Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Martian

Ah the elusive Matt Damon failed to elude my grasp forever! I asked five people to see this movie and all of them had similar “I despise Matt Damon” responses to the question. So I had pretty much given up on it at that point, but I finally found a willing soul a month later. I’m something of a Ridley Scott aficionado and this film is likely his best in over a decade; though many of his others have been conceptually interesting at the very least.

This is of course your requisite Gravity/Interstellar Space and “Science” movie for the year but it falls somewhere in-between on the scale of absurdity. Interstellar has been praised for being relatively grounded in actual science, which isn’t surprising given the meticulous detail of one Christopher Nolan; and Gravity on the other hand has been disparaged for being totally implausible. I don’t know where actual Scientists stand on the Martian but for the most part it isn’t strictly a series of improbable events.  It seemed believable, though perhaps optimistic for a variety of reasons.

Yes this film is a happy one believe it or not, happy films (that aren’t asinine) are all too rare so I’m glad to have been able to see it while it was still relevant.  I don’t think it is quite as intelligent as Mr. Holmes as far as the expansive “Happy, Smart” genre goes but it does move the plot along with relative efficiency without being overly insulting to the audience.  At one point I was sure the film was going to drag as they justified a potentially confusing decision for 5 minutes and they just immediately moved on to the next part of the film, to my pleasant surprise.

The movie does however have a shitload of “stock” characters; actually I think every single character in the film is a stereotype other than Matt Damon (who’s just a short brown haired guy protagonist of course). This is something that happens in almost every movie of course, but for an exclusively excellent film to do it is a little perturbing.  The optimism of the film clashes with the bleak presentation of over a dozen typifications of humanity.

However despite these issues I still felt almost the entire cast was excellent and they played their roles quite admirably. Matt Damon’s character (Watney) is played humorously, which takes the edge off the solitude and loneliness of Mars; it would have been very easy to make a depressing or tiring character but instead we have an entertaining one. Damon himself plays the role quite well as he tends to in less serious movies; he is certainly not as inordinately offensive as he was in Interstellar; and instead of despising him at the end of the movie you’re just happy you were able to witness his incredible Botany Powers manifest.

Overall I think this movie is just about dead even with Sicario for the third best film of the year; haven’t really decided which one I like more. Sicario is on the outside looking in as far as Oscar nominations go and the Martian will sail to a Gravity-like dozen or so nominations; but as far as actual valuations of movies go it’s hard to say. I think it just depends on your personal preference; a happy elaborate yet simple movie or a brutal, complicated movie with an at best ambiguous message. As always naught will touch Mad Max (which may actually be in Oscar contention) come year’s end.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Daniel Murphy

So this is the first sports post I’ve written in a long while, to commemorate the glorious magnificence of one Daniel Murphy and his improbably nay impossible postseason performance so far. There will be numbers ahead but I’ll try to stick to the semi-legible ones and make fairly simple comparisons so that more people can understand it. Most (but certainly not all) stat minded baseball people are God awful at expressing themselves in an intelligible fashion so I’ll try to avoid too much of their densely overwrought writing.

If you hadn’t heard at this point Murphy, he of 12 regular season Homeruns, has hit 7 in this postseason and 6 in his past 6 games; assisting the Mets in a sweep of the beloved Cubbies. Despite being a White Sox fan I didn’t grow up in Chicago so I have no real hatred for the Cubs but them failing over and over is still amusing. Especially when they have the best Manager in baseball and one of the better GMs. Theo Epstein is probably at least a little overrated but Joe Maddon really is a messianic figure. Speaking of which Lord Murphy definitely fits that description as well.

In the regular season Murphy hit 281/322/449 (771 OPS), a generally unremarkable figure, he’s more or less average or slightly above average. Nothing is offensively bad about Murphy and nothing is particularly great either, he’s just an alright MLB player. He is however white and also has a shitty OBP so that means people will like him a lot for no particular reason; he’s the nitty gritty heart of the team and all that shit. Never failed to run out a ground ball, Rudy personified, effort, passion, love of the game and what not.

