Category Archives: Game Review

My Top Games of 2016

As with last time, this isn’t specifically 2016 releases but rather games I’ve been playing for the first time this year (though all of them have had recent releases). Spoiler-free.

6. F1 2016 (PS4) Formula One, like FIFA, realises a new game every year. Unlike FIFA fans I don’t waste my money buying every single one (Hell, I’ve only purchased 2010, 2012 and 2016) but F1 2016 got strong reviews and looked amazing, and given the lack of racing games on current-gen consoles atm, I gave it try. Boy was I glad I did. As an F1 Simulator, its all you could ever want, with practice, qualifying and the race all tuneable to your personal preferences (you can use aids like automatic gears and racing lines but they are easily switched off if you want the whole experience). Practice sessions now have a point (unlike previous entries) with 3 optional practice programs/mini-games that help you learn the circuit and earn resource points which you can use to upgrade your car. The random weather effects have never looked better or felt more real either (heavy rain is now genuinely challenging). Another welcome addition is the ability to save mid-session, even while on the racetrack, which makes longer-distance races and realistic qualifying sessions less of a challenge. The only slight problem is the AI difficultly, which can jump between difficultly levels somewhat steeply (particularly between Hard and Expert) but its easy enough to fix by altering the game settings in other areas. Admittedly the racing might seem a bit bland if you’re just looking for a fun racer, but for an f1 fan, its a thrilling recreation of the actual sport. Overall, a great F1 sim, though not one that will win you over if you aren’t a f1 fan already.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Batman: A Telltale Series (PS4) I’ve really got into Telltale games this year (for those who don’t know, they’re basically interactive episodes which play out dependent on the choices you make in game, with the main gameplay usually composed of quick-time events in the action sequences). The Game of Thrones one from 2014 interested me (as life-or-death choices/plot twists work well in that universe) and Tales from the Borderlands was a hilarious 5-episode romping spin-off from the game series. But its their 5-episode Batman tale that ends up in my games of the year, simply because it does something better than ANY of the Batman films (even the Nolan trilogy) in the way it focuses on the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Its the best I’ve seen it covered and surprisingly the Bruce segments are in a way more memorable that Batman’s as Bruce gets embroiled in a scandal involving his deceased father’s connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone, while supporting Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. The Batman combat segments vary in quality (an early fight with Catwoman is underwhelming, but fights with new villain ‘Lady Arkham’ late game are very tense) and the best combat sequence in the game is actually where Bruce and Selina Kyle get in a downtown bar brawl. The game has Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin and Joker (who has a small role but will probably return in the inevitable sequel) in addition to the ‘children of Arkham’ who serve as the main antagonists. A great story makes this the Telltale game to pick if you want to give the series a try. Can’t wait for their Guardians of the Galaxy game next year!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4.Bioshock: The Collection (PS4) We’ve had a fair few remasters this year (Skyrim, The Ezio Collection and Modern Warfare) but the Bioshock Collection has to be the best value of the lot. I brought it to get my hands on the DLC for the third game, Infinite and the collection is simply a delight. Bioshock looks amazing and the sequels are nothing less than cinematic in graphics quality. Several issues involving longer loading screens have been dealt with as well. It doesn’t include 2’s attempt at multiplayer but that’s probably for the best. If you missed this series first time round, don’t repeat that mistake – its a riveting shooter/rpg with a great storyline and superb dlc.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) Uncharted’s fourth entry (and the final one with Nathan Drake) fixed a lot of the problems I had with the third one. The gameplay wasn’t sacrificed for the sake of the story this time, and this time the story was far more engaging. The exploring element factored in some of the Last of Us’ features such as optional conversations and collectable journal entries, adding considerable replay value. The fact this was theoretically a series finale also added much tension to the story, with the incredible graphics and cinematic score from Henry Jackman making this feel like a movie even more than the previous entries did. A few minor problems aside (the final third of the game is slightly too long and the final boss fight isn’t the best – admittedly a problem most uncharted games have) it’s one of the best in the series if not the best. Should they return to the series, it also gives us a new character  suited to carry on the adventures and if they don’t, it gives me even more confidence for the Last of Us 2.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Ratchet and Clank (PS4) Part-reboot, part remake of the first game, Ratchet and Clank was a joy to play. It was sheer fun – the guns are as wacky and varied as ever, while some very memorable missions (collecting brains for a blarg scientist has to be the highlight) are complemented by the insanely good visuals. The film may have been a disappointment but this is one of the best games in the series, even if the difficultly is minimal, you’ll have so much fun playing it that it might just be the best way of relaxing 2016 gave gamers.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

