Rough Draft

Thoughts on the WWE Brand Split

News broke about last week that not only was WWE Smackdown moving to Tuesdays to be aired live, but that the Brand Split would be returning with it. For those unaware, the Brand Split was a concept WWE used in the early 2000s where Raw and Smackdown had their own, individual rosters. It was a good idea that had ultimately run its course and was disbanded a few years ago. Since it had run its course in the initial run, why start it again? Because it’s a great idea.

Draft House

When the split happened initially, the WWE roster was packed. The roster had guys like The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan, Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Shawn Michaels… That’s a list that includes some of the greatest wrestlers of all time. So splitting the roster between Raw and Smackdown wasn’t only feasible, it was necessary. You split your main eventers up and that leaves more room for your undercard guys to shine through. Without the split, would we have ever gotten Jamie Noble and Nidia? How about the rise of Shelton Benjamin? A Cruiserweight division with strong storylines? The legendary Smackdown Six? Obviously there’s no way to know for certain, but odds are that there simply would not have been enough room on the roster to let those lesser storylines shine through. 

It was also helpful that each show had its own staff behind the scenes as well. Raw and Smackdown each had their own unique writers, bookers, and agents. Not only did that freshen up storylines, it made each show feel unique. Raw became the “sports entertainment show” where elaborate storylines and bloodfeuds were the normal; Smackdown became the “wrestling show” where some of the best wrestlers in the world were given time to put on wrestling classics. You wanted to watch both shows, not only because they had different rosters but because they each felt different.

So What Happened?

Over time, the rosters started to get stale. We kept getting the same matchups over and over again. They tried to combat that with a yearly draft, where several wrestlers would switch between brands. This helped, but it wasn’t enough. Ultimately, it became important to bring up new talent and reinvent some old ones in order to freshen up the scene. The WWE staff largely failed miserably at this. 

Instead of talented people getting interesting characters, they got shackled with jokes like Jesse & Festus, Eugene, Jimmy Wang Yang, and the Spirit Squad. If they weren’t given an outlandish gimmick, they were just awful in the ring. A series of big, muscular guys like Heidenreich, Mike Knox, The Great Khali, and Gene Snitsky took up way too much airtime. Then there was the young guys who were given nothing to work with, who had bland movesets and little to no character, like Mark Jindrak, Ken Doan, Garrison Cade, and Rob Conway. Not even established wrestlers were immune to this, lest we forget Chavo Guerrero’s Kerwin White transformation and the WWE debut of Goldberg.

There were a few wrestlers who survived debuting in this era. John Cena and Randy Orton were a part of that bland group, while Dolph Ziggler, Batista, and Luke Gallows all had terrible characters. They were able to reinvent themselves and find success. There were also a few debuts that they handled well, like Brock Lesnar and CM Punk. But most of the new wrestlers from that era have rarely been seen, with most leaving the industry entirely. The WWE dropped the ball in a big way.

That combination of awful writing decisions mixed with a lack of fresh matchups and lasting new talent lead to the demise of the Brand Split.

Why Would It Work Now?

That stacked roster from the first Brand Split that I mentioned? The current WWE roster blows it out of the water. Obviously not in terms of star power, but when it comes to pure talent, top-to-bottom the current WWE roster might be the best they’ve ever had. Not everyone is incredible, sure, but I’m hard pressed to name anyone who is just awful. There’s not a Nathan Jones in sight. This roster has what it takes to carry a show. Even their lower mid-card guys include people like Tyler Breeze and the Social Outcasts, who are talented enough to easily take on a larger role.

Not only that, but I have faith that things will be kept fresh. The last time there was a Brand Split, there wasn’t NXT. The WWE Performance Center is turning out some truly talented wrestlers while also attracting some of the best wrestlers in the world. We recently got people like Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Enzo & Cass, Sasha Banks, Becky Lynch, and Neville called up, while others like Bayley, Finn Balor, Samoa freakin’ Joe, and Shinske friggin’ Nakamura waiting in the wings. If there was ever a group of talent that would make a Brand Split succeed, it’s this one.

