Monday, September 29, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Batman: Assault on Arkham" (2014)

I'm not gonna lie, I'm not a big DC fan. Sure, I know the big names like any nerd worth his weight in first editions, but the worlds and characters presented to us by the folks at Detective Comics have never really reached out to me the way that Marvel's mainstays have.  That doesn't mean, however, that I don't occasionally enjoy seeing how the other half lives. I've played all the games in  the Arkham series to date by Rocksteady and I've enjoyed several of the DC animated series such as Justice League, Teen Titans, and - of course - Batman: The Animated Series.  There have also been quite a few offerings from Warner Bros. Animation over the years that I've enjoyed, such as Batman: Gotham Knight and Justice League: Doom.

Really, DC is to animation what Marvel is to live action films...and comics.

So, I recently had my eye turned onto one of the latest direct to DVD release from the studio, Batman: Assault on Arkham.  I found it to be quite an enjoyable ride from start to finish. Made to fit cozily within the Arkham series of games, it focuses on some payoff after some of the setup done in the DLC of Arkham Origins involving the Suicide Squad - a group of anti-heroes and even outright villains who get "acquired" by the government to perform high-risk black ops missions, kept on task by an explosive device implanted in them that can be set off at any point.  And, as their name implies, the group is entirely expendable in any case.

As it happens, beginning with the film, Amanda Waller (once again C.C.H. Pounder reprising her role from Justice League Unlimited) requires a new formation of the Suicide Squad in order to retrieve information that is at the risk of being leaked by one Edward Nygma aka The Riddler. So she acquires the services of Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Black Spider, Killer Frost, KGBeast, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark in order to break into Arkham Asylum to retrieve the data following the Riddler's arrest by Batman (Kevin Conroy).  The Batman who, as they go on they learn, is working a separate case involving the Joker (Troy Baker) having rigged a dirty bomb to blow most of Gotham to Kingdom Come.

The animation and the voice acting are pretty good.  The story itself is very interesting and I really wish they had done more on the Suicide Squad itself.  For the first part of the time, they actually manage to do that well.  Batman is hardly involved in the beginning, shows up for a scene in the middle, and then reveals himself in the end and aids in cleaning house. Honestly, besides his bits as part of the weaving of the narrative and the fact that the story does take place in Gotham, there's really no reason for him to even be there.

But, hey, brand recognition is always nice.

And, of course, Batman comes in at the last minute to save the day and kick ass, as one might expect from a Batman production.  As I stated above, I really didn't care for his bits in it.  The fact is, despite the Chuck Norris-esque qualities of Batman, he just really isn't all that interesting and it shows here.  While not all the members of the Suicide Squad can be written home about, they all were rather distinct and made for a rather fun time seeing their skill sets and personalities both work with and bounce off one another. Batman doesn't really aid much in that and could have just been left out entirely to pursue his own side plot, as could have the Joker.

I'm sure those who have also seen the film are going to point out that the conflict between Batman and the Joker contributes heavily to the final parts of the film, which I do agree with.  However, the stakes are already enough.  Thanks to Waller pulling an Escape from New York/The Running Man on everyone on the team, they could very easily be taken out at any moment. Not to mention just the difficulty of the mission itself - breaking into Arkham Asylum (though considering how easy it is to break out of there, one might question the difficulty). The fact that an all-out jailbreak happens at the end is quite enough for the film's climax (including several cameos of various Batman villains, as one would expect).

That all being said, as I said throughout the whole, this is a great little jaunt through the universe.  It's a heist movie, and a good one at that.  If more films get made in this vein, I definitely want to see them. So, if you're looking for a way to kill 76 minutes and be entertained, definitely should try Assault on Arkham.

