Saturday, September 26, 2009

Welcome to the Asylum

Arkham Asylum is the place where the many super villains of Gotham basically have their second home (or maybe their first). It’s the place where therapists try to cure them – usually to no avail. “Arkham Asylum” is also the subtitle of a new game set in Batman’s universe. And it’s the place where the whole game takes place, too.

I’ve waited for this new game for a long time, ever since I saw the first pictures and the first trailer. Of all the DC heroes, Batman is my favourite. And he makes a great character for a computer game, because he doesn’t have any supernatural powers. (Now, I’ve enjoyed playing “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” a lot – despite the fact that it’s a pretty bloodthirsty game. But then, we’re talking about Wolverine, the guy with the sharp blades protruding from the back of his hands.) But any being with supernatural powers, be it alien, divine or mutant, means thinking around the bent. Wolverine doesn’t have to worry about a few people with MPs … Batman does, despite the protection of his suit. And, as a gamer playing “Arkham Asylum,” so do I.

The Joker is caught – once more – and Batman is taking him back to Arkham. No, that’s not the end of the game, it’s actually the intro sequence. The first thing that came to my mind while watching it was ‘Why the hell is that guy so happy about it?’ This thought was closely followed by ‘Wow, someone really went overboard with the security measures here.’ I soon learned that nobody went overboard with the security measures, of course, since the Joker breaks free and disappears inside the Asylum. No wonder he was in such a great mood – he wanted to get in, after all.

The intro sequence is quite long and partly interactive, even though the interactive part merely is following the guards who take the Joker back inside the Asylum. Still, there are some quite interesting moments, such as the meeting with Killer Croc on the way down (that guy’s huge and has quite some teeth…).

There’s basically three things to do during the game: walk or run through corridors, fight Joker’s henchmen (and various madmen) and solve riddles or problems.

Quite some problems stem from the fact that the Joker controls most of the Asylum, including the intercom (meaning a lot of voice-overs all over Arkham Island). Quite often only an air vent or a gargoyle high up on the wall provide a way onwards. The fighting consists mostly of close-quarter combat (against unarmed enemies) and guerrilla tactics (against armed enemies, as Batman is not bullet-proof). I found the inverted takedown (an upgrade you can buy with experience points gained from winning fights and solving problems) quite useful in these situations. Just get on a gargoyle, wait for an enemy to walk by underneath, drop down, grab him and hang him up by his ankles. Quite useful and terrifies the rest of them.

The riddles are usually create by the Riddler (who else, seriously) and usually quite cryptic. There’s always something in the area, though, which is connected to the riddles. In addition there’s challenges like ‘destroy 5 Joker’s teeth’ (referring to the gadgets always hopping around in the corridors). There’s also Riddler Trophies hidden around (green question marks), tapes with interviews of the various inmates and the Chronicles of Arkham, cryptic messages left behind by the founder of the asylum. They are not necessary to continue the game, of course, but provide additional content and additional experience points.

The controls of the game have been converted quite well (even though I have to admit I prefer the combination of mouse and keyboard to the game controller in this case) – “Batman - Arkham Asylum” is a multiplatform title with the pc-version being the last to come out. Bad for me, as I don’t own an X-Box 360 or PS III. I installed the English version of the game (it’s a multilingual DVD), mostly to get the original voices. You don’t get to hear Mark ‘Luke Skywalker’ Hamill a lot these days – and he gives a great Joker (and has for about 15 years now…). In addition, quite some jokes are only funny in the original language.

I’ve only seen about 30% of the game yet, but I really like it already and I will continue to play until I’m through.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"Killerspiele" return - Election Edition

Elections are coming um, next week on Sunday we’re electing the new members for the Bundestag (the German parliament). And, as always, the “Killerspiele”-debate comes up again.

In addition, there have been some things happening lately – violence that resulted in the death of a man trying to help, another student running amok in his school – that have, once again, sparked off the whole debate.

It’s always the same faces you see throughout the debates on TV – people who usually speak about the whole topic without knowing the slightest bit about the actual games.

