Saturday, December 07, 2013

Batman as a Video Game

Recently I've been playing the Batman Arkham games.  I hadn't been much interested in them at first, since they seemed like fighting games, and I'm not a great fan of those.  But Humble Bundle was offering them as a deal, and I got them both (plus a bunch of other games), for $10.  They were definitely worth the price.


The Arkham games do involve a lot of fighting--Batman frequently solves problems with his fists.  But they're primarily action adventure games.  If you're not familiar with the genre, these are games where the goal is generally to figure out how to get from point A to point B, which is complicated by labyrinthine maps, including unjumpable ravines, insurmountable doors, and the occasional enemies.  So you have to figure out the way around each of these barriers, and get where you're going.

For this sort of genre, Batman is probably the best protagonist of the famous superheroes. There are some lesser known ones who could do as well, but if you're going to pick a famous superhero to base this sort of game around, you don't want Superman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, or even Flash. There are a lot of reasons why:

  1. Batman is human. When it comes right down to it, Batman is a vanilla human, with all the strengths and weaknesses of the species.  He can't fly, or break through walls.  Barriers that wouldn't challenge Superman require some effort on his part.  And enemies who would be insects to Superman are very dangerous.  Yeah, Batman can fight his way past a dozen goons armed with wrenches and knives, but his suit isn't bulletproof enough to make facing armed guards head on anything other than foolhardy.
  2. Batman has a lot of gadgets. This is why Batman is a superhero, rather than just a vigilante.  His superpower is his money. (That, and his mind and body are honed to implausible perfection.) But that affords him all sorts of useful tools he can use to overcome the aforementioned barriers. Since the days of Castle Wolfenstein (and, yes, I'm lumping first person shooters in this genre--they're fairly closely related), the key to games of this type is the upgrade. Whether that's picking up a better gun or some other type of technological gizmo (and since Batman doesn't use guns, it's the other type), every time you pick up a new toy, you get better. You can take on stronger and more dangerous enemies, and in this game, you can get past different type of barriers, whether they're mines, walls, locked doors, or water.  For Batman, the two most important gadgets are the ones you start with: the grappler and the cape.  Both of these work much like they did in the Batman movies. The grappler allows Batman to grab hold of higher ground and drag himself up, and his cape functions like a cross between a glider and a parachute.  He can't fly, but he can glide long distances, and use the grappler to grab hold of ledges and gargoyles.  You can navigate most of the city without ever touching the ground.
  3. Batman is sneaky. As I mentioned in the first point, goons with guns are dangerous to Batman.  So how do you fight them? By being sneaky. If Batman can sneak up on an enemy, he can take him out before he can raise an alarm.  He can do that by hiding either above or below, on the gargoyles (which seem like a rather common architectural theme in Gotham), below floor grates, or in the shadows scattered around the room.  From there he can take down armed enemies before they see him coming.
  4. Batman has a colorful cast of villains. Good villains are critical to a game of this type.  The main ones in this game were Ra's al-Ghul, Joker, and the Riddler.  Joker is Joker: crazy, and hatching bizarre plans, and he's the main one Batman has to deal with in these two games. Ra's is different.  His plans are more subtle, and it's harder to figure out what he's up to. The Riddler has the most interesting role, though.  He makes puzzles and scatters them throughout the city, which Batman needs to solve.  This actually serves an important purpose, adding a lot of little point A to point B puzzles to the game, and significantly increasing its length.  In the second game, I got all the way through the main plot without getting even halfway through the Riddler's puzzles (fortunately, you can continue to play after the main plot ends in an attempt to resolve those puzzles, and the other sidequests--some of the sidequests don't seem to trigger until after the main quest is done).
Take all that, and consider what this sort of game would be like with Superman as the main character.  A goon with a gun is no threat to Superman, as bullets just bounce off.  No door is much of a barrier, as he can simply break through it.  And since he can fly, if he can see the location of what he's trying to get to, he can get there.

So it's pretty obvious that Batman was a much better choice for this game, and I've found playing him to be quite enjoyable.