So out of the blue he just decided to have a fucking insane postseason to this point and in the NLCS alone he hit 529/556/1.294 (1.850 OPS), with a home run in every damn game of the series. That is, quite simply, preposterous; it just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. He’s not even a young player where maybe he could be having his breakout moment or something, no this guy’s a pretty set in stone alright guy and will continue to be so. How does that series line stackup? Well let’s look back at some old chums of ours and compare:

Carlos “former Lugnut” Beltran 2004 NLDS 455/500/1.091 (1.591 OPS)
Alex “Sucks in the Postseason” Rodriguez 2009 ALCS 429/567/952 (1.519 OPS)
Mickey “Mick” Mantle 1960 World Series 400/545/800 (1.345 OPS)
Barry “My Ego is as big as my Head” Bonds 2002 World Series 471/700/1.294 (1.994 OPS)
Babe Fucking Ruth 1928 World Series 625/647/1.375 (2.022 OPS)
And last but not least David “The Forgotten One” Freese 2011 NLCS 545/600/1.091 (1.691 OPS)

That my friends is a fascinating list. This upstart from New York has some mighty fine company, outclassing all but possibly the best two players who ever touched a baseball bat. Yes yes small sample size and all that, but that’s what makes this whole thing fun. Babe Ruth gives no fucks about legends and so forth, he’s just the best; he didn’t need no fancy ass numbers to prove it back then and now they all vet him and grovel before his transcendent magnificence. Barry Bonds, he of the 36.8% Hall of Fame vote, merely posted a 700 OBP in his lone appearance in the World Series; only a slight improvement over his 2004 regular season stat of 609. Bonds, he was just on base, like always. 400 OBP’s good you say? Nah fuck that shit, 600 or you suck; as Barry would not doubt inform his captive audience.

Freese was a very young player in 2009 so he was a bit of an unknown going in and could have theoretically become a very good player; instead he’s just kind of okay. He became Daniel Murphy over time while Daniel Murphy has just been living his workmanlike $8 million/year life and casually posting an OPS+ over 100. It’s very possible Daniel Murphy has a career year in the next few (post contract ironically) and further justifies his existence, but the man has no chance of ever being a legendary hall of famer or anything. At best he’ll get his number retired by the Mets or something, assuming they win the World Series (get fucked Royals fans). At worst he’ll be like Freese and be an obscure bar trivia question in a few years (I was the only one in the bar who knew it).

What does Murphy’s future look like contract wise? Well he’s probably going to get 4/48 at least, maybe 5/60, maybe something inbetween. Without this postseason I doubt many non-Mets fans would be aware of his existence, even for a short while; and that prominence means he’ll come up in more contract talk, but ultimately it will only boost his price by 10-15% or so; nothing particularly abrasive. I’ll remember you Murph, if no one else does; you did good kid. Now go back to being a normal sized Nick Punto. Unless of course the White Sox sign you, then you’re doomed.

Aside: I’ve only seen Interstellar once so no references, alas. Murphy, it's you.

Friday, October 2, 2015


Sicario is a film centered around the Mexican drug trade and America’s specious involvement therein; the film carries on the legacy of Traffic and the Counselor, but also takes inspiration from other films as well. A simple way to describe it is Black Hawk Down plus No Country for Old Men in the setting of the Counselor. Sprinkle in a little Zero Dark Thirty minus the ambiguous patriotism and you’re set. No Country also follows the drug trade but is much more focused on individuals than ideals so it doesn’t really fit the same exact mold.

You’ll recall the Counselor is a film written by Cormac McCarthy directly for the screen, said film was very divisive but certainly had fantastic dialogue and characters even if the plot was of the meandering variety. Sicario has very similar pacing to the Counselor, which is to say it doesn’t really care about constantly having something happen or having each scene explicitly tie into the next. However Sicario does sort of have the “comfort food” of shootouts and so on that make it a little easier to digest for most people; the shock value in Sicario is limited to a few specific scenes whereas the Counselor just has really weird shit happening the entire time. I wouldn’t force you to pick between either movie (both are excellent) but it is rather obvious why critics prefer the more recent film.

The Black Hawk Down connection is fairly simple, the first major action (if you can call it that) sequence of the film involves a huge train of SUVs with Texas Rangers, Delta Force, CIA, FBI, and Iraqi Combat Troops alongside the Mexican Police straight up invading Ciudad Juarez, heading extremely deep into your Mogadishu stand-in; at this point I was super invested in the movie and they definitely could have gone a whole lot of places, but the one they chose makes a bit more sense than various cinematic options that could have happened. There’s very brief and sudden violence in this part that reinforces the notion that Benicio Del Toro’s titular character is on even footing with America’s Elite troops, which is likely necessary for the (much later) best scene in the film to work.