Splitting Hairs 

By now, you’ve probably seen countless fantasy drafts of the WWE rosters. Haha, stupid marks…

Anyway, here’s another fantasy draft:

Raw
John Cena
Randy Orton
Dean Ambrose
The Miz
The New Day
Wyatt Family
Alberto del Rio
Rusev
Sheamus
Big Show
Kane
Baron Corbin
Titus O’Neil
The Dudley Boyz
The Vaudevillains
Jack Swagger
Darren Young
The Ascencion
Primo and Epico
Zack Ryder
Charlotte
Paige
Alicia Fox
Lana
Emma
Dana Brooke

Smackdown
Roman Reigns
Seth Rollins
AJ Styles
Chris Jericho
Kevin Owens
Sami Zayn
Cesaro
Neville
Dolph Ziggler
Enzo & Cass
The Usos
The Club
Lucha Dragons
Apollo Crews
Tyson Kidd
Tyler Breeze
Fandango
Goldust
R-Truth
The Social Outcasts
Sasha Banks
Becky Lynch
Natalya
Summer Rae
Naomi
Tamina

My objective was to split up the star power as evenly as possible. I also wanted to tap into what they had done in the past and made Raw the “sports entertainment” show and Smackdown the “wrestling” show. My plan also involves the WWE Champion, Women’s Champion, and Tag Team Champions to float between shows so as not to strand anyone from being able to get a title shot. In this scenario, the IC title and US titles would be the only titles that are exclusive to their respective shows.

So what are your thoughts on this whole Brand Split? Is it good or bad?

Reboot

I’m rebooting my blog, everybody!

The blog you’re reading used to be called Grown Up Gamer. I named it that when I thought it would be interesting to chronicle what it’s like trying to juggle a time-consuming hobby like gaming with a full, adult life versus what it was like as a kid. While I still think there’s merit in that concept, I quickly realized that I am not the person to capitalize on it. Ironically, life get too crazy and hectic to really sit down and plan it out. So I decided to stick with the name and just turn it into a general gaming blog. Here’s the thing though: I suffered from way too much writer’s block to make a serious go of it. But I still wanted to write.

Just go through my post history and you’ll see that most of them are reviews or lists; there are very few topics of discussion to be had. That’s simply because those are easy and doesn’t require much planning. “It’s too bad my blog is just about gaming, because there are other things I’d like to write about,” I thought. That’s when I decided to start my wrestling blog The House Show. In the 10 months it’s been up, I’ve made one post beyond the introduction and it was a list.

“It’s too bad my blogs are just about gaming and wrestling, because there are other things I’d like to write about,” I thought.

R-R-R-REBOOT

Everybody is rebooting everything these days. Video game series are rebooting, TV shows are rebooting as movies, movies are rebooting as TV shows, comic book universes are rebooting their reboots… It’s endless. So why not my blog?! If it’s good enough for Rush Hour, then dammit, it’s good enough for me!

The Future

Since I don’t want to get into too general of a blog, I’m still maintaining a theme. This time around, it’s simply geeky stuff. That’s really broad, I know, but that’s the point. I don’t want to limit myself to one topic so that I get writer’s block and end up never updating it. Gaming, wrestling, comic books, movies, TV… whatever. I will keep topics within the “geek” umbrella, so I won’t be writing about my personal life or sports (though I argue that sports are very geeky, especially stat heavy ones like baseball, but I digress). That said, if you’re reading this you’re probably already following me on Twitter or know me in real life, so you probably have a good idea of what I’m into and realize that not every post is going to be for you. But that’s okay. I hope you’ll stick with it and join me on this journey.

Again.

Again again.

For the final time?

Top Ten Games of 2015

Another year, another end-of-year top 10 list in April. Come see what games I liked best from 2015.

Another year, another end-of-year top 10 list in April. I considered just skipping out on doing a list this year, but there were some incredible games last year that I really wanted to give credit to. I always play a few big titles from the previous year in the first few months of the year, so I suppose this will always be an inevitability for me.

So without further adieu, my top 10 games of 2015:

Honorable Mentions

Splatoon
I love the concept and the gameplay is a lot of fun!

Yoshi’s Wooly World
Gorgeous visuals, a unique world, and some interesting challenges make this one of Nintendo’s better platformers in awhile.

Bloodborne
I hate Bloodborne. But I love to play Bloodborne. The game plays so well that I wanted to love this game, but the punishingly difficult gameplay that many people love it for just turned me away.