1. Shadow of Mordor: Game of the Year Edition (PS4) Ironically, Shadow of Mordor feels like the best Assassin’s Creed game we’ve had in years. The free-climbing, execution style kills, stealth gameplay etc. all feels like what we loved in games like AC II and Brotherhood, while the Lord of the Rings setting and innovative Nemesis system reals adds another level to things. Melee combat is very similar to the Arkham games (if not a touch better implemented) and the whole game feels like a sublime mesh of those two titanic gaming series. The challenge factor is decent too (though not anywhere as high as something like Dark Souls) as failure is punished by your enemies levelling up, to such an extent that if you bugger things up in the early game restarting isn’t the worst idea. The Nemesis system is particularly punishing, as the Ork who survives the most encounters/kills you most often will continually ascend in rank and power till you dispatch him. The dlc included with the GOTY version is worthwhile, the Beast-Lords campaign, while only a few hours long, adds an enjoyable if more of the same storyline with a few interesting monsters like the wretched Graug and the Ghul Matron adding additional challenges, while the Bright Master dlc fills in some backstory to the events of the main game while bringing Sauron to the forefront as never before. Overall, the main game itself is stellar, and the GOTY edition is a fine addition to your collection. Appropriately enough, Shadow of Mordor is my favourite game that I played this year, and i’d thoroughly recommend it to fans of LoTR, the Arkham Series or Assassin’s Creed!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

2017 hopefully should be a good year for games, with hyped sequels such as Injustice 2 and promising new entries like Vampyr. Personally though, I can’t see past Mass Effect: Andromeda… the game we all need after the last 12 months! If we’re lucky, COD might finally remaster MW2, accepting they can’t do any better. Regardless, should be a promising year, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting news on when the Last of Us 2 might come out (end of next year if we’re lucky?).

My favourite games of 2015

First up, this isn’t entirely comprised of games that came out in 2015 – it’s simply the ones I’ve had the most fun playing this year (though all are from 2014 or later) and the ones I’d happily recommend to a friend. All games are the PS4 versions.

6. Driveclub

While its not my favourite racer (nothing can match Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit on PS3) its easily the best one available on PS4 right now. It has a lot of DLC, but most of it is really cheap (1.50 each) and you can end up plugging a lot of hours into the single player. Factor in Multiplayer and it’ll be a long time before you run out of stuff to do on this game. The game looks amazing and the range of circuits and courses is high enough that it never feels repetitive. Not the easiest racer at the beginning, but with practice you’ll be fine.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Borderlands: The Handsome Collection

This is a strong candidate for hardest shooter I’ve ever played. I died so many more times on this than Bioshock, COD or Resistance. It’s two games in 1 (Borderlands 2 and the Pre-Sequel!) and both are pretty damn tough (levels 1-50, and if you’re level 25 a level 30 mission is basically impossible. That’s how quick the difficultly scales up). With literally millions of gun/grenade and shield variants with shotguns, assault rifles, pistols, smgs, rocket launchers, sniper rifles in various ammo combinations (fire, acid, shock) with The Pre-Sequel adding laser guns and Cyro rounds, it’s a shooters fantasy. It’s immense fun, but you NEED to be good at shooting games to play it. If you struggle on Recruit/Regular on COD, you’re going to be massively frustrated here. The game is rendered in a unique, almost comic-book/anime style way (watch clips to see what i’m on about) while the dark humour is up their with fallout.

