Thursday, November 29, 2012

What is a man?

I know almost nothing about this game, except that I probably won't be playing it any time soon. I didn't play the first one, and I probably won't for a while, especially now that this teaser has seemingly spoiled what I assume was the big twist. But they say the thing, so I feel almost obligated to post it.

Robert Carlyle does his best, but, alas, a pale shadow of the original.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

What I've Been Playing #5: Batman: Arkham Asylum

I just started Batman: Arkham Asylum and, so far, have been enjoying it quite a bit. The game manages to capture most of the various facets of the Batman character that collectively make him such a geek fantasy to roleplay.

Physically, he's a beast and, on the normal difficulty, easily capable of taking apart a whole gang of muscled (unarmed) goons with a variety of punches, kicks, and a near-uncanny ability to sense and counter oncoming attacks. And this decimation is always highlighted in spectacular fashion with a cinematic slow-mo zoom-in on the finishing blow. Very satisfying.

It's a different story when the baddies are packing heat. Batman can't withstand bullets, alas, but Arkham Asylum conveniently transforms into a stealth game in these situations, encouraging you to take foes out from the shadows. So far, these segments remind me of the first Metal Gear Solid more than anything else; they're essentially puzzle rooms, where you observe and then exploit simple enemy patterns. What distinguishes Arkham Asylum is, not so much the mechanics, but the minor narrative details that make you feel like you really are the Dark Knight. As you silently pick off enemies one at a time, you get to watch their remaining comrades progressively lose their heads in panic. Seeing how terrified they are of you is perhaps even more empowering than when you get to pummel them with Batman's martial arts.

Less empowering, however, is Batman's telling silence whenever some friendly NPC remarks that the Joker and other rogues should simply be "fried." This comes up with alarming regularity, which is perhaps understandable, since you're usually running into these NPCs only after some buddies of theirs have just been murdered by one of Batman's lunatic foes. Also, why would they stop making this point, considering Batman never has a response?

The no-kill policy maintained by Batman and most other comics superheroes has long fascinated me. As a kid, I was quite often frustrated by heroes refusing to end the lives of villains who were clearly irredeemable and almost certain to strike again in subsequent stories. I wondered at times if that made me a bad person, but I know I wasn't alone in my feelings. Indeed, Hollywood, unlike comics and cartoons, seemed to consistently agree with me that bad guys should be ended with extreme prejudice. And it's nothing so simple an issue as superhero comics merely aspiring to higher moral standards than Hollywood. After decades of stories of the Joker somehow breaking out of Arkham repeatedly to commit many murders, Batman becomes hard to take seriously as a moral paragon, as his refusal to do what must be done starts to sound more like just a selfish or even neurotic impulse to preserve some kind of personal purity above serving the greater good.

Mind you, I'm not even taking the "if this were real life" tack; I'm saying that, internal to the comics world, Batman's no-kill philosophy must be challenged. If it be evil to take the one life of the Joker, nevertheless it must surely be the greater evil to let him live and inevitably take dozens more lives. That is, unless Batman and the Gotham authorities sincerely believe, every time they apprehend the Joker, that it really will be the last time they have to deal with him. But, in that case, I better see Batman looking truly shocked and disappointed every time the Joker breaks out. But I don't see that.

Clearly, many of the comics writers too have recognized the mounting absurdity of Batman's high horse moralizing (although, in fairness, what doesn't become absurd when a story spans 70+ years with the same cast of ageless heroes and villains?). Otherwise, these NPCs wouldn't be saying these things. Yet how I wish Batman would respond! Because I don't even know that he's wrong; I just know that it's a challenging topic. And when these guys make these challenging statements against everything Batman stands for, and he just stands there silent, I can't help thinking, Batman, you're taking a beating here! These are the moments that demand a response! Where is the "lecture, philosophize, or browbeat" button prompt? Instead, he passively allows these random NPCs to make him look foolish.

Well, it's early yet. Maybe Batman is seriously meditating upon their words, and this is all building toward a climactic quick time event, when the player will have to take all arguments presented into consideration before deciding whether or not Batman will end the Joker. Now that would be empowering.