Rare Replay
I couldn’t, in good conscience, but a pack of old games on this list. But I still wanted to give a shout out to this collection of 30 games from Rare’s past. While they range from fantastic to unplayable, the wonderful presentation and variety still make this a great package.

Halo 5: Guardians
Excellent gameplay and sublime multiplayer held back from a subpar story and some questionable campaign decisions.

Important Games I Have Yet to Play

Rise of the Tomb Raider, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, Until Dawn

The List

10. Rocket League

Rocket LeageA soccer game? No thanks! A racing game? Gross! A soccer game with rocket powered cars? I’m all in! Rocket League is one of those “such a good idea I wish I had thought of it” situations where the concept is so simple and sounds so much fun that it really is incredible that no one had thought of it before. Playing soccer with a car is such a rush of adrenaline and the games are short enough that you can pick it up, play a couple games, and move on to something else in the span of 10 minutes. This is a game that will be booting up on my PS4 for a long time.

9. Destiny: The Taken KingTaken King

I’ve written about Destiny at length, but The Taken King takes the game to a whole new level. Better story, smarter loot drops, improved UI, and new classes gives players plenty of reason to visit the Tower and suit up for another go. Also, Nolan North > Peter Dinklage.

8. Batman: Arkham Knight

Arkham Knight
While never quite reaching the heights of Asylum and City, the finale to the Arkham series still has its moments. The combat is still smooth as silk and the classic Batman characters are mostly well represented. The Batmobile is a joy to drive around in (less so in Tank Mode…) and an entertaining addition to the already fun ways to get around Gotham as the Dark Knight. For more on my feelings on Arkham Knight, check out my full review.

7. Tales from the Borderlands

Tales from the Borderlands
Narratives in games have come a long way (as you will discover in some later entries…), but it’s still rare that a game makes you laugh out loud. Tales from the Borderlands is a story-driven adventure game set in – you guessed it – the Borderlands universe. Even for people that have never played a game in the series, TotB tells a great story with a cast of wonderfully charming characters and some genuinely hilarious moments. In a world of dark and dour protagonists, it’s refreshing to play something that takes itself a little less seriously.

6. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Witcher 3
I played The Witcher 3 for a little less than 20 hours. For most games, including most of the others on this list, that’s enough to finish it. In this case, I’m barely scratching the surface. With over 100 hours of gameplay to be had, the game is deep, with all manner of abilities, spells, crafting, magic, card games, and quests to keep you going. It helps that the world is gorgeous, with something new to see or fight around every corner. This is a beast of a game that I will be slowly chipping away at for months to come.

5. Ori and the Blind Forest

Ori and the Blind Forest
Not many games can capture, what I like to call, the “Up Effect.” Meaning that they can make you cry within the first 10 minutes. Ori and the Blind Forest does so with conviction. Once you get through the opening, this is a beautiful game with wonderfully realized characters filled with personality. Don’t let Ori’s cuteness fool you though, the game hits hard. Challenging enemies, twitch platforming, and an ever expanding arsenal of abilities keep you on your toes throughout.

4. Fallout 4

Fallout 4
I have been dying for a new Fallout game since I finished New Vegas six years ago. Bethesda has delivered just that in Fallout 4. It’s basically everything I loved about Fallout with a fresh coat of paint. While I do wish they would have done something to make it a bigger step forward, it’s still a great time.

3. Super Mario Maker

Super Mario Maker
As the title suggests, Super Mario Maker lets you create Mario levels from scratch. The concept always sounded cool, but I initially had little to no interest in actually building levels. I was more interested in playing the new Nintendo-made levels and experiencing what the community created. The game delivered that in spades, as it offers some of the most clever and unique levels in Mario history. But, much to my surprise, I have found myself addicted to creating levels as well. The creation tools are so fun to use that it becomes addicting; with every new element you unlock, you want to create “one more level” around it. There is so much to do and play in Super Mario Maker and every bit of it is so much fun.

2. Life is Strange

Life Is Strange™_20150328151635
In Life is Strange, you play the role of Max, a high school senior who discovers she has the ability to rewind time. However, that sci-fi twist ultimately takes a backdrop to some very real issues that this game tackles. Depression, bullying, teenage pregnancy… These are just some of the things that young adults have to deal with in this day and age, and this game doesn’t shy away from any of it. It’s all incredibly well-told with a cast that feels genuine. The plot is driven forward by choices that you make, with seemingly inconsequential decisions having dramatic ramifications. Life is Strange is light on the gameplay, but tells such an emotionally compelling story that I couldn’t help but make it one of my top games from last year.