The collection features 6 DLC expansions free, so in terms of value for money, it’s pretty damn good!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4. Dragon Age: Inquisition

In the same way Skyrim is the medieval style Fallout (or vice-versa) Dragon Age is the medieval style Mass Effect and if you liked that series, Dragon Age is the game for you. Inquisition is the third entry in the series, but you can drop right in without playing the previous two games and it won’t be that confusing (though my flatmate would say this was heresy!).  Set on the continent of Thedas, there are four races you can play as: (Male or Female on either) Humans, Elves, Dwarfs and Qunari (muscular warriors with pretty awesome horns who stand a foot taller than humans).

It’s got the same mix of colourful characters (ranging from charming rogue dwarf Varric, flirtatious human troll Dorian, crazy anarchist lesbian elf Sera, the prim proper and frequently exasperated Templar Cassandra and the brutal mercenary and potential ‘friend with benefits’ Iron Bull) as well as the epic storylines and breath-taking settings as Mass Effect.

If you love Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls Games or RPG’s in general, I’d recommend this! It has 3 DLC’s which are all either challenging combat expansions or crucial storyline additions.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Fallout 4

The biggest confusion I’ve had this year is when people say they love Fallout 4 but hate Star Wars: Battlefront because they changed too much from the previous games in the series? That makes no f*cking sense, because Fallout 4 scraps or alters a LOT of established things from 3 and New Vegas. Individual Skills, the Karma system and the endgame slides for side-quests and companions have vanished, while the perk system and power armour has been completely revamped. Conversations and companion loyalty are now a lot more like the systems in Dragon Age or Mass Effect. Most of the changes are improvements, and the game looks and feels a lot better with the new game engine (far fewer freezes or annoying crashes than 3) but I still miss aspects from 3 and New Vegas. It’s a very good game, but at times it doesn’t feel like the same Fallout series (mind you, I had the same doubts when I first played Skyrim because I disliked a few changes from Oblivion, so this will probably change once I’ve done a few more playthroughs). Fortunately, it keeps New Vegas’ idea of having 4 separate factions to pick from (this time its The Institute, The Minutemen, The Railroad and the Brotherhood of Steel) and each side has good points and bad (there’s no obvious evil Karma option like Caesar’s Legion in New Vegas) while even obvious good guys the peacekeeping Minutemen end up massacring the Institute in their final quest. I couldn’t pick who to side with till well into the games final act, and it was very close between the Brotherhood and the Railroad.

It’s very, very good. But it’s not clear-cut the best game in the series as I’d expected it to be. Only time will tell whether it actually has reached that level.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. The Last of Us: Remastered

Spoiler Warning (two plot points from the first 2 hours gameplay)

A zombie survival game with more tension than the whole Resident Evil franchise and more heart than anything the Walking Dead can offer. Two bold claims but this is a game that pulls at the heartstrings as you play it. And it’s a bloody dark game with suicide, child murder and various violent death scenes all present at points throughout. There are two protagonists, 50-something Joel, mourning the loss of his daughter in the initial outbreak, and 14-year old Ellie, who is the first human to survive a zombie bite without becoming infected. You have a few weapons in your limited arsenal, ranging from pistols to rifles and improvised weapons like spiked baseball bats, shivs and molotovs. And there are a lot of enemies ranged against you in addition to the zombies. Featuring Cannibals, hunters and ruthless post-apocalypse military organisations, the humans are almost bigger monsters than the zombies. Not that some of the zombie sections aren’t terrifying (a bit where you have to restart a generator in a partially flooded hotel basement, which wakes up a ton of zombies nearby, is particularly memorable) but arguably the most tense sequence is where Ellie is stranded, alone, in a burning building with a machete wielding cannibal hunting her (in the closest thing the game has to a boss fight).

Remastered Edition also features Left Behind, a DLC with Ellie’s backstory. There is an online part but that’s not the main attraction, the single player alone is good enough that you should get this (I don’t even like zombie/survival games all that much- but its one of the best single player campaigns I’ve played)

Rating 5 out of 5!

1. Star Wars: Battlefront

It may have its flaws (basically all of which are because its made by EA) but who cares if the servers are occasionally down because when everythings working, this is simply joyous. Soaring through the sky above Tatooine in X-Wings, Tie Fighters or the Millennium Falcon, racing through Endor’s forest on Speeder bikes, downing AT-ATs in Walker Assault on Hoth, it has everything you wanted to do in a game about the original trilogy.