Batman:  Assault on Arkham is now available on DVD from Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment and Warner Home Video.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 12, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin"

Sheesh, EA should have me on the ten percent by now, huh? Considering the last three weeks have been dominated by their greatest dark fantasy adventure series since the Ultima series that hasn't been thrown to the dogs or to the MMO territory (and don't get any ideas you people who probably aren't even going to read this!).  And so, I come to the end of what most would call a retrospective of Dragon Age II with the other big name DLC - Mark of the Assassin.

And what does Mark of the Assassin bring that the vanilla game and Legacy did not? Why, new areas! Orlesian intrigue! Wyverns! Though most people probably know it for the voice talents of actress Felicia Day, who plays the titular assassin Tallis. Her voice acting is really rather good here, though it is odd to hear a normal Welsh accented elf voiced with an American dialect (y'know, that rare American elf voice).  I'm not entirely certain why they didn't ask her to try to put on an accent, but it's something I can look past.

Like Legacy, Mark of the Assassin can be accessed from the Hawke home - be it Gamlen's shack in Lowtown during Act One or the Amell Manor in Acts Two and Three - by touching the statue of the lion. Doing so will trigger a cutscene of fan-favorite Varric once more being interrogated by the Seeker Cassandra, who demands to know about a little aside that resulted in the death of an Orlesian noble and nearly caused an international incident. And being, of course, that it has to do with the ongoing tale of the illustrious Hawke, Cassandra wants to know the nitty gritty.

It begins, innocently enough, with Varric getting Alyssa Hawke to meet a contact, whereupon she and her party are ambushed by Antivan Crows. Aided by a fiery-haired elf by the name of Tallis, they defeat the group and she explains that she was, in fact, looking for Hawke due to an invitation she received from a Duke Prosper. Tallis aims to steal an jewel from him called the "Heart of the Many" and needs Hawke's aid in order to do so.

What follows is a wyvern hunt, followed by some of the funnier scenes in Dragon Age II due to Alyssa Hawke having the "Witty/Sarcastic" personality and the interactions with Tallis and others - even getting a snort-worthy one-liner upon finishing the final boss. I will say, this story doesn't have anything to do with the vanilla game (then again, neither did Legacy besides connections to the Hawke family), but it is a fun aside from the rest of Dragon Age II. The tone, overall, is a bit more fun and colorful - something that the vanilla game was sorely lacking in a great deal of the time. Beyond that, it's not a recycling of all the environments in the vanilla game that were boring and tedious and were the subject on in-game jokes.

We also, through Tallis, get some more insight into the Qunari and how they work.  Apparently, the Qunari are far more spread out in Thedas than many would believe, having agents all over Thedas. The "shocking" twist of the game involving Tallis' true origins and intentions and the true "Heart of the Many" proving that there is far more going on with the Qunari than we've seen. Perhaps there will be more in the upcoming Inquisition? Who knows?

I will say I rather enjoyed Mark of the Assassin. It was a nice tone shift from the sour and dark tone of most of Dragon Age II and I wouldn't mind seeing Tallis again in the future.


Dragon Age II: Mark of the Assassin is now available from EA and Bioware for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin,  follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, September 5, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Dragon Age II: Legacy"

Considering that Dragon Age II was the first game I ever reviewed, one would think I would have already reviewed the DLCs that came with it that weren't anything more than just gear or aesthetic fluff added on.  Then again, by the inverse, I've reviewed the DLCs of both Skyrim and Fallout: New Vegas and neither of the vanilla games, so who even knows what order I'm going in? Regardless, I figured it was about time to re-immerse myself in all things Dragon Age once more in preparation for Inquisition.  Hence, I got myself a hold of Dragon Age II:  Legacy, the DLC expansion that adds some new areas to the game and further illuminates the history of the Hawke family.

And I'll go ahead here and admit that I might have been a little too harsh in my review of Dragon Age II, upon further playthroughs from my original, the characters did rub off me more and I found them and their dynamics more some cases, anyway (sorry for not being sorry, Fenris fans!), though I still don't think - for all of Bioware's excellent writing and decent characterization - that it holds a candle to those in Origins, but that's neither here nor there.  I came to speak of Legacy, and of Legacy I shall speak.