1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

MGSV
Life is Strange is the best game this year from a story perspective, but MGSV has the best gameplay I’ve seen in a long time. The gameplay loop is just SO GOOD. It’s an open world (without being too open) that simply tasks you with a mission and that’s it. They don’t tell you how to accomplish it or how to get to it. You pick your load out and landing zone then go to town. There is something equally rewarding about going into a base to rescue a hostage in complete stealth then to replay it by blowing everything up to bits. In this game, both routes are real options and each come with their own challenges. You will slowly unlock new abilities, weapons, and gadgets as you progress, meaning you never feel overwhelmed by all the options you have available to you. The story can use some work, but even then, there are some emotional moments that resonated with me as a long time fan of the series.

Overall, in a video game, gameplay is king. Gameplay doesn’t get any better than Metal Gear Solid V.

PSX-Files

PSX

This past weekend was PSX and I was fortunate enough to be there. It was my first convention of any kind and the show was a lot of fun. Here are some of the highlights:

“How do you follow that? Here’s Final Fantasy VII.”

The PlayStation keynote was largely a mixed bag with a few highs, a few lows, and lots of in-between. But a highlight of the show and the first moment that made me sit up in my chair and have a “holy crap!” moment was the Final Fantasy VII Remake trailer. My assumption was that the game was a ways off, so I wasn’t expecting to see it there much less see actual gameplay! The game looks stunning. I’m a little bit unsure about changing to real-time combat, but I’m open to the idea. My only gripe is the fact that the voice acting isn’t great right now. I have a lot of concerns about FFVII, but right now I’m a happy camper.

Ni YES Kuni

The biggest announcement for me at the keynote was Ni No Kuni II. I adored the first one and consider it to be the best JRPG on PS3. Getting a sequel is fantastic news and I cannot wait to play it!

VR Troopers

RIGS

PlayStation VR had a significant presence at the keynote and on the show floor. You had to reserve a spot to demo VR and all the spots filled up before the show even started, so I didn’t get to try it personally. That said, I’m still not sold. A lot of the games seem interesting, but there’s nothing I saw that seems like something I would want to play for hours on end. That’s doubly true considering the price tag VR will likely have. Rez was one of their big sellers, but I already played that over a decade ago. If they were going to sell me on VR, this was the place to do it. They did not.

Birddog!

Birddog

“Birddog!”

Hands-On

There were quite a few games my friends and I got a chance to play on the show floor. Here are my impressions on those:

  • Street Fighter V
    This was a terrible experience. Not because of the game, but because of the way Capcom set it up. They played it like old-school arcades, so winner stays and loser leaves. What ended up happening with that is that each demo station had a guy dominating. The guy I played against didn’t even let me catch my bearings, get comfortable, or even get a feel for the game. He just walloped me. So Street Fighter V might be good. Who knows?
  • Ratchet & Clank
    As a huge Ratchet & Clank fan, it’s no surprise that this was my favorite game at the show. It’s back to the basics of the series with some incredibly gorgeous graphics and some fun new weapons.
  • FarCry: Primal
    Don’t let the Ice Age setting fool you, this is FarCry through and through. This time around, you’re given an animal companion to help you out and your weapons are limited to arrows, spears, and clubs. Otherwise, the gameplay remains largely the same. You’re still capturing outposts, hunting and skinning, scavenging, and leveling up. It’s fine, but it’s just more FarCry and I feel like I’ve had my fill of them for awhile. The game looks absolutely stunning on PS4.
  • Battleborn
    Gearbox’s new game is a MOBA meets FPS, but it’s difficult to pinpoint. I enjoyed playing it (I appreciate any game that lets me play as a support class), I like the variety of characters, the Gearbox personality is there, and it looks great, but it’s missing a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on. I feel like it’s a game I want to play more of, but not for $60.
  • Head Lander
    Adult Swim Games had quite a few games on display and this Double Fine collaboration was the best of the bunch. It’s a side-scrolling action puzzler where you play a severed head in a jar that can propel from one body to another to fight and solve puzzles. It’s got that signature DF personality and was a lot of fun.
  • Death’s Gambit
    Another from Adult Swim Games, though this one saw a little less success. Aesthetically, it looks like a classic Castlevania, complete with Symphony of the Night pixel graphics and medieval horror setting. It does not play like Castlevania, however. The attack buttons are on R1 and R2 and the controls are a bit stiff and unresponsive. Has potential if they can iron out the controls.
  • Dead Star
    Another highlight of the show. It’s a top-down twin-stick shooter where you play on a team to destroy the opposing team’s mothership. It sounds simple, but the battles can get chaotic and the leveling system lets you customize your ship in matches on the fly. Supposedly, the game will allow you to customize your mothership as well, but that wasn’t available in the demo.
  • Drawn to Death
    Stylistically, one of the cooler games of the show. Created by a team lead by David Jaffe (Twisted Metal, God of War), it’s a multiplayer only third-person shooter where you play characters from a teenage boy’s notebook. The characters are appropriately absurd (a woman in lingerie with a shark head, a chainsaw wielding teddy bear, etc.) and everything looks like it was drawn with a pen on binder paper. The game was fun, so hopefully its free-to-play features aren’t too overwhelming.
  • Kill Strain
    Another free-to-play game. This one is a top-down twin-stick action game that has two teams of five and one team of two battling it out. The team of two play as mutants trying to infect as much of the map as possible and mutating other players to their side; the teams of five are trying to take out the other team while surviving against the mutants. It was hectic and fun.
  • Severed
    Drinkbox Studios’ follow up to the wonderful Guacamelee shares a similar art style, but the similarities end there. Severed is a PS Vita exclusive (!) first-person dungeon crawler where battles involve using the touchscreen to swipe at enemies. The story and setting seems very dark and macabre. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one.
  • Day of the Tentacle Remastered
    Not much to say about this one. It’s still Day of the Tentacle, but it’s prettier and sounds better. It’s one of the best point-and-click adventure games of all time and it has aged incredibly well.
  • Amplitude
    Much like Street Fighter V, my skill level hampered my enjoyment of the game. One of the people I played with thought it would be fine if he chose the hardest difficulty setting. It didn’t end well. That said, if you enjoy Rock Band and Guitar Hero, you’ll probably enjoy Amplitude. It plays just like those games but with a controller.

Capcom Cup

Capcom Cup

On Sunday, the finals of the Capcom Cup were held in the conference hall. This was my first time watching any sort of competitive gaming in person and it was an interesting experience.

I fully expected crazy combos and non-stop supers. In reality, competitive Street Fighter is methodical and all about spacing. I enjoyed watching it quite a bit. As much as I like Street Fighter, it made me interested in seeing competition for a series that I’m really passionate about, like Pokemon or Smash Bros.

In My Heart, I am a Gamer. Remembering Iwata-san

Iwata Luigis

On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.

Satoru Iwata

Sad Kirby

The gaming industry suffered a huge blow on Sunday when Nintendo president Satoru Iwata passed away at the way-too-young age of 55. Better writers than I have put together some wonderful write-ups on the man already, so I’ll try and keep this brief.

Whenever Nintendo put together a Nintendo Direct, there would be three people that I would look forward to seeing: Reggie Fils-Amie, Shigeru Miyamoto, and Satoru Iwata. They are all very important corporate figures in gaming, yet you can tell that there is a certain wonder about the business they are helping shape and move forward. You can tell they love what they’re doing and that they truly are gamers. This was especially true of Iwata as, whether he was dressing up as Luigi or “fighting” Reggie, you could tell he was having fun doing this.

Iwata 3D

The contributions of Shigeru Miyamoto to the gaming industry are well known. The man created Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox, and Pikmin. If you have ever picked up a controller or held a joystick, there’s a very good chance that you’ve played one of his games. While Iwata doesn’t have a resume that includes the most recognizable face in games, his contributions are no less significant.

As a programmer at HAL Labs before being hired full-time at Nintendo, Iwata helped develop some NES classics like Balloon Fight and Open Tournament Golf, the cult-hit Earthbound on the SNES, and Super Smash Bros on N64. Arguably his greatest contribution there was a lovable little pink puffball known as Kirby. While still working at HAL, Iwata assisted in the development of Pokémon Gold/Silver and Pokémon Stadium. When he became Nintendo president in 2002, the company was struggling with lagging sales of the GameCube and Game Boy Advance. With his guidance, the company introduced its two best selling video game systems of all time, the Nintendo DS and Wii.