Del Toro plays Alejandro, a Colombian equivalent of Anton Chigurh (whose background remains a mystery) for all intents and purposes, however instead of being an odd philosophical sort he’s basically just a mercenary boogie man that everyone is terrified of. Perhaps his most impressive trait is his method of interrogating people, whereas Chigurh might flip a coin and give you a mysterious speech Alejandro just invades your personal space. He more or less gets right up next to whomever and each one in turn is scared shitless by his very presence. Benicio Del Toro is 6’2 in reality and maybe bulked up a little for this film so I could see that working, especially if you had a universally known reputation.

Josh Brolin meanwhile just eats that shit up and cackles maniacally off to the side. At the outset of the film Brolin is introduced as a DoD operative but it quickly becomes obvious his origin is of CIA descent. He recruits FBI Agent (?) Emily Blunt after the exceptional initial scene of the film; who is basically a license for the Brolin to do extralegal activities in and around the United States. This is sort of a plot point in the movie but it’s kind of insanely obvious so when Blunt and her partner eventually realize this it falls flat since it’s so late in the film. This isn’t a huge issue with the movie but it does make those characters seem a little more foolish instead of just seeming idealistic.

The only other major flaw the film has is that presumably everyone watching knows everything is fucked and that nothing good or happy can come out of the film, such is the nature of Mexican Drug Cartel movies; however that didn’t stop them from putting in a really weird scene where there’s a brief interlude of presumed happiness which quickly aborts into something else entirely. I don’t necessarily have a problem with the scene in question and I really like the supporting scenes and how they tied it into the plot, but it just kind of dragged a little bit too long; especially when you realize the cause/effect right at the start of a ten minute sequence.

A point I haven’t really touched on too much so far is the film’s acceptance and even staunch belief in American Imperialism in the Western Hemisphere. This isn’t something that the film wants you to believe or even suggests overtly, it simply is in the film and is almost mandatory for you to understand the film. That being so it’s hard to say who exactly the antagonist of the film is, Del Toro is basically just a gun for hire; though a particularly menacing gun for hire. If this film was Traffic they would have included politics in the whole proceeding, but politics are decidedly absent from this film and anyone who actually understands American politics should be able to perceive why. There is no clear difference between the parties at present when it comes to Foreign Policy, and while this film is dealing with a matter closer to home the construction of the film is very much in the vein of a foreign policy matter; or at the very least a black ops matter.

There’s no elected officials in the film to begin with, though it is directly mentioned that the order and organization of the task force came from “on high” more or less. Those would be your typical villains, but this movie really doesn’t have any standard antagonistic characters. Antagonistic things happen and characters do things that would make them obviously the villain in a lesser film; but it is abundantly clear that there is no real, malicious intent on the part of any of the characters. Everyone is just doing their part in a horribly corrupt system more or less, and the people that question this are brought into line.

The victims, on the other hand, are very clear as we have a few more weird scenes in the film that make this a bit more obvious. The only people that really get fucked in the film are the Mexicans, sure Emily Blunt is in peril sometimes but that leads to a breakdown of her sense of justice not irreversible damage to her person. Emily Blunt is probably fine at the end of the movie, hell she might wind up being Brolin’s best bud in the future who knows. But we all know who gets the short end of the stick, because it sure as hell isn’t the Americans.

Overall this was a fantastic movie and is either the 2nd or 3rd best film I’ve seen all year alongside Mad Max and Mr. Holmes. The unorthodox structure is incredibly appealing and I’m glad they were able to work in enough of the more basic concepts to make it appeal to critics. At the end of the day, while there is at least one (the dining room) scene which is one of the best of all time, the film doesn’t really challenge you in the end, it doesn’t leave you with this lingering sense of dread, regret, or confusion. So while the film might technically be better than the Counselor it isn’t as thought provoking or as incredibly difficult to reconcile. A clearer portrayal of a similar message.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Woody Allen and Straight Outta Compton

Well I keep forgetting to write my review of Irrational Man and am finally manning up now; but even more recently I saw the distinguished film Straight Outta Compton and so we now have this amusing double post of two wholly unrelated movies. Alternate titles include: Philosophy Guy finds his true passion, Murder and Ice Cube really doesn’t like the Police. We’ll begin with Irrational Man, I’ll do my best to write a belated review.

