Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 17, 2012
Non-lethal violence

While I do have my favorite genres of computer games, sometimes I do like venture beyond those to see what is happening elsewhere. So this weekend I was playing Batman Arkham City, which I had picked up this year at some Steam sale for cheap. Many things were familiar: A RPG-like system of gaining experience and buying skills, a GTA-like structure of main story in a more or less open city. But what felt really weird was the combat: Why the heck am I bringing fists to a gunfight?

I am pretty sure that sort of non-lethal violence will make more sense to somebody who grew up with comic books in general, and Batman comics in particular. But then I assume even those comics didn't have Batman beat up a gang of thugs at every corner all day long. And what weird code of honor do you need to have to decide that it wouldn't be justified to shoot back if your enemies are shooting at you?

Overall I found Batman Arkham City very cinematic, but unfortunately showing a movie I didn't care for all that much. Another weird comic book story convention appears to be that there is a constant sequence of the villains capturing the heroes followed by the heroes capturing the villains, but without one side ever finally taking out a member of the other side. Instead Batman being captured is a cue for the forced transition of you playing Catwoman for a while.

Which brings me to the main issue I have with this game: While yes, you can explore Arkham City more or less freely and collect trophies and do side missions when you want, the main story of the game is extremely linear with no decisions to be taken at all. You have some freedom on how to tackle enemies, but as you are limited to fists and gadgets, and some rooms are full of enemies with guns, the silent takedown approach is usually the only viable option. In the end the whole thing feels very much like an interactive movie. Which isn't bad if you like interactive movies in general, and Batman in particular. But personally I wasn't all that enchanted by this game.

It's a bit strange that you don't like it as both Arkham asylum and Arkham city are both considered very good by a lot of players. But I guess that just goes to show that people like different things for their games. :)

Personally I loved it. Yes, fighting people with guns can often be pretty annoying, but that's part of what it's about being a superhero like Batman. :) Generally it's relatively hard to get that superhero feel from games, but this game does it pretty well.

And for those that like superhero games. Prototype (1) is quite fun. I haven't tried the second one yet, I'll probably buy it in one of the Steam sales.
I guess that if you're not into comics, I mean if you're not an avid reader/collector ... Superheroes-based videogames are harder to enjoy.

I personally don't like any marvel/superhero themed stuff (be it a game, a shirt, a poster...). I'm am not a comic lover, in general.
I loved Arkham City and its predecessor Arkham Asylum.

The comic book atmosphere is a big part of this and yes things like non lethal fights are a required "trope" of that atmosphere.

However even viewed as a game I really enjoyed the combat and movement mechanics. It is "on rails" of sorts in that you can only do certain things in certain places but there is never one way to accomplish an objective. You always have choices.

I even managed to get quite adept at the combo fighting despite my middle aged reflexes but I will admit that using an XBox 360 controller was essential for this. If you don't have an XBox controller for you PC I highly recommend it because so many modern games are just designed to work better with a controller.
Yeah, I do play with an XBox 360 controller. The basic combat (X to hit, Y to counter) I do master quite well. I also can get up the combo counter quite high, but consistently fail to pull off the actual combos then, which require me to push two other buttons. Same problem with using the gadget in combat (using RT, RB, LT, and LB on the back of the controller while simultaneously using X and Y on top of the controller).

Button-mashing combat is not really my thing. Fortunately Batman Arkham Asylum on normal difficulty doesn't really require a huge mastery of combos to succeed.
The horde of gun-wielding mooks, taken down in hand-to-hand combat, is a pretty entrenched genre convention for comic book heroes. Partly for historical reasons, due to the Comics Code Authority (which made distribution of comics featuring gunplay or explicit legitimate killing of a villain difficult until the late 1980s) and partly due to a certain inertia with favoured characters. The better stories tend to focus on character and complexity, but especially older comics are a lot of punching random goons followed by capture followed by escape.

It's not just the video games that it creeps into: see the pilot episodes of Justice League and their endless horde of White Martians, or some of the filler scenes in Batman Beyond where SWAT teams go down to a single guy in a funny suit.

The linearity's certainly there, although it seems an odd main issue to have with a game. It's not exactly marketed as a Skyrim, or even as a Metroidvania. Was it so linear that you didn't have the opportunity to learn new things?
I think the main problem you are finding is that Batman doesn't agree with your methods and is kinda set in his ways (which makes sense since it's a Batman game).

Like with anything you kinda lose some freedom if you are handed a pre-made character. :P
Arkham Asylum/City are "role-playing" in the literal sense that you are playing the role of Batman. Whether or not this is a good thing depends on whether you like (or at least can appreciate) Batman.

If you have a PS3, you might prefer Infamous. This game also has you playing the role of a specific character in superheroic 3rd person action, but you have some flexibility on whether the character is generally good or evil.

Perhaps this is the niche for superhero MMO's versus tailored single player stories that are going to be very specific for one protagonist (love em or hate em)?
You really don't want to outline the predecided plot of your table top game right after calling something linear.

And what weird code of honor do you need to have to decide that it wouldn't be justified to shoot back if your enemies are shooting at you?

A code where you're not just another thug.

Honestly, if you're capable of taking down the room non lethal, what sort of weird code do you have to have to think you aught to be shooting these guys dead?

That's like someone stamping on an anthill because the ants might just bite them, and calling any other action weird.
So you are saying that the army of your country is a just another band of thugs, because they shoot back instead of attacking the enemy with their fists?
I'll put it this way - if the army of my country could do non lethal take downs in relative safety (lets say they are better at it than the average gamer is good at batman arkham city), what does that make them when they instead shoot the enemy "because they were shooting us"?

If you have other options, but don't bother to think about them because "Hey, they shot at us, so we don't have to think! Just pull triggers!", then yes, they are thugs.

Why is shooting back somehow holy? Some kinda sacrosanct reaction?
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