The best thing has to be playing as heroes and villains. Whether your Force lightning your way through Rebels as The Emperor, clashing blades in lightsaber duels between Luke and Vader (this feels pretty epic 1 on 1, which happens a fair amount on multiplayer), gunning down Sith Lords as Han and Leia (who are much more of a match for them than in Battlefront 2) or racking up massive kill counts as Boba Fett ‘don’t get in my way…’ its immense fun.

Not all the online game modes are great but personally I find Fighter Squadron, Heroes vs Villains, Drop Zone and Cargo to be pretty amazing, and Walker Assault or Supremacy feel like proper all out battles from the films. Good job DICE, even if you are working for EA. Now give us a sequel with the prequels will you?

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Anyway that’s what I’ve loved this year.

Predictably as this is a personal preference list there are some notable absences in terms of big name releases this year. Why? Well I don’t count FIFA as a proper game (it’s just not), I lost patience with the Black Ops series of COD games after the first one and Batman: Arkham Knight just wasn’t as good as its predecessors (its a very, very good game but I feel like it could have been so much more). And Tomb Raider won’t be out on PS4 till next year.

 

Star Wars: Battlefront Review

This game surprised me. We all thought the same things after it was announced: It looks amazing! But why no campaign? Why no prequels? Limited Single Player? Too much DLC? Bloody EA. But the naysayers and sceptics were wrong. This might not be the Star Wars game we wanted, but by hell, it’s the one we need!

EA have nailed it. The multiplayer is up there with the best I’ve played. If even a mostly single player gamer like me likes this game, they’ve done it right. It appeals to both the gamer and fanboy (or fangirl) within you. Even the training missions are a joy – racing speeders through the forests of Endor, taking down AT-AT walkers on Hoth or exterminating rebels as Vader and the Emperor, I had a lot of fun on them.

The single player is divided into 3 categories: 5 training missions, 8 battles (basically single player deathmatches as either normal troops or heroes) and 4 survival games (where you have to hold out against 15 waves of enemies as either a lone rebel or a pair). This might not sound like much, but thanks to 3 difficulty settings (Normal, Hard and Master – and Hard is challenging solo, Master you basically need two players!) it would take you a while to complete these.

The game currently has 5 planets (several maps for each one) though more may be on the way through DLC. These include Endor, Hoth and Tatooine from the Original Trilogy, Sullust (a volcanic planet from the Expanded Universe – apparently it’s where the rebels stole the Death Star Plans or something) and Jakku from Force Awakens. Hopefully future DLC might give us places like Coruscant, Geonosis or Mustafar from the prequels (those maps were great on Battlefront 2!).

I mentioned Heroes, and there are six you can play as in game, 3 for the rebels (Luke, Leia and Han Solo) and 3 for the empire (Vader, the Emperor and Boba Fett). While in Battlefront 2 Luke and Vader would have been the heroes of choice, here the others more than hold their own. This is best demonstrated in the Heroes vs Villains mode online, where you have two teams of six (three heroes that don’t respawn) and the side that wipes out the opposing teams heroes wins. You might expect Luke or Vader to survive the longest because of their ability to deflect enemy fire with lightsabers, but frequently its Leia, The Emperor or Boba Fett that are the last ones standing because of the special abilities they are granted (and Boba’s Jetpack makes him very difficult to pin down!). Han Solo isn’t bad either – in one match where I spawned as him I managed to gun down both Vader and the Emperor at close range (though Boba then shot me in the back). Another mode they appear in is ‘Hero Hunt’ where 1 player from 8 is selected as a hero, the other 7 have to kill them, and whichever player does becomes the new hero (and thus can rake up kills on the weaker normal troops).

