you bashing into her using Helium Homer while fending off the Orc Moes she spawns with her eggs. In the Medal of Honor parody stage, you’ll get to punch out multiple versions of César and Ugolin, sailor-garbed versions of Waylon Smithers, and destroy turrets before finally facing off with Private Charles Montgomery Burns…which boils down to you simply landing your combo and knocking him out.

After a fun turn-based boss and an aggravating battle with Groening, it all boils down to a rhythm game.

Things get interesting when Homer and Lisa travel to a Japanese land and have to defeat and capture three Sparklemon to awaken Mister Sparkle by battling against three very familiar looking monsters controlled by Jimbo, Sherri and Terri, and Ralph Wiggum in traditional turn-based RPG battles that are reminiscent of both Pokémon and the Final Fantasy franchise (Square Enix/Various, 1987 to present). Although Homer and Lisa’s attack options are limited, each Sparklemon has a weakness to a specific attack so it doesn’t take much to defeat the three and, similarly, thanks to the Space Invaders-like mini game from earlier, it’s not too taxing to bring down Poochie in the “Grand Theft Scratchy” mission; simply use the Hand of Buddha to drop explosive barrels on his minions before they destroy the ice cream trucks and then have Marge direct her mob to destroy Poochie’s stage. By far the most annoying and frustrating boss is the penultimate battle against Matt Groening himself; first, you must wade through an army of high-priced lawyers to storm his grandiose mansion and then he spawns an endless swarm of Benders and Dr. Zoidbergs all while pits of molten gold sap your health and Groening tosses projectiles at you. To defeat him, you need to use Ball Homer to hit him when he’s exposed and you’ll need to have Bart glide and climb up to levers to get him into position. Finally, the grand dining table will angle up into a launching pad for you to blast up as Ball Homer to bring Groening down but the game doesn’t end there. With Springfield still under attack, the family heads to Heaven itself and has to battle every single enemy they’ve faced in the game’s previous missions and even William Shakespeare and Thomas Jefferson. While Shakespeare is easily defeated using Bart’s halos, Jefferson duplicates into smaller versions of himself when hit and can instantly kill you and your partners with his key attack, making him a troublesome foe. God himself is a complete cakewalk though; rather than require you to utilise the skills you’ve built up over the game, this final boss is a simple parody of music rhythm games like Guitar Hero (Harmonix, 2005) that has you pressing the D-Pad at the right moments to defeat him and is a bit of an anti-climatic final trial.

Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you defeat enemies, they’ll drop power, food, ammo, and other items to refill your health and Power Meter. You can also smash crates and other objects to help with this and, if you find all of the collectibles in each Episode, you’ll extend your health bar, which is a nice incentive to explore your environments. Although I didn’t play alongside a human partner, it doesn’t seem as though there are any co-op attacks you can use and the extent of your co-operation boils down to you fending off enemies or activating certain switches with your different Special Attacks.

Each character can grab a power-up to become temporarily stronger and invincible.

Each character acquires additional Special Attacks as you progress for the story but you’ll simply be gifted the remainder of them by Professor Frink after you rescue your low-pixel counterparts. Each character also has a power-up they can collect that will temporarily make them invincible and boost their attack power by transforming them further. Bart becomes Robo-Bart and shoots lasers from his eyes, Lisa and Marge become Clobber Girl and Cop Marge, respectively, which makes them super strong, and Homer eats a Guatemalan Insanity Pepper to become a burning version of Ball Homer.

Additional Features:
The Simpsons Game comes with forty-four Achievements for you to earn; unfortunately, virtually none of these are tied to anything more than completing the game’s Episodes and beating the various time challenges. You’ll get a 5G Achievement just for starting the game, and a 0G Achievement when you die ten times, but there aren’t any fun ones like visiting Moe’s Tavern as Homer or the school as Bart or anything like that.

Clichés, collectibles, and time challenges add to the game’s replay value.

Every single character has a number of collectibles to collect; these are strewn across the length and breadth of the Springfield overworld and hidden in each Episode and it’ll often require your Special Attacks and abilities to hunt them down. Collecting them all extends your health bar, as mentioned, but also unlocks trophies to display in the Simpson’s house, unlocks alternate attires, and will net you Achievements. You’ll also encounter videogame clichés, seemingly at random, which will add to your overall completion score but hunting down everything will definitely require a guide and a lot of patience. You can replay any mission from the main menu at any time to hunt down anything you’ve missed and you’ll also get to take on a number of time challenges for a series of 5G Achievements. These are a bit more than just finishing an Episode quickly, as well, and have you rescuing NPCs, fending off enemies, playing some of the mini games, or performing other tasks against a time limit which all helps to add a little variety to the game.

The Summary:
I remember being largely underwhelmed and frustrated when I first played The Simpsons Game on the PlayStation 3; a janky camera, dodgy controls, and lack of Trophies hurt my experience with the game but revisiting it for this playthrough on the Xbox 360 was a far more enjoyable affair. It’s a flawed game, for sure, but not quite as bad as most videogame adaptations tend to be; for one thing, it seems as though some time and effort was put into the game, particularly in its writing and presentation, and the parodies of popular and classic videogames made for some amusing moments. It’s fun exploring Springfield, interacting with recognisable Simpsons characters, and playing through new versions of classic episodes from the cartoon and the family’s different abilities are generally quite fun, if aggravating at times (though a lot of these issues can probably be solved by having a human partner to play alongside, which would cut down the back and forth and solve puzzles faster). Sadly, the ugly cel-shaded cutscenes let the game down somewhat, as does the repetitive and uninspired combat, puzzles, and platforming; it also feels like the developers played it a bit safe by doing a metatextual plot and Springfield is a little too barren at times. Still, it’s a decent enough title if you can find it at a decent price and probably the best Simpsons videogame for its attempt at variety and more fitting use of the license.

My Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pretty Good

Are you a fan of The Simpsons Game? Which of the playable characters was your favourite? What did you think to the recreation of Springfield and recycling of elements from the show? How do you feel the game holds up today and what did you think to the way it parodied other videogames? What is your favourite Simpsons game? Do you have a favourite character, episode, or moment from the show? How are you celebrating Whacking Day today? Whatever your thoughts on the world’s most famous yellow family, feel free to leave a comment below and be sure to check back in for more Simpsons content!