Friday, August 25, 2017

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Batman: Arkham Knight"

...so, remember when I reviewed video games? Fun times, right?

I joke. I've been hard at work in the real world with my job, though that doesn't mean I haven't been very active on Twitter. Which I have. One such activity has involved me mentioning various facets of this game, Batman: Arkham Knight...in particular, the Riddler's constant irritant, but I'll burn that bridge when I come to it. I've also been gearing up for October, wanting to make up for my absence of content with much, much more for Horror Month 2017...whether or not that manifests, we'll see in the October still to come.

But it's rather fortuitous that this is the game to get me back on track for game reviews, given that information, because Batman: Arkham Knight is a game all about fear. Batman himself needs no introduction, though the same cannot be entirely said for the main villain of the piece: Scarecrow. Jonathan Crane, a scientist who wanted to learn all there was to learn about fear, and the only individual in this or any comic book universe who is able to pronounce 'b's and 'p's without possessing any lips.

Truly, the greatest superpower of all.

But it seems that, on a Halloween night some nine months after the events of Arkham City, Scarecrow has issued a warning that Gotham will be gassed with a brand new form of his fear gas...and the entire city evacuates.

Overnight.

What a remarkable coincidence.

Of course, this evacuation has a simple reason: to keep the player from feeling like a total psychopath for charging around the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile. And yes, the Batmobile finally makes its appearance straight out of the Christopher Nolan films (depending on the skin you choose for it). And before anyone jumps down my gullet, the thing controls like ass!
OHHHH MY GAWD! WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR FAAAAAAACE?!?!?!
I wouldn't mind it, expect Rocksteady was clearly very proud of this, putting in races, using it and puzzles, and bringing vehicular combat and it just...sucks. And that's a shame, really. Changing direction at high speeds is next to impossible, and the streets of Gotham can be very twisty at points. Eventually, you do adapt to it, but the gratitude you have for a "battle mode' to reorient yourself is lost when Firefly escapes for the fourth time and you know you'll have to eventually drench a firehouse and listen to Crispin Freeman mugging at you like a jackass yet again.

But the main story involves Batman trying to hunt down and stop Scarecrow's latest plot. However, it seems that he has a tag-along with him this time, the Joker as once more voiced by Mark Hamill. Much like the original Scarecrow sections in Arkham Asylum, the Joker's presence adds to the screwing with reality in several sections of the game as we're never completely clear for most of it if what Batman's perceiving is, in fact, real.

Also, as if the plot were not already lengthy and convoluted enough (and it is), Scarecrow is assisted in his endeavor by an army of hired guns led by the mysterious Arkham Knight. The Knight is an enigmatic figure who is both well trained and equipped, having a deep knowledge and hatred for Batman that has driven him to go to any leng-it's Jason Todd.

Yeah, no. It's Jason Todd. I really don't know who Rockstead thought they were going to fool on this one.

It's not even a particularly clever twist either, given how Batman can't figure it out even with the Joker basically spoonfeeding him flashbacks to Jason's torture and eventual "death" at his hands. World's greatest detective my pasty white rear! Though it's a little strange seeing as, unlike the DCEU films, I don't think the Arkham series has made even a passing mention to Jason Todd before this point. Correct me if I'm wrong but, like with Batman: The Animated Series in the 90's, I'd assumed that Jason had just been quietly swept under the rug.

The line of progression for Robins went from Dick Grayson (now Nightwing) and then to Tim Drake, and that was it. If he was mentioned, I don't remember it. Not that it's so much of a continuity issue and it's something I can look past. My main question is why they didn't just have him as Red Hood? It's not as if the "shocking twist" is actually that big of a deal, and the reason why he took the alias of the "Arkham Knight" is...kind of just ignored. The title could just as easily to refer to Batman himself and indeed could have just to keep the series naming convention.

Other than that, there isn't too much to say. It's fun to ride around Gotham and totally not send criminals to an early grave by vehicular manslaughter (they're just sleeping, honest!). It's irritating to have Riddler somehow having hacked into all of Gotham's loudspeakers being a man desperately beginning for someone to knee him multiple times in the groin. It's nice to get a final word on the Arkham Universe even if I think it's a little premature to call it quits after four games. Still, it's better to go out on top, and I would say that Arkham Knight is definitely that.

"Never ending Baaaaaaaatman! Da na na na, na na na, na na na! Batman!"
Arkham City would have likewise been a fine place to stop, but it didn't really feel like an ending. Just an ending to the long battle between the Batman and the Joker, and the realization of how they were two of a kind, in their own twisted way.

Knight gives more finality. It introduces and then wraps up the storyline for Jason Todd, lets Batman say goodbye to his sidekicks, supporting cast, and even his villains, as his final nigh...oh, yeah. Spoiler alert. Batman's identity gets revealed to the world by Scarecrow and he and Alfred potentially die.

Maybe.

It's unclear.

If you get the 100% ending, you get a weird bit where a demonic-looking Batman takes out two thugs in an alley...but I didn't get the 100% ending, seeing as the ending where Wayne Manor blows up makes more sense in my head.