Woody Allen’s 50 billionth film begins with Joaquin Phoenix plays Abe, a disaffected yet somewhat distinguished Philosophy Professor, who has just moved to a new university. The problem is he’s just in a depression haze the entire time and really can’t seem to find anything of worth in his existence. He meets Emma Stone and some promiscuous older Professor lady and they lounge about for a bit. Eventually Emma and Joaquin wind up overhearing a conversation in a diner, a wonderful and ubiquitous device in movies to be sure. Said conversation entails just how villainous and pure evil a Judge is and how utterly ruined these (total strangers) people are as a result.

Without ever talking to the other people Abe decides it is his profound duty and charge as a good human being to murder this judge who he has never met before on behalf of these other people that he doesn’t know. As Abe thinks and plans the murder he becomes a totally energized person and has a new and wonderful passion for life, a passion for murder. This is of course a very Woody Allen usage of irony in a movie plot. With that in mind you can sort of see where critics fall out with this movie.

However since the movie is about philosophy I still find it interesting fundamentally even if the specific case handled in the film is ludicrous. What is the John Stuart Mill Utilitarian value of a human life, and what is the prospective value of the loss of that life on others; is there a possible situation where murder becomes justified if it saves enough other people in the process? When one commits a heinous act in the hopes that it prevents another heinous act does it redeem his actions? Can even the most evil act be resolved if the prospective target is Keyser Soze himself? Yes, the fabled Hitler question. Personally I think there is such a point and I doubt many other sane people would disagree, however Abe’s proclivity for murder eventually leads to some shall we say “relationship troubles.”

This is a film I have trouble criticizing, for the same reason I can’t really criticize the Counselor; I like the director, I really like the lead actor and actress, and I like pretty much all the conversations they have. You add a side of an interesting philosophical notion and suddenly I’m even more invested. So yes even though the plot itself is relatively shallow and/or stupid I really enjoyed the movie and if you have any interest in a massive amount of dialogue thrown at you in a short timespan from two good actors then you should definitely go watch it.

On to the blockbuster film de jour. Straight Outta Compton is a really fascinating movie about a really fascinating subject. This is coming from someone who has virtually no affinity for rap but still a driving interest in the culture that produced it and the subsequent impact on society; as well as the decline of the music industry into a corporate mess which in some sense is attributable to Jerry Heller, Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre.  The film begins in 1986, everyone’s in Compton (including Red Bull’s Snake Eyez) and the police are a bunch of assholes.

Pretty much every scene at this part of the movie is fucking incredible, like super compelling from beginning to end, and the film holds this up for about an hour up to the formation of NWA and some events which may or may not have happened in real life (I have no idea to be honest) but are definitely awesome in the context of a movie. And yeah, it turns out Rap wasn’t so bad once upon a time and maybe even had a fundamental and useful message for a short time. However as these things go money becomes an issue and Eazy E and Paul Giamatti have it, while the rest of the group has somewhat less of it. Eventually enough becomes enough and Ice Cube splits from the group; leading to a feud and beefs and so forth.

At this point the film starts to slow down a bit, instead of being about how awesome the group was it’s about how shitty the individual lives of everyone other than Ice Cube were at certain points in time. Dr. Dre is still successful when he eventually heads over to Death Row, but he has to deal with the incredibly compelling psychopath Suge Knight now instead of the relatively reasonable Jerry Heller. This section of the film reeks of danger that never happens, a compelling climax that is entirely absent. And the reason for this is simple: the most interesting thing to happen in that era was the Tupac Biggie Smalls feud; and that is outside the scope of the movie.

Instead we’re treated to realizing that Eazy E is very sick and the eventual revelation that he has HIV/AIDS. The scenes involving this are very well done but it’s still kind of funny that the man with “Bitches Galore” wound up being done in by his own vice. That seems to be the general message of the film; there’s a strong anti-Police sentiment (because why wouldn’t there be in this day and age) but it is quickly overwritten by a dichotomous sentiment that the real Gangsters (i.e. Suge Knight and Eazy E) get fucked and the people that turn into businessmen become successful.

The problem is that music sucks because of big business, but businessmen like Jerry Heller enabled NWA to exist in the first place. It’s a bizarre catch 22 and I don’t think the film is unaware of this fact. Hell the movie is nostalgic ABOUT ITSELF. Man we could’ve had so many albums if it wasn’t about the fucking money, damn I wish I could’ve wielded my baseball bat in Jerry Heller’s office instead of hilariously acted Priority Records guy’s office. Eazy E was just trying to get the band back together then AIDS came up and bit him in the ass. Everyone is an idiot for trying to confront Suge Knight without bringing a fucking battalion along.