Other online modes include Drop Zone (where both teams race to capture 5 escape pods that spawn in random places on the map), Droid Run (where teams have to try and capture 3 moving droids – the team that controls all 3 at once wins), Blast (standard team deathmatch), Cargo (basically a capture the flag mode) and Walker Assault (where the Rebels attempt to destroy 2 enemy Walkers while the Imperials attempt to overrun the Rebels position – whoever succeeds first wins). There’s also an aerial combat mode (X-Wings and A-Wings for the Rebels, TIE Fighters and Interceptors for the Imperials) which is very easy to get to grips with as two teams of online players and CPU opponents duke it out above the ground maps (the best players get to fly either the Millennium Falcon or Slave I (Boba Fett’s Ship), both of which give you a substantial advantage. There’s a supremacy mode which throws together everything from Ground combat, Heroes and Space and its utter chaos – I’d recommend levelling up on other modes before trying it!

While the game may lack a few features I’d have liked to see included, what’s there is excellent – hopefully the DLC can maintain the quality!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Knight

Batman: Arkham Knight starring the voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and John Noble as Scarecrow.

Warning: Major Spoilers for Arkham City and Minor Spoilers for Arkham Knight

This is it. The big one. The Finale. The entire Arkham series has built towards this point. From the very first line in the game you know its significance – ‘this is the night the Batman died’ says Commissioner Gordon – so one way or another, it’s clear Batman will lose in some way, either his life, his allies or his secret are going to be over by the end of the game. Knight does a great job of throwing red herrings throughout the game, there’s one moment shockingly early on where the game actually succeeds in making you believe the Bat’s had it – and another 2/3 of the way through where it looked like you might spend the remainder having to play as Robin or Nightwing. Arkham Knight is the first game in the series where the Joker isn’t the main villain, due to his death at the end of Arkham City, but Scarecrow proves an effective replacement – he always seems two steps ahead of Batman in a way the Joker never was in the preceding three games. You will also spend half (or more) of the game trying to work out who the titular Arkham Knight is – because it predictably isn’t an original character beneath that mask – I guessed who it was roughly at the halfway point, but only because i knew the comics. There were a lot of theories before release (i advise that you don’t read them, working it out for yourself is better) and again the game has a red herring or two thanks to Scarecrow’s hallucinations, but the reveal is worth waiting for.

Is the Joker Back? In one way yes, as Scarecrow’s fear gas causes Batman to repeatedly hallucinate Joker’s presence, and there’s another reason that the clown turns up so often (but it’s too spoilerly to mention) so don’t worry Joker fans, if you wanted him to be back so badly, you only had to ask… Scarecrow gets some fun bonus ‘Nightmare missions’ dlc in addition to being the main villain, probably to make up for the fact there isn’t a boss fight with him in the main game (instead you get one mind-bending sequence in Batman’s mind where he battles Joker one last time). The Arkham Knight however, appears for three boss fights, of which the first, in which he commands a heavily armoured tank and multiple escort drones against the outgunned batmobile, is the best and the most tense. The second fight (where he uses an armoured drill vehicle to chase the Batmobile through some tunnels) is less fun, and requires near perfect mastery of your ability to drive the car, but feels like it is killing time until the reveal (if they dragged it out any longer it wouldn’t work, the final third of the game loses too much intensity after the first boss fight and only regains it in the final section where Scarecrow captures Robin). The third boss fight is a multi-stage predator battle against the Knight, his identity now revealed, but isn’t as good as you’d expect for the final battle.

The game mechanics are largely unchanged, but there are a couple of decent additions such as the environment takedowns in combat (such as Batman slamming opponents into electrical generators to instantly knock them out), the ability to wield melee weapons like baseball bats temporarily in combat, and new ‘fear takedowns’ which allow Batman to takedown multiple foes in rapid succession if undetected, which is extremely useful in predator combat. However, while the game provides a good level of hand-to-hand combat sections, there isn’t as many predator sections as I’d like, mainly because of the over-emphasis placed on the batmobile. It’s integrated into most parts of the game – boss fights, riddler trophies etc. – you’ll probably spend around a third of the game in the thing either racing through the streets or battling the unmanned tank drones controlled by the Arkham Knight. However you spend so long in the batmobile that some of the elements that made the previous 3 games great, such as the predator sections and on foot boss fights, are neglected.