Also, despite his compensation issues, if I ever go solving all of the Riddler's riddles, it'll be by accident. Like all the Arkham games and the Batman mythos in general, he's just...really, really annoying. Why Bats doesn't out gadget him and beat the snot out of him, rather than play his really rather stupid game is beyond me.

So, in short. Good game. The combat is good, the gadgets are as fun as ever. The story is even good, even though it's a hodgepodge of a bunch of different Batman stories across multiple forms of media, though that works in its favor rather than as a detraction. Rocksteady dug deep into Batman lore to bring up some many things that I thought would never see the light of day in a Batman game, such as Man-Bat. I'd even say it's the best of the series, with my only real complaints being the Batmobile and the sudden introduction and the hiding of the fact that Jason Todd is the Arkham Knight. Because...reasons?

Batman: Arkham Knight is now avai-

Oh...yeah. The racetracks.

Yeah, I'm not reviewing those. Batman does not do NASCAR.

Batman: Arkham Knight is now available from Rocksteady Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.

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

Monday, August 7, 2017

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "The Last Starfighter" (1984)

So...let's talk about the ultimate video game nerd power fantasy film.

Because I, the MadCapMunchkin, am here to tell you that this film here is basically it.  I don't know about you, but it's the dream of every single video game nerd I know (myself included) to be told that you are so amazingly badass at playing video games that a group of aliens who made said video games want you to come from boring old Earth to their planet halfway across the galaxy to fight in an intergalactic war against a nigh-unstoppable foe who seeks to conquer or destroy all sentient life in the universe. And all you have to do is be blackmailed and guilted into it, and then eventually pick up your girlfriend that you so totally have and do the same to her in a never-ending cycle of shame and misery!

...wait a second. Let me start over.

The Last Starfighter is the tale of Alex Logan (Lance Guest), the assumed alias of Jimmy Lloyd after the terrible events of Halloween night of 1978 (the good version), now living in California in protective custody. However, this protection is not so restrictive that he can't spend time with his sort of sort of not girlfriend Maggie (Catherine May Stewart) or play his favorite (and only) arcade game in the trailer park Starfighter.  So what if he has no prospects at going to college? At least he'll always have video games.

But when Alex gets the high score on Starfighter, he finds himself kidnapped by a stylish con-man by the name of Centauri (Robert Preston) and pressed into the service of Rylan Star League as a Starfighter, which is apparently a very rare gift among the civilized societies of the known universe. So much so that there's only a handful of pilots and navigators to battle the dreaded Ko-Dan Armada and defend the planet of Rylos and the Frontier.

Why the Rylans themselves can't get into their Gunstars and go fight off the Armada is something they skillfully avoid mentioning.

But yes, thus begins an epic adventure as Alex must lean to actually pilot the real spacecraft and save the galaxy from the Ko-Dan and the dreaded Xur (Norman Snow). Xur, by the way, winning the award for least intimidating villain ever...except maybe when put up against Lisa from The Room. He hams it up and does practically nothing the entire film that is in any way remotely menacing. Even the Ko-Dan are wondering when they can get rid of him. He does have a really cool mace thing.

A few things before I dive into what I enjoy about this film - because, yes, I really, really love this movie - yes, it's a Star Wars-ripoff and yes, it's a Galaga rip-off. Neither of those things happen to be criticisms. It's a 1980s science-fiction film, of course it drew large amounts of inspiration from Star Wars. And it's one ship going up against an entire armada of other ships, Galaga. That being said, those don't detract from the film in the least.

What does kind of detract from the film is the fact that we're not actually given that much detail about the Rylans or the Star League or even their conflict with the Ko-Dan.  For things that are seemingly so very important, they're either glossed over or not mentioned at all. I will give it credit that the simplicity of it is realistic seeing as Alex isn't told all of this either, but we as the audience really know nothing about any of it beyond the fact that the Rylans say that the Ko-Dan and Xur are pure dang nasty evil.

In A New Hope, you get some exposition through the opening crawl and some dialogue between characters that set up the Empire almost from the jump as an incredibly evil, oppressive regime and we see our heroes have very clear reasons for fighting against that regime. With this movie...you're just told that and given vague mentions of a "dark betrayal" and just told to go with it. No real attempts at world-building, though we do see some very unique designs for the various alien types and both the Gunstars and the Ko-Dan ships.

The Frontier in particular is one of several special effect shots that honestly look really cool for the time. While the sets where the actors are is done by physical locations while the space scenes are done with early CGI. Cheesy by today's standards, sure, but in 1984 it was cutting edge.

However, the film isn't about paper-thin plots or outdated CGI. It's about Alex pushing himself beyond what he believes he's capable of an unlocking the hero within...after being emotionally blackmailed into doing so by various individuals, up to and including his own robotic duplicate (also played by Lance Guest). However, this does work and Alex does eventually step up to the plate after an attack by the Ko-Dan makes him...the Last Starfighter.

Despite the forced blackmail to do the right thing, the film is definitely a good one. Yes, we don't know much about what's going on, but Alex never learns it and I suppose that's realistic to his situation as a whole.Yes, it's outdated in terms of special effects, but it holds up better than most for a movie that's over thirty years old. I love it, and will be happy to watch it time and time again, until I'm battling evil in another dimension.

The Last Starfighter is brought to us by Lorimar Productions and Universal Pictures.

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