Upon uploading the DLC, the player will find a griffon statue that has miraculously appeared in the area of their home - be that Gamlen's Darktown home in Act One, or the player's mansion in Acts Two and Three - that they can interact with, which will trigger a cutscene between the lovable dwarven bard Varric and the tough-as-nails Seeker known as Cassandra Pendagast.  Apparently, a redacted part of Varric's interrogation that frames the story of Dragon Age II is seen in which Cassandra mentions an incident involving a Grey Warden prison, forcing Varric to tell the story.

Hawke (in my case, Alyssa, a bow-wielding rogue) has been attacked by dwarves from the Carta, and has enlisted the aid of Varric (and two other party members) to track down the offenders.  They speak of a master they are bound to known only as "Corypheus", who is driving them all to insanity much as those affected by the Blight spread by Darkspawn.  But the Carta hideout is only the beginning of a grand adventure that leads deep beneath the land of Thedas into a Grey Warden prison, where several demons and other forces of malicious intent have been sealed away using Blood Magic.

The gameplay is pretty identical to the vanilla game, so I won't dwell on it.  What I will dwell on for a bit are the enemy variations, of which there is one new enemy to smack around. Or rather, be smacked around by in some cases, as the Alpha version of this new quadruped variety can sometimes balance large, spiked shields to bash and run down enemies with.  They are also, coincidentally, complete assholes for that.  Luckily for me, Alyssa had an item with immunity to stun, so this did very little to hinder my progress in sending them off into the afterlife with many, many arrows in the face. The rest of the enemies are either Carta dwarves, Darkspawn, or Grey Wardens. And, also, demons, though with far, far less frequency.

Where this game is really good, however, is in the story.  Primarily that of Hawke and his/her family.  The voice of Malcolm Hawke, the family patriarch (voiced by the same voice actor to voice the male Hawke), is heard throughout the complex at various points, and will eventually trigger a moment with Hawke and either one of his/her siblings if they're in the party with him/her at the time, while also getting a moment between them all at the end (though this might be some artistic license on Varric's part, admittedly).  The revelation that Malcolm Hawke performed blood magic at the behest of the Grey Wardens if a rather shocking one, though given the reason for it, I can't personally say I blame the man.

However, the even bigger reveal for this game has nothing to do with Hawke's family history at all.  It has to do with Corypheus, the final boss (and, incidentally, a complete pain in the ass to fight), who is revealed as having been a Tevinter magister before his transformation into a Darkspawn.  Not only that, but being one of the Magisters who attempted to reach the Maker's Golden City.  Anyone familiar with the deeper lore of Dragon Age knows the Chantry purports the story that magisters, in their foolhardiness, attempted to go to the Maker's city in the Fade and the Maker cursed them as the first of the Darkspawn for their arrogance.  If Corypheus is indeed one of those magisters, as he proclaims, then this myth about the creation of the Darkspawn is actually true.

However, Corypheus makes some comments before his boss battle that add a disturbing twist to the story...namely that, when they reached it, the City had already been blackened.  So either it's merely Corypheus' deteriorating mental state, he's lying, or the Maker is far, far less benevolent than the Chantry would have the whole of Thedas believe.  And the escape of Corypheus at the end of the game (spoiler alert!...only not, really) may come into play later on in Inquisition and so on, as Varric notes that there might be more to the story, but it hasn't happened yet.  I have to say, it's something I'm looking forward to seeing...if they follow up on it at all.

As for Legacy itself, it's rather short, but then it's supposed to be.  I would have liked more variety in enemies and perhaps a little more in the backstory of Malcolm Hawke and the Grey Wardens, but I can't say I'm wholly unsatisfied with what we did get.  No less than I was with its vanilla game, at least.

Dragon Age:  Legacy is now available from EA and Bioware for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin,  follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.