If you want to hear my aural thoughts about Compton (while I play Mortal Kombat, naturally) here’s a link, the bit at 12:17 is pretty good.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Let's Play Lords of the Fallen - Test Video

Howdy guys I'm just posting this here to get an idea of what people think of it. Obviously there's the audio issue of either me breathing into the mic or it picking up my fan which is something I've sorted out for future videos. I'm mainly interested in whether people thought the video flowed well and whether I sounded reasonably intelligent in the proceedings. I will undoubtedly redo the episode in the future and while I don't think I can do a better opening monologue I can certainly improve on the other aspects of the video.

I intend to play through the entire game with Rogue, I'm unsure whether I'll play any other classes aside from random additional videos to show off whatever boss weapons I can't or don't pick up over the course of the LP. If someone knowledgeable about the game has any specific advice as to what things I should look at, remember, talk about et cetera I'd be very interested in what they had to say.

Don't be afraid to bash the video (aside from the aforementioned audio issues), I'll take any sort of criticism I can get just to get a general idea of what the public perception the video will wind up being.

An idea as to what I could talk about with more specificity is explaining that the opening cinematic is demonstrating the Mimic spell in a very over the top fashion, though since I'm not playing a Cleric I don't think it immediately flows well to implement such a discussion. If you have any questions regarding the game or its status as a "Souls Clone" and why I think that very concept in and of itself has lot of merit then feel free to ask.

Here's me singing Battle Hymn of the Republic for no reason in particular:

Edit: Here's the actual first video, fixed most of the audio issues:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Mr Holmes and Bad Lieutenant

Out of the blue my mother asked me to go see Mr. Holmes earlier this week, the rare opportunity to see a PG movie in the wild was irresistible. We saw the film at 3:30 PM and the theater was packed with octogenarians. The film stars Gandalf the Grey as an aging Sherlock Holmes, a wonderful fit for the role. Mr. Holmes takes place in the post WW2 era and Sherlock is at the ripe old age of 93; though they also show him at a comparatively younger age as well (late 60’s/early 70’s). Ian McKellen is only 76 at this point (17 years younger than Christopher Lee) so it’s an interesting age dichotomy as they put on makeup to make him look more ancient and makeup to make him look younger than his present age.

Holmes is effectively a more realistic portrayal of a brilliant detective who has had fictional tales written about his exploits from the dear, absent Watson. In the place of Watson we have his housekeeper; played wonderfully by the incomparable Laura Linney of Truman Show fame, and her young son Roger. In contrast to your typical annoying child role Roger is actually a fairly interesting character and I suppose the closest thing to an audience insert that the film has. He looks on Holmes with wonderment and wants to emulate his every step, but is also reasonably clever in the proceedings.

As a last act in his life Holmes wants to write a “the true story of” sort of adjustment to one of Watson’s tales. However he simply can’t remember it so he takes various herbal remedies in an attempt to adjust his memory, all for naught. In actuality the mental activity of discussing things with Roger is what helps him to remember the tale. Over the course of the film this mystery alongside two others are resolved, with some relatively predictable moments of peril along the way. However the main overarching mystery has an interesting resolution that isn’t entirely obvious and leads to an intriguing ending.

This is on the whole simply a satisfying movie, since it is PG nothing particularly horrible could happen but you can still have the implication of horrible things happening. It is rare for a film to be simultaneously intelligent and “happy” as it were and Mr. Holmes certainly accomplishes that. Mithrandir, Olorin, and Magneto are all wonderful additions to the Holmes Filmography and the film’s appeal to “Genius troubles” might just earn it some Oscar support; though it isn’t nearly as overbearing as most of those movies.

So, what’s the best thing to do after you see a heartwarming PG movie? Well of course you want to go see an NC-17 movie. Admittedly I didn’t realize it when I bought it but the DVD version of Bad Lieutenant definitely has that rating. It’s hard to say whether it would keep the same rating if made today but it would certainly at least be a hard R. I went into this film with relatively high expectations as the unmatched masterpiece that is Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans certainly set the bar extremely high.