Iwata's Kids

It’s rare that a corporate president doubles as the well-loved face of the company, but Satoru Iwata was that man. Rest in peace, Iwata-san; a shrewd businessman, a talented developer, but a gamer at heart.

One last time…

Nintendo Puppet Dance

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

Knight Rider

Batman: Arkham Knight Review

When Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009, the comic book landscape was in a very different place. The Dark Knight and Iron Man had just seen a theatrical release in the previous year and comic book culture was on the cusp of becoming mainstream; Batman himself was still living in a pre-New 52 universe. Now, in 2015, we’re neck deep into a Marvel cinematic universe and about to jump headfirst into a DC one, multiple comic book shows air in network TV primetime, Comic Con is one of the biggest events of the year. Comic books are no longer “geek culture”, it’s part of the mainstream. So with more eyes on them then ever, did Rocksteady provide a satisfying conclusion to their phenomenal Batman trilogy?

Batman: Arkham Knight’s story setup is simple enough: Scarecrow has returned after the events at Arkham Asylum left him scarred and deformed. In order to exact his revenge, he plans on releasing a new batch of fear toxin on Gotham City. After a city-wide evacuation, it’s up to Batman and his supporting cast to stop the madman and make the streets of Gotham safe once more. It’s very difficult to speak on the story beyond that without spoilers, as plot twists happen early and often. Even the identity of the titular Arkham Knight himself is a mystery waiting to be solved, though most Batman fans can probably piece it together before the big reveal.

The Arkham Knight

That being said, there is an interesting story being told here. Not only is there a solid main storyline to follow, but most of the side missions tell self-contained stories unrelated to the central plot. While the stories are very hit-and-miss, the amount of time that went into multiple narratives is much appreciated. Unfortunately, some of the characterization of the classic Batman cast is questionable, especially when it comes to the women. While still trying to avoid spoilers, fans of Oracle and Catwoman will not be pleased.

No longer confined to a prison or a prison-that-is-also-a-city, Arkham Knight gives us a fully realized Gotham to explore. The city looks great, with many landmarks fans will recognize. The fact that the city is free of civilians is a little disappointing because it makes Gotham seem fairly deserted. I understand the rationale behind this (Batman running over pedestrians is not exactly in character) and the story conceit makes sense, but it’s a bummer nonetheless. Still, traversing the city is a lot of fun on foot. Grappling up the side of a building, running across a roof, and gliding across the skyline is a joy… when the game allows you to do so. There’s another way that you can get around: the Batmobile.

The Batmobile

There was much said about the inclusion of the Batmobile leading up to the game’s release. The vehicle has two modes: car mode and tank mode. Car mode is fun enough. Driving around the streets is fast and chase missions are furious, but the controls are loose and the physics of the car seem much lighter than it should be. The tank mode sees far less success than that. Once transformed, the Batmobile initially gains full 360 degree movement, a machine gun, and a cannon. Controls in this mode are sluggish and slow, a huge juxtaposition to the speed of car mode. Tank “battles” boil down to firing, slowly moving around as you wait to reload so enemy tanks don’t hit you, rinse and repeat until everything is blown up. Why Batman, a non-lethal hero, would have heavy artillery handy is beyond me. Even the game seems aware of that, as they go out of their way to let you know that enemy tanks are unmanned drones.

Had the Batmobile been used as an alternate optional mode of transportation with a couple chases thrown in, it would have been great. Diving off a building and summoning your vehicle in midair so that it arrives just in time to catch you is a really cool feeling, as is driving at top speed and ejecting straight into a glide. There’s fun to be had in the car. It’s the frequency of which its required that makes it frustrating. The game forces you into the Batmobile at any opportunity it can. For example, at one point I had to get into the Arkham Knight’s base. In Arkham City, the would have meant fights, sneaking around, stealthily dispatching henchmen… You know, fun stuff. In this game, that means I had to get into the Batmobile, drive into the underground compound until I hit a closed gate, get out of the car to find a control panel to open it, return to the car to come upon a group of tanks to dispatch, then I got to enter a grate and do cool Batman stuff. Even then, that was followed by another tank battle and chase sequence. Half the missions involve you exploring an area to find a way to get the Batmobile in there as well. Typically the reasoning for this involves needing the vehicle’s winch or dealing with other tanks. I’m already in there, let me explore! Why do I need my car too?

