When ‘Game’ Meets ‘Play’
Not many people have played Batman: Arkham City as much as I have. Now that’s not some declaration of my
totally actual gamer superiority or anything, but rather, I need to set the scene for a moment before I break all the rules and introduce the plot twist in the very first paragraph of this here article. Here it is: I didn’t fancy Batman: Arkham City at all.
Cue dramatic M Night Shyamalan twist music.
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The truth is, I was entertained by the story and I appreciated the risks that Rocksteady took, but in my mind it felt like a Batman story a little too jam-packed with characters, much in the same vein as that Batman movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze, or: the bad one. Now that’s not to say that the game was bad. Not at all, it was actually quite good, especially being a licensed game. But it just felt so busy and disconnected at times, as if the story was some hindrance on your scavenger hunt to try and see how many famous villains you can find and dispose of, interrupted at various points by ‘The Joker’s Latest Trick’ which took you right off your path towards whomever you might have been gunning at the time.
And then in a strange contrast, the open world of Arkham City only went and felt sparse and underpopulated, almost under-saturated in fact, if that makes any sense, because an open world game suffers if there is no continuity in it and for the most part you simply existed in this world to fight things and solve stuff. Once you fight enough things, the things get replaced by more things, but once you solve stuff, the stuff remains solved. There is nothing else to do. Effectively, then, the open world begins to show its lack of depth as you spend more time running around in it.
Not that anyone cared since they were too busy gliding to notice.
But you know what? As much as these are my opinions of Batman: Arkham City, and they are just that, opinions, I still hold it up as one of the most ‘true’ gaming experiences that I’ve had.
It’s rare to find a game that you can consider a ‘game’ by its truest definition of the word. A game which keeps you playing long after you’ve completed the story, long after you’ve completed everything else, long after that 100% statistic has been reached. I don’t know many others who, like me, have completed the game to 100%, but I can tell you that every person I know who has, did not stop there.
That is mostly why I adore the Arkham series. They are not the most entertaining games you will find and they regularly dip between trying to be action, adventure, beat-em-up and sandbox, effectively resulting in some nasty amalgamation of nothing in particular, but they feel right. No combat mechanic is as satisfying as that of Arkham City’s. No exploration mechanic is quite as entertaining as being able to glide around the map, using the odd grapnel point to prolong your stay in the air. That’s what made PROTOTYPE so fun, as well.
And Assassin’s Creed for that matter. Another game which I enjoyed far more than most, enough so that I actually went and collected all of the flags, I repeat, all of the fucking flags, in the first game on PC, and still continued to play it. Perhaps this is why I enjoyed playing Assassin’s Creed III when so many others did not. For me it wasn’t about the story or the discovery but rather the exploration and the mechanics.
When you can play a game and enjoy the gameplay in its barebones form, without any story or other convolution, then I think that the developers have won. I think that a game that, at its roots, is an entertaining experience, is the best kind of game. I’ve recently played and been blown away by Far Cry 3 and BioShock: Infinite, but I don’t see myself going back to those if not for future DLC. But give me Arkham City and will happily play it right now, even without the prospect of new achievements or further completion.
What about you? Do you have games such as these which you find yourself happily going back to every now and again, just to enjoy running around in the game world and doing nothing in the way of progression? Share yours in the comments.