So how does this film stack up? Well, it has most of the same basic plot elements but not much of the charm or intrigue. Bad Lieutenant is basically all about drug abuse and has very little to do with police work or mystery solving but the pseudo sequel actually accomplished both sides of the story quite well.  There’s also maybe 15 solid minutes of old baseball broadcasting (not historical, though aside from the conclusion most of the broadcasts sound legitimate), and as much as I like baseball I don’t necessarily need that directly in the middle of the film I’m watching. Yes it does contribute to Harvey Keitel’s mood but I think you could chop it down to 3-5 minutes and do just as well.

The crime in this film is the raping of a Nun by 2 noble churchgoers, including some rather visceral details. And so for like 25 minutes of the movie Keitel actually engages in police work in an attempt to solve the case, to no avail. After a late interview with the Nun in which she says she has forgiven them Keitel has a crisis of faith and you get to hear the indiscernable Mr. White moaning from Reservoir Dogs for what feels like 10 minutes. He has a mental projection of Jesus who he asks “why?” to perpetually. As a religious person I actually find this scene rather fascinating but I have no idea how someone who didn’t understand that mindset would respond to it (apparently rather well), this is a great scene and sort of makes the movie all by itself.

The rest of the film is perfectly adequate in demonstrating how much of a horrible person Harvey Keitel is (Nicholas Cage’s character is more of a “Chaotic Good” sort). The ending is a predictable enough result whereas the ending of Port of Call is total insanity. I think this film is trying to be disturbing at its core but the thing is, I’ve seen Oldboy and nothing is disturbing now so it doesn’t really work for me personally. I really like dirty cop movies and I liked Dark Blue quite a lot which I saw recently, but this one is just sort of alright. Not a bad film by any stretch but not a particularly amazing one either.

A random criticism I have of the film is that all of the women in the film are ridiculously gorgeous, and if you’re trying to make a film “gritty” as it were you have to dress them up in such a way that they don’t look like that. Port of Call has only one attractive woman in it and even she still looks fucked up half the time, but regular old Bad Lieutenant apparently has a drug dealing/perpetually using woman who just looks fantastic all the time, no side effects guys; those only impact the Keitel.

This review comes off a little harsh but I don’t mean to disparage the film that much.  It’s still quite good and you should see it, just make sure you watch Port of Call New Orleans at some point because that shit is fucking amazing.

Aside: I bought Edge of Tomorrow and saw that yesterday, still pretty damn incredible. Guess what the first trailer is when you boot up the DVD? That’s right, Mad Max. So WB has put out in the past 2 years the best two movies as well as Shadow of Mordor, The Witcher 3 (US distributor, the overwhelming GoTY favorite), Mortal Kombat X, and Arkham Knight, good work WB I dunno how this happened but keep doing what you’re doing.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What's so wrong with Arkham Knight?

I recently played through the entirety of the new Batman game and am in the process of 100%’ing it. The game is really interesting with superb gameplay, but I acknowledge it has some minor issues going on that prevent it from being superior to City; I’d say it’s arguably on par with Asylum overall (maybe a little bit better, as someone with a gameplay slant). Of course in Asylum you can get perfect variety in almost every fight in the game which is fun and it’s virtually impossible to get perfect variety (around 30 different moves) in Arkham Knight with a finite number of enemies; but I still find it fun to try.

The first major “dungeon” of the game, Ace Chemicals, is utterly fantastic and makes surprisingly good use of the Batmobile, combat, and predator rooms and even has some pretty intense drama at the end of it. The problem is the somewhat non-linear aspect and feel of that dungeon is only duplicated at one other point in the main game; the rest of the game is just a series of short diversions in various different areas. You might consider the usage of the batmobile nonsensical but it does work on a gameplay/puzzle front and that’s ultimately what matters; the main underlying Joker theme is pretty damn nonsensical and that’s probably the best part of the story.

Speaking of the Batmobile at first it feels rather awkward and forced, but over time it sort of grows on you and the game throws some very difficult fights at you assuming limited upgrades (we’ll get to that in a bit) which are really interesting and entertaining. The issue is that early game fights are very bland and straightforward; the game doesn’t ramp up on the tank front until the final few tank battles the game has to offer. Fortunately those specific fights are excellent and you can really see the potential of the Battank. The major tank boss fight in the game is great, though the major regular ass batmobile “fight” is pretty terrible (again without upgrades, probably not that bad otherwise); that isn’t because of the batmobile though just the boss fight itself is badly designed. I immediately started playing through the game again a second time and the batmobile’s awkwardness had almost totally faded away and it was quite fun to use, so I think it’s just a substantial learning curve plus some rather tedious usage of it in the game that turned people off.

