Our usual video game writer couldn’t make it to Comic Con this year, so guest blogger Danielle is stepping in to review two games coming soon to a console near you.
While the growing presence of the video game market at Comic Con has attracted criticism for luring fannish attentions away from comic books, fantasy films and scifi literature, two of this year’s highly anticipated game titles have a lot to offer beyond the promise of stellar graphics and a blue pill sensory overload.
That’s not to say that the makers of Assassin’s Creed II and Batman: Arkham Asylum don’t know their audience well. Anyone looking to get their greedy little button-blistered thumbs on a copy of ACII can rest easy in the knowledge that if the assassinations in the first game were sweet, then the kills in its sequel will be downright cavity-inducing. Likewise, loyal fans of the Batman mythos won’t be disappointed by a lack of coolheaded reliance on everyone’s favorite utility belt. But with the continued development of Desmond Miles’ intriguing pedigree and the careful attention paid to getting the goddamn Batman’s game characterization just right, we have ourselves further proof that the gaming industry may yet become just as capable of producing good stories as it is insomnia and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Set in 1476 in Florence, Italy during the Italian Renaissance, ACII “picks up right where AC left off” according to ACII scriptwriter Corey May with the power-hungry desires of Abstergo Industries remaining at the center of the story’s conflict. The game follows the nobleman-turned-assassin ancestor of Desmond Miles, Ezio Auditore di Firenze, in his quest to avenge his murdered father. Just as players were given control of ancestor Altaïr Ibn La-Ahad’s genetic memory via Abstergo’s “Animus” machine in AC, so players will do the same with Ezio’s genetic memory in order to illuminate the conspiracy surrounding his death by stealth eliminating prominent members of rival families. Fans familiar with the layout and missions of the first game will be awesomed by the upgrades I’ve noted below.
On Thursday’s panel, Ubisoft Montreal chief executive Yannis Mallat and Hybride Technologies (better known for the visual effects team responsible for Sin City and 300) chief executive Pierre Raymond explained their reason for collaborating both on ACII and Assassin’s Creed: Lineage, their latest ambitious venture into the expansion of the Assassin’s Creed universe: the convergence of films and games to solidify a character-driven storyline.
The Lineage series of short films will be released Holiday 2009 and will serve as a prequel to ACII with heavy focus on Giovanni, Ezio’s father, and the circumstances surrounding his death. But what’s most interesting about this film series is the shooting process described by Mallat and Raymond. It was stated that actual ACII background graphics were superimposed over green and blue screens both to guide live actors to their marks and to serve as legitimate scenery in the final cut. If this doesn’t vouch for the quality of ACII’s graphics in conjunction with the promotion of story, I don’t know what can.
Oh wait, E3’s demo gameplay might. Unfortunately, this exact demo was replayed by scriptwriter Corey May during the panel and serves as the only bit of gameplay we will have access to before the game’s release date.
In the same vein as Assassin’s Creed II, first time exposure to Batman: Arkham Asylum is sure to cause any number of facial excretions, not limited to drool, nosebleeds, and tears of fannish joy, so consider yourself forewarned (and make sure to have a towel handy.) Rocksteady Studios and Eidos Interactive have been incredibly protective of their newest addition to the Batman family up until fairly recently, and with good reason. Though quite a few gameplay demos can already be found on youtube (specifically under the “gamehelper” user profile), the extent to which the island on which Arkham Asylum has been developed really must be experienced in person.
But beyond the graphics lies an interesting story that will either annoy fans or satisfy them by virtue of being original and mostly divorced from the chronology of series canon. The game begins with Batman en route to the island to escort the Joker to Arkham Asylum. However, the Joker, with the help of Harley Quinn, manage to take over the asylum and lock the building down with Batman and Commissioner Gordon still inside. So begins Batman’s mission to track the Joker down and bring him and his cronies to justice while he contends with inmates let loose with a mind to take him out.
A real treat comes in the form of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill and Arleen Sorkin, fan favorite voice actors from Batman The Animated Series who return to voice the roles of Batman, the Joker and Harley Quinn respectively. Everyone crowding around the DC booth in the Exhibition Room to get their hands on the controller got a kick out of hearing their spot on voice overs, specifically the Joker’s heckling of Batman over the intercom in the asylum as he makes his way from challenge to challenge, acquiring weapons and doing what the Bat does best.