When the game does let you get into fights on foot, the series’ lauded combat shines here. If you’ve played any of the previous games in the series you know what to expect. There are a few new wrinkles thrown in for good measure, such as new combos, new gadgets, and a deeper weapon counter system. In certain battles, Catwoman, Nightwing, or Robin will fight along side Batman, allowing you to switch back and forth between characters. Building up your combo meter during these battles allow you to perform a takedown that involves both of them. While it looks cool, these sequences don’t really change much as everyone fights pretty much the same way.

Catwoman and Batman, fighting side-by-side

Besides the main story, the side-quests carry quite a bit of range on them. Some early ones involve you investigating strung up bodies found around the city or searching for kidnapped firefighters. Riddler trophies return as well, but even those are woven into a bigger plot thread. These missions each carry an independent storyline with them, which provide a worthy distraction from the main quest and give you plenty to do after the credits roll.

As the first Batman game on current-gen consoles, Arkham Knight looks and sound wonderful. Gotham is a fully realized place, with tons of detail and no fog or pop in. Character models vary in quality, but all the important players look great. The soundtrack is great and the voice acting is sublime. Some people say Michael Keaton or Adam West will always be their Batman, but Kevin Conroy will always be mine. The supporting cast does an excellent job as well. Given that Scarecrow is the main antagonist, the mood of the game can get a little creepy at times with crazy effects and creep outs. There are even a few genuine jump scares that caught me completely unexpected.

Conclusion

Gotham skyline

Batman: Arkham Knight does a lot right. There’s a (mostly) well-told story, impressive sound and visuals, and the game plays beautifully while on foot. Unfortunately, the Batmobile segments slow down the pace of the game and are far too plentiful. Had it been limited in use, the game would have fared much better. I wanted to play as Batman and beat up bad guys, not get involved in races or tank battles. Still, Batman: Arkham Knight is a worthy successor to the franchise that ends the series on a mostly positive note. I’m having a lot of fun with it and Batman fans or fans of the series will likely feel the same way. For everyone else, expect a solid action game that’s a good time, but won’t set the world on fire.

E3 Thoughts and Musings

I haven’t updated in awhile, so what better time is there to do so than E3? I think this year’s show was one of the best ever. The sheer amount of games announced means that I’m going to need to rob a bank and gain access to a time machine in order to play all the things I want to this upcoming fall and spring. At any rate, here are some thoughts I had about the show’s press conferences.

 

Bethesda

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I think Bethesda’s conference stole the show. They started us off on Sunday night with their first conference ever and, boy, did they set the bar ever so high. Every single game (save for ESO) was interesting and something I’d like to play. DOOM looks insane in all the best ways, Dishonored 2 is very exciting as I loved the first one, an Elder Scrolls card game sounds like a perfect fit, and, of course, Fallout 4. Fallout looks like it may exceed my already high expectations for the follow-up to one of my favorite games of all time.

 

Microsoft

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Microsoft followed on Monday morning and had a really solid showing. People complained about the lack of exclusives, but who cares? These are games that Xbox gamers can look forward to, regardless if their PC/PS4 brethren can play them as well. Halo 5, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Cuphead), ReCore, and Sea of Thieves all look great and I’m very excited to revisit some Rare classics in Rare Replay. 360 backwards compatibility is a huge consumer win as well.

 

EA

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EA’s press conference was weird. They showed/announced some great stuff! A new Mass Effect, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst, Star Wars: Battlefront, and Unravel were all huge wins. But then, right in the middle, they had a massive focus on sports games complete with a 10-minute conversation with Pele that never went anywhere. I love sports, but this was a bit much. And then there was the Minion mobile game, which is definitely not intended for E3’s target audience. Overall though, they had a really good assortment of games that I am very much looking forward to playing.

 

Ubisoft

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In typical Ubisoft fashion, they don’t exactly target the gamers. They seemed more focused on targeting the mainstream with things like Just Dance and Jason Derulo. Aisha Tyler did a wonderful job as usual, but it was very ho-hom. I’ve lost interest in Assassin’s Creed, but damn, Rainbow Six: Siege looks incredible. I’m still torn on The Division, but I would probably be better able to formulate an opinion if they didn’t play that awful scripted voice chat. No one online ever talks like that guys, just cut it out. As for Ghost Recon, that was a pleasant surprise that I will be keeping my eye on. I had a bad taste in my mouth about it initially, as I was hoping that “one last thing…” announcement was Beyond Good & Evil 2, but alas.