The upgrade system in this game is extremely robust, however in the process of simply beating the main story and doing one major sidequest I was only able to unlock less than 10% of the abilities available. I forgot to upload a screenshot of it (playing at my brother’s house), but there’s a whole huge ability tree for everything imaginable and most of them have some relatively expensive parts to them. To give you an idea there’s a tree that has close to 20 different nodes that are all exclusively related to gadgets. Essentially you have to do a whole lot of the expansive different sidequests just to even get a mildly upgraded Batman in the end. Ultimately this actually makes the game reasonably difficult in a non 100% run which is a common enough criticism of the previous Rocksteady Arkham games.


The 100% process is actually not overly painful this time around, and this is the main thing this game has over Arkham City; there’s not quite as much Riddler Diarrhea to go around and the rest of the sidequests are generally more interesting than their Arkham City counterparts (and of course the main game is substantially less interesting aside from a few elements). Brad was fascinated by the Super Grapnel in the Quick Look but there’s actually 2 more upgrades to the Grapnel Boost beyond that so you have the Super Mega Ultra Grapnel Boost (5 X button presses then hold) by the end which makes flying around the city incredibly fast, this allows you to make traversal in a fairly large environment substantially less painful. Though the area covered is ostensibly 5 times larger than Arkham City it certainly never feels like it just due to the sheer speed of your character (also there’s not a big fuck-off wall in the middle).

A major change from previous Arkham games that also aids in relieving some of the 100% stress is there’s very few traditional “challenge rooms” in the game, instead you have several different kinds of challenges integrated into the world with a really cool leaderboard system. A personal favorite of mine is the one where you have an infinite supply of enemies and the objective is simple: don’t get hit. The sheer limitless skill opportunity this provides is kind of mind boggling to comprehend but I gave it a good try with no upgrades near the beginning of the game (having no idea what half the enemies were naturally). However even the dreaded Batmobile Challenge Rooms got pretty fun near the end of the game and the one that I thought was underwhelming was fun to do after having learned how to play with the vehicle. As someone with a specific fondness for the old challenge rooms I still welcome the change and especially the more compelling leaderboards for each of these, it really does make me want to go back and perfect each of them.

Overall I feel like Arkham Knight is an outstanding game, the problem is the year that it came out. If Arkham Knight came out last year it would be a strong game of the year contender, but since it came out this year alongside Bloodborne, the Witcher 3, Mortal Kombat X, Helldivers, and of course Rocket League; with Metal Gear Solid V, Fallout 4, and Just Cause 3 still on the way it was really hard to stand out. The game’s handful of disappointing moments and generally hamfisted plot (complete with overly obvious “The Dark Knight” references) combined to lessen its impact. However I still whole heartily recommend the game.

Aside: After playing Arkham Knight I even said to myself “hey this game is totally better than Shadow of Mordor and that was easily the best game last year.” But the thing is I went and played some Mordor just to test out this theory and uh… yeah Mordor’s better.  I don’t think it has better combat or even better exploration but there’s something about the specific feel and tension of the game that Batman just doesn’t have. When I booted up Mordor I checked out my handy dandy ubiquitous 100% save file and to my surprise all of my abilities were *poof* gone and I could run around the world with a completely basic character. Whereas in Batman this is mildly frustrating because you really just want to be a little OP as Batman, in Mordor you become too overpowered too quickly so being decidedly underpowered (while still being a fully capable murder machine) is actually very compelling.

This led to me trying out the “Test of Defiance,” a relatively easy challenge with a fully upgraded character that takes about 35-40 minutes. However, with a baseline character it took me over 2.5 hours and I had lots of really close calls and a lot of usage of uncommon tactics that were nigh useless in the regular game. With zero upgrades in Mordor you have no access to Branding, Combat Finishers, Mounts, Fast Travel, Explosions, Teleporting, and various other things; but to my surprise the game is still fully functional and almost every captain variant in the game is killable in that state (though you’re very fragile so extended combat is infeasible in most situations). The test furthers the complication by making it so you can’t drain enemies for health or arrows, which maximized the necessity of learning and knowing the environment to find herbs and fixed arrow locations. All of this combined to make for a wonderful experience and I can’t help but thank Monolith for unnecessarily patching the Game of the Year edition in and fucking up old save files; good job, it made the game more fun somehow.