Many other supervillains are back as well, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn crop up in the main storyline, but its the side missions that excel. As well as teaming up with Nightwing to take down Penguin and stopping Two-Face from robbing Gotham’s various banks, several new villains, such as Man-Bat, Deacon Blackfire and Professor Pyg (no i hadn’t heard of those last two either!) make appearances. None of the new villains are that interesting save for Man-Bat, but their side quests are nevertheless good. The main side quest yet again is Riddler, who has kidnapped Catwoman and placed a bomb collar on her neck, forcing you to complete 9 challenges throughout the game (both on foot and with the batmobile) to rescue her – some of the batmobile races are really tough though! In addition, there are still plenty of Riddler trophies scattered about the place needing collecting and for anyone still claiming Origins doesn’t count as a true Arkham game, i’m happy to report this game proves you wrong by including the two characters whose boss fights were the highlight of Origins: Deathstroke and Firefly – though both of them have boss fights involving the Batmobile – which is fine for Firefly, but it’s disappointing not to be able to have a rematch hand-to-hand with Deathstroke after the vehicle combat. Some villains are conspicous by their absence (notably Bane and Mr. Freeze don’t appear, having been so prominent in the previous games) but given how much dlc is on the way, i guess this may be deliberate and that they’ll turn up eventually. The existing DLC includes the Red Hood and Harley Quinn episodes, which are fun but far too short – but getting the Red Hood version of the game gets you these and the Scarecrow Nightmares for £5 extra, so they are worth it.

Overall the game is a must buy for Batman fans and is another decent Arkham game, but an over-emphasis on the batmobile, a few weak boss fights and one or two overlong quests prevent it from being as perfect as I’d hoped. Now can DC give us a movie version of this series please? All 4 games have been cinematic material and the storylines up there with the Dark Knight Trilogy – it’d be worth it!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

So what is the best Arkham game?

Best Tone/Atmosphere/Setting: Arkham Asylum
Best Predator/Combat maps: Arkham City
Best Soundtrack/Best Gameplay: Arkham Origins
Most intense/Best Side Missions: Arkham Knight

Best Game: Arkham City (with Arkham Origins a VERY narrow second)

Game Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3)

Batman: Arkham Origins starring Roger Craig Smith as Batman and Troy Baker as the Joker.

Warning: Spoilers!

I’ve finished Arkham Knight, but for the sake of completionism, here’s my review of the previous game in the series: Arkham Origins.

Arkham Origins takes place 5 years before Asylum when Batman (this time voiced by Roger Craig Smith) is beginning his crime fighting career – and features his first encounters with adversaries Bane, Penguin, Riddler, Killer Croc and the Joker. The plot is thus: crimelord Black Mask puts a bounty of 50 million on Batman’s head, leading to 8 assassins (Killer Croc, Electrocutioner, Deathstroke, Deadshot, Shiva, Firefly, Copperhead and Bane) arriving in Gotham trying to collect the prize. Herein lies one of Arkham Origins’ strengths – it has the best boss fights of any game in the series (Asylum’s were generally disappointing, City’s varied in quality a lot and Knight’s are equally variable). The battles with Firefly and Bane are two of the highlights in the series, and the fight with Deathstroke is easily the most difficult (a good reason to do your first playthrough on easy!). These may not be the most famous Batman villains, but they all add something to the game.

The game lacks the atmosphere of Asylum and the tension of City, but it’s storyline is gripping nonetheless. SPOILER WARNING (skip to next paragraph if you care – though the main twist is predictable). This is mainly due to the Joker plot. Black Mask is the main villain? No he isn’t (thank God, as he has no depth whatsoever and was wisely relegated to a side mission at the game’s halfway point) – instead it is revealed that he was being impersonated by Joker, who hired the assassins and then begins to become obsessed with Batman after the Bat saved his life. Troy Baker is great as Joker, playing him similar enough to Mark Hamill that the two characters are believably from the same series, but far enough away to leave his own mark on the character. The game is also the only game in the series (unless Knight has some DLC which changes this) to give us a great version of Bane. His Boss fight is great, and the character is the secondary villain and is fleshed out to an extent only the Dark Knight Rises has achieved (but with a traditional take on the brute).