 

Sony

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Sony was most certainly not resting on their laurels. The Last Guardian, Final Fantasy VII Remake, and Shemue III all on one stage? Are you kidding me?! That’s amazing! Despite the kind of gross way Shenmue was presented, those three are games that everyone always predicts to appear and hopes to see, but no one ever really expects to.

I’m starting to get a little nervous about No Man’s Sky. They keep showing basically the same thing. The concept is still great and I’m excited to play it, but it seems like that can get really dull after awhile if there’s nothing else to it. Firewatch looks really good and seems to be something different and fresh. Horizon: Zero Dawn is a game to watch, I just hope that Guerrilla Games has learned from their mistakes with the Killzone series. Last, but certainly not least, Uncharted 4 is going to be the game that makes me finally get a PS4. That was a weird demo to choose though. When I think Uncharted, I don’t really think about driving.

 

Nintendo

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Oh boy. Here we go.

Apropos of nothing else, Nintendo had a good showing. Maybe a little underwhelming, but there was a lot there that looks fun. Plus, the puppets were a great touch and I loved hearing Miyamoto talk about Super Mario level design.

The problem is that, for all intents and purposes, this was to be the last hurrah for the Wii U before Nintendo supposedly shifts its focus to their upcoming NX console. Watching this conference, it became apparent that they already shifted their focus to the NX. They major stuff they showed was Super Mario Maker, Star Fox, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Shin Megami X Fire Emblem ( ¯\_()_/¯ ), Animal Crossing amiibo Festival, and Mario Tennis. The only new games in that bunch are the AC game and Mario Tennis. The former seems to be a Mario Party clone that exists to sell amiibo and the latter was barely shown to the point where it’s creation feels like it’s a last minute decision. Sure, I’ll probably try both of them and they might end up being fun, but they’re not announcements that knock you off your feet. It’s obvious that the Marios and Metroids of the world are being saved for the NX and who knows what they’re going to do with Zelda. It’s just sad to see a system with such wonderful games go out with such a whimper at E3.

The 3DS fared slightly better, however. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam looks absolutely wonderful and the co-op Zelda game is intriguing. Fire Emblem finally gets a localized name and Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer doesn’t look as bad as it sounded on paper. Metroid Prime: Federation Force doesn’t look very good to me, but the outrage people have is absurd. The decision to attach the Metroid name to it at a time when people are starved for a new game in the series was probably not wise, but get a grip everyone.

 

Square Enix

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Yeah… I was tempted to just insert that photo and be done with it, but that would be a disservice. The thing about Square Enix’s showing is that the content they had on display looked great. It’s just that their presentation of everything was abysmal. They were showing Just Cause 3 and it seems like a good time. But nope, we’re going to give it a monotone voiceover to make it dull. They made explosions boring! That said, in addition to Just Cause, Deus Ex and Tomb Raider look good and it’s nice to see Kingdom Hearts 3 coming along. No Final Fantasy XV was disappointing, but expected. Overall, good content, terrible presentation of it.

 

Overall

I meant it when I said this is probably one of (if not the) best E3s ever. I honestly don’t think there have ever been this many games announced that I’m actually interested in. Usually it’s just a handful, but not this year. From October through November, we’re getting Rock Band 4, Guitar Hero Live, Rainbow Six: Seige, Halo 5, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate, Need for Speed, Fallout 4, Rise of the Tomb Raider, Star Wars: Battlefront, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Call of Duty: Black Ops III, and Just Cause 3 (on December 1st, so I’ll allow it). That’s absolutely INSANE! And stuff like Star Fox Zero and Dark Souls III still don’t have release dates, so they might still get added. It really has never been a better time to be a gamer.

 

My Games of the Show

  1. Fallout 4
  2. Rainbow Six: Seige
  3. Halo 5
  4. Super Mario Maker
  5. Star Wars: Battlefront
  6. Uncharted 4
  7. Yoshi’s Wooly World
  8. Cuphead
  9. Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam
  10. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

Thanks for reading! Until next time…

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