But unlike Assassin’s Creed II, Batman: Arkham Asylum has established characterization to contend with and live up to, and it’s safe to say that in all the modes offered, the playable Batman shows himself to be a fair representation of the readable and watchable one already well-known and well-loved. In Detective mode, almost all of his gadgets are familiar and when not familiar, they are believable. Likewise, in Combat mode, his style of fighting is noted to be derivative of the style used in both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. “Lots of elbows, hard impact punches designed to knock a combatant unconscious but not to kill,” was essentially the message touted by one DC booth marketer. And finally, the challenge levels cater to Batman’s intelligence and ability to always stay one step ahead, forcing the player to rely heavily on strategy while penalizing for button mashing.
Have a look at GamehelperTV’s demo gameplay of the Free-Flow Combat System.
With all of these elements of mixed media to consider, I think it’s fair to assert that Ubisoft and Rocksteady have developed and contributed to fannish stories in Assassin’s Creed II and Batman: Arkham Asylum in a way that justifies and validates the gamer presence at Comic Con. But just for the sake of geeking out over the kickass specs for each title, here’s a rough guide to what you can expect from your gaming experience below:
Assassin’s Creed II (Details taken from the Comic Con 2009 Panel and from GameInformer)
* The same free roaming system and nonlinear gaming structure as Assassin’s Creed (greater freedom, no need to complete certain missions in a certain order)
* New weapons including an axe, a spear, a hammer and multiple blades – most of which can be taken from guards during combat
* Can assassinate two guards at a time with two hidden blades, one up each sleeve, as well as a gun built into one of the retracting blade mechanisms that fires a bullet with the Assassin’s symbol etched onto the metal
* Jumping into water no longer results in desynchronization/death – Ezio can swim, hide under piers and navigate boats
* Have access to Leonardo Da Vinci’s workshop and subsequent inventions, including his well-documented flying machine
* Expect cameos from other major historical characters, including Lorenzo de Medici, Caterina Sforza and Niccolò Machiavelli
* Noticeable locations include Saint Marks Basilica, The Grand Canal, The Little Canal, and the Rialto bridge.
* There are reportedly up to sixteen unique mission types rather than the previous six found in Assassin’s Creed and pick pocketing missions have been completely eliminated
* New combatants include long-range archers that fire flame-lit arrows at your flying machine when you are in flight
* While hiding in the hay Ezio is able to reach out, assassinate a nearby guard, and haul him inside the hay out of sight
* The time jumps between night and day according to your gameplay
* More hidden objects to find that now count toward bonuses
* Can now assassinate people and seat them on benches rather than just use the benches to spy on conversations
* Can now assassinate a tower guard by pulling him over the ledge and sending him to fall to his doom
* If wounded in combat, health will not return over time – must visit a doctor instead
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Details taken from DC Booth in Comic Con 2009 Exhibition Hall)
* Semi-nonlinear gaming structure, meaning that free roaming is present but certain parts of the asylum remain locked off until you acquire the right weapon to unlock them.
* Two main modes: Combat mode and Detective mode; the former is heavy on fighting, the latter on strategy/puzzle solving
* In Detective mode, the visor in Batman’s cowl can perform x-ray vision, and find “points of interest”
* Encounter various bosses in the form of inmates and cronies sent to slow you down by the Joker and earn experience points using either combos or gadgets in combat that can be put towards upgrades like weaponry/armor upgrades or combo/abilities upgrades
* Can use guards or cronies as distractions by harming them or placing them where other guards will hear them and come running
* Challenge levels involve a high level of stealth and reflex reaction time
* FreeFlow mode prevents Combat from resorting to button-mashing; consists of a highly sensitive rhythm of fighting that relies on anticipation and can be easily unsuccessful if an attack is too quick or too late
* In FreeFlow mode, a combat counter meter rises by tracking your 1) ability to avoid being hit in a fight and 2) your ability to attack an opponent at the right time; as the combat meter rises, your counter attacks and offensive attacks become more and more stylized
* A combat mode fight consists of four rounds and points are received based on how high your combat counter meter rises and how effective your attacks are
** Although Batman is a playable character for Microsoft Windows, XBox360 and Playstaion 3, the Joker is only playable for Playstation 3
** As the Joker, your fighting style is more whimsical and theatrical
** While Batman fights Joker’s guards and cronies, the Joker fights cops and Commissioner Gordon
Assassin’s Creed II will be released in North America on November 17, 2009 and in Europe on November 20, 2009 for Microsoft Windows, Xbox360 and Playstation 3. Batman: Arkham Asylum will be released in North America on August 25th, 2009 and in Europe on August 28th, 2009 for Microsoft Windows, Xbox360 and Playstation 3.