The game also makes the best use of Batman’s ‘detective mode’, although that said some of the detective bits are slightly too long. The stealth predator sections have the exact same gameplay (barring one new gadget) as Arkham City, but it does improve the hand-to-hand combat sections, with new enemy types such as ninjas, who are immune to certain types of attacks, and Bane’s venom henchmen adding a bit more challenge to the combat sections. The predator maps are decent (better than Asylum’s, worse than City’s) so you can easily lose a few more hours on those. The Riddler sections are the least interesting of the four games, however, although it is worth doing them to unlock extra audio files on the games characters with a wealth of easter eggs for Batman fans. Penguin and Mad Hatter also have side missions that show Batman’s first encounters with them, but the majority of side missions are simply ways of killing time between main missions – the only one which leaves a lasting impression is newcomer Anarky, who has placed bombs around the city in an attempt to kill Gotham’s most corrupt (the bankers, the police the politicians etc.)This game, being larger than Asylum and City, also introduces fast travel, which can save you a lot of time.

The downloadable content, Cold, Cold Heart takes place a week later and focuses on Batman’s first encounter with Mr. Freeze, and is worth buying. Fans will recognise the comic-book storyline it is based on, and the final boss fight with Freeze is similarly challenging to the one in Arkham City, with Batman having to use multiple stealth takedowns to defeat the heavily armed Freeze.

Overall the gameplay is the best in the series with good boss fights and a gripping story. A lack of innovation and some by-the-numbers side missions are the two issues that prevent it surpassing City.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.
DLC Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Next Time: My Review of Arkham Knight is finally here as the Batman’s story reaches its end…

Game Review: Batman: Arkham City

Batman: Arkham City starring Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the voices of Batman and Joker.

Warning: Spoilers!

Having nearly finished Arkham Knight, here’s my review of its chronological predecessor: Arkham City. Arkham City is one of the highest rated games on previous gen consoles, and was considered by many the best of the first three Arkham games. It’s easy to see why, it expands on Arkham Asylum’s success and improves upon its predecessor in virtually every way. Detective Mode is still useful, though some enemies now have jammers to prevent you using it all the time in predator sections. The predator maps themselves are much better and will keep you busy for hours (particularly if you get the content allowing you to play as Nightwing, Robin and Catwoman on them) while combat has been drastically improved, with 5 quickfire gadgets and a host of new combat moves to help you deal with new enemy types (such as armoured enemies and ones carrying riot shields).

The plot? After the events at the Asylum, the prisoners and supervillains have been rehoused in a walled off section of Gotham, dubbed ‘Arkham City’, with three gangs led by Penguin, Two-Face and Joker controlling most of the streets. The facility is run by Hugo Strange, who captures Bruce Wayne in the game’s opening scene and reveals he has deduced his secret identity, before throwing him into Arkham City. The Joker is yet again the main villain, dying after his exposure to Titan in Asylum, he uses a blood transfusion to infect Batman with his tainted blood, forcing the bat to work with Joker to find a cure, leading him into confrontations with Penguin, Mr. Freeze and Ra’s al Ghul along the way.

The game now has various side missions to complete, where you take on the Batman villians who aren’t key to the main plot, such as Mad Hatter, Hush, Deadshot and Zsasz. These are all pretty good, although they’re aren’t many boss fights, meaning many of the side villains seem to be dealt with rather easily. The most prominent is Riddler, who in addition to posing more riddles and hiding riddler trophies everywhere, has kidnapped several people and trapped them in deadly Riddle rooms from which Batman has to use a wide variety of his gadgets to rescue them. Finding all 400 riddles (plus another 40 which only Catwoman can retrieve) is arguably just as time consuming as the main game.

On the subject of gadgets, Batman’s arsenal has been greatly expanded from the first game: in addition to the batclaw, explosive gel and batarangs he now has some ice grenades (made by Mr. Freeze), a disruptor capable of disabling enemy weapons and a REC (Remote electrical charge) launcher that can power up generators, as well as shocking enemies mid combat. All of his gadgets have a part to play, especially while solving Riddles or in the boss fight with Mr. Freeze (the most lauded in the entire game, as you have to use all of Batman’s different stealth moves, plus gadgets, to take him down). The other boss fights range from the fun (the one with Clayface and the one with Ra’s al Ghul mid-game) to the by the numbers (catwoman’s one against Two-Face) or the downright terrible (the one against Solomon Grundy, which is basically just spamming explosive gel for a few minutes). The two hardest ones are Ra’s and Freeze’s, though neither rival Poison Ivy’s in Asylum or Deathstroke’s in Origins for difficulty.