Friday, November 2, 2012

"If it didn't happen in the movies, it's not real."

So, a few years back, me and the boys were discussing Star Wars, and some nut commented how sad it was that Chewbacca was dead. And I was like, What is this nut talking about? Is he some kind of nut? He explained that it all went down in some novel, which was "canon" and "a huge story" in the fan community. Well, I considered myself "the fan community," and I held that no Expanded Universe content could ever be considered "canon," "a huge story," or at all worth discussing in my presence. This nut huffed at me as though I were the one being ridiculous. "Sorry," he said, "but if you haven't been reading the books, then you've been missing out on some really important Star Wars stories." On the contrary, I rather felt that any nut who would bring up "Chewbecca's death" should have been the one prohibited from participating in any serious discussion of Star Wars. At the time, my hardline position was basically "If it didn't happen in the movies, it's not real."

Things got complicated, however, with the arrival of the Clone Wars cartoons. It had been easy to dismiss the books, because I hadn't read any of them, I wasn't interested in reading them, and everything I'd heard about them suggested to me that they were not worth my reading them. But I did watch the Genndy cartoons, which I initially approached more as promos for Revenge of the Sith than as fiction unto themselves, canon or otherwise. I was apathetic toward the first season, which I thought really added nothing to the story. The more intriguing elements of Season 2 were Anakin's trials and especially the debut of the General Grievous character. After that cliffhanger finale, I could not wait to see Grievous in Revenge of the Sith. Little did I suspect that that cliffhanger was really hype, not for Revenge of the Sith, but for a third season of Clone Wars, wherein Grievous grew progressively less impressive with each appearance, until finally, by the time we got to the actual movie, he was totally lame, in almost every sense of the word. Mind you, I still considered him the coolest character in the prequel trilogy, but his best moments weren't actually in the movies. And thus, because of Clone Wars, suddenly I had become the guy who would bring up non-movie elements during discussions of Star Wars.

When the Clone Wars movie came out in 2008, that was when I really had to reexamine my position on the canon. After much soul-searching on the matter, I did not so much change my stance as clarify its original meaning. My clarified position on canon: "Unless Lucas himself wrote it, it's not real." Thus, Episodes I-VI were real, and everything else was not, though the Clone Wars stuff was at least occasionally interesting. In the course of amending that conditional, however, I had to confront a reality I had never seriously considered before, namely, the inevitability that there were going to be feature films called "Star Wars" that would have no place in Lucas's story. It seemed obvious once I considered the simple economics of it; the property was far too profitable to ever end simply with the story that one man had to tell. In fact, for years already, hundreds of other people had already been writing their own Star Wars stories, which Lucas approved because they made him money. I just didn't really notice because I didn't pay attention to all those books. But why had it never occurred to me that the Expanded Universe could encompass more than just books? Movies were where the big money was, and there were surely at least as many people out there wanting to make Star Wars movies as there were to write novels. I considered that it might not happen until after Lucas died, but eventually there were going to have to be blockbuster movies that would be part of what I considered the "not real" Expanded Universe. The potential for moneys simply demanded it.

Now, it seems we won't even have to wait for Lucas to die first. Frankly, I'm rather stunned by Disney's forthrightness in stating its intention to release a new movie every 2-3 years (and that's following the completion of their sequel trilogy). That's surely a press release note for investors; does any fan seriously interpret anything other than crass commercialism out of that promise?

That said, I do like Star Wars, and I like summer blockbuster season. Even without knowing anything about what Episode VII will be, I'm already more excited at the prospect of getting to see a Star Wars summer blockbuster in 2015 than I was about the Avengers sequel. But will it be canon? Well, since they're daring to call it "Episode VII," and since Lucas has already said that he had story treatments for the sequels, I'm hoping it won't go too far afield of what I currently consider canon. If Chewbacca dies in "Episode IX" on movie screens across the world, then that may be when I finally withdraw altogether from serious discussions of Star Wars canon, lest I come across as the nut denying that this thing everybody saw ever actually happened.