Overall a great Batman game, and one that should be played before moving onto Arkham Knight, only a few weak bosses and some frustratingly difficult Riddler trophies let it down.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

As for the downloadable content, apart from the novelty of playing as Robin (with various new gadgets) Harley Quinn’s Revenge doesn’t add much, but if you want another 1 and a half of game time, it’s worth getting. The catwoman episodes and playing as Robin and Nightwing on challenge maps are much more fun, they’re recommended.

DLC (Harley Quinn’s revenge) Rating: 3 out of 5

Next Up: The divisive prequel Arkham Origins: an equal to City or a game that fails to add anything to the series? Read on to find out…

Game Review: Batman Arkham Asylum (PS3)

With Arkham Knight due in the next few weeks, it gives me an excuse to revisit the three Arkham games so far – Asylum, City and the prequel Arkham Origins. These are the only decent superhero games out there atm, and I enjoyed all of them immensely, but i suspect Arkham Knight will be the best of the four (how can it fail to be when you can drive the bloody batmobile in it???)

But back to the first game in the series: Arkham Asylum, starring the voices of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. The Joker’s been the main villain in all three Arkham games so far, played twice by Mark Hamill (who has voiced the character many times for TV and animation) and once by veteran voice actor Troy Baker. Hamill is possibly my favourite version of the Joker, he’s more menacing than Nicholson and closer to the comics than Ledger (though both of them gave great intrepretations), and this game’s success is largely due to how well the characters like Joker are realised. Alongside the Joker there are numerous other villains, with Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Bane, Poison Ivy and Killer Croc all making appearances, and the Riddler is a constant presence throughout, leaving you various puzzles to solve all over Arkham Island as a sideline to the main story. The Asylum itself is a great environment and the game has the best, most comic-book esque atmosphere of the Arkham games so far, helped by its tense soundtrack. The plot is also good, with Batman left stranded in the Asylum, which has been taken over by the inmates and Joker’s thugs, with only a few guards left to help him. Thus, the characters, setting, plot and soundtrack combine to make the first genuinely good Batman game. There is, however, a problem.

While the game was ground-breaking when it first came out, it had a few issues – which its more polished sequels show up all the more clearly. While you have several of Batman’s gadgets available in this game (Batarangs, Batclaws, Explosive Gel etc.) you have half of what the later games give you, and there are fewer enemy types to deal with. Gameplay, as with all the Arkham games, is split into two types – a combat sim beat-em-up where you use Batman’s fighting prowess against various thugs, and a stealth takedown sim where you have to incapicate Joker’s armed followers in various ways (silent takedowns, knocking them off ledges, stringing them up from Gargoyles etc.). While the stealth segments are still good fun (helped by Batman’s ‘detective mode’ vision, which lets you keep track of where various enemies are), the combat isn’t as slick or free-flowing as it is in the sequels (though it’s by no means bad). Some of the boss fights also are somewhat dissapointing (especially Bane’s and the final one with Joker) though this is countered by the nightmare platformer sequences you have to play through when fighting Scarecrow (which are brilliant) and the challenging fight with Poison Ivy (surprisingly the hardest boss in the game). There isn’t any multiplayer, but there are various challenge maps for both stealth and combat which you can lose a couple of hours on.

Ultimately, while this was a breakthrough game and is still an enjoyable Batman sim, it has dated somewhat. For completionists who want to playthrough the entire series or Batman fans who will love the story and characters, it’s a good choice. For the more casual gamer however – i’d recommend starting with prequel Arkham Origins, then playing Arkham City and Knight, as those three all have superior gameplay.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Next: Arkham City – a game which improves in almost every way and introduces Two-Face, Penguin and Ra’s al Ghul to the series…