Even after almost three years – that’s how long my blog’s been running now – the actual debate as a such has not changed the slightest. Whenever there’s someone killing or maiming people and the person is a teenager or in his twenties (no women accounted for so far), it’s immediately the fault of the “Killerspiele.”

Yes, most of them do have something like “Counterstrike” on their computer. But, to be honest, I’d be more surprised if a boy that age didn’t have such a game on his hard drive.

One thing is strange, though: all people running amok during the last few years were members of a Schützenverein (shooter’s association would probably be the right translation). As not everyone in Germany is allowed to own a gun, becoming a member of such a club is the only way to learn how to handle a gun (something you don’t learn from a computer game) and how to actually shoot with it (aiming with a gun is completely different from aiming with a mouse). Despite the fact that those amok runs would not have been possible without the amok runners being members of a Schützenverein, not one politician has ever demanded to shut them down. Strange, isn’t it? Or, maybe, it isn’t. The older members of those clubs are most likely to vote for the politicians always going on about the “Killerspiele.” So why alienate those who will most surely vote for you?

On the other hand, the politicians still have to learn one fact: it’s not just a small group of underage nerds who play computer games, it’s a large group of people at voting age (getting bigger and older every year) who do it.

Thoughts on the TV program

Usually I don’t get to watch much TV before eleven a.m. I’m either working in the morning or I’m sleeping in (while on vacation).

After a few days on which I rose early – in one case didn’t sleep at all –, I have to admit that I didn’t really miss anything. Early morning shows (morning shows in general) aren’t exactly something to be thrilled about.

But then, I can’t say there’s a lot to be thrilled about on TV. Every now and then there’s a good magazine, an interesting series or a movie worth watching. Apart from that, it’s enough to provide a background noise, but nothing else.

That is what TV has basically been for me, ever since I moved out of my parents’ home. I live alone and the TV provides me with some noise, with a background sound. I listen in to it when something seems interesting, but I’m not watching TV with concentration.

When I was a kid (about the time the dinosaurs walked the earth…), the TV program seemed so interesting. I was really waiting for most of my favourite series to begin and I was always thrilled when I was allowed to watch the evening program with my parents. When I had my first TV, was allowed to watch in my own room (that was around the time we got cable), there were so many interesting things I wanted to watch. But today… Somehow the interesting parts are missing.

The TV program isn’t what it used to be … or maybe it’s just a question of how long you’ve watched TV already. Sooner or later there’s just repetition.

Discovering Dexter

I have to admit that the TV series completely passed me by. Even though it was shown on German TV not too long ago, I somehow managed to miss it. There was another series I found interesting running at the same time, so I didn’t watch it.

About a week ago, I stumbled over the fourth book of the series and went through it within a few hours. The novel encompassed everything I really like about a book: suspense, some blood, humour (even my favourite, the dark variety) and a world full of interesting characters.

I managed to get the other three books soon afterwards and even sacrificed one night’s sleep to finish one of them. And I really wish now I had watched the TV series…

I instantly found the character of Dexter interesting and compelling. I do have a very big soft spot for villains, anyway, and, apart from being a killer, Dexter isn’t really a villain. He merely uses his killer instinct to punish those who slip by the law. And isn’t that something a lot of people have wanted to do at some time or another?

Dexter doesn’t think of himself as a ‘true’ human – and I’d like to disagree about that. He might be missing out on empathy and his feelings are probably buried so deep you won’t get them out with any normal means, but he’s still a human. Maybe he’s even more of a human than most others – whether you believe in the bible or in Darwin, aggression and murder (think of Cain and Abel) have been with us since the beginning. Even chimpanzees are capable of murder … really makes you think, doesn’t it? (And yes, I mean murder, the planned killing of a member of your own species. That’s not just hunting.)

In addition, his relationship – as ‘artificial’ as he might think it is – with Rita and her children is more than just a show. Especially after he realizes Astor and Cody have the same ‘Dark Passenger’ inside (due to the trauma of their drunk and violent father) and need training. He takes care of them (and of Rita), in order to keep them on the ‘Harry Path’ (meaning away from pointless murder, prison and a death sentence). If he truly had no feelings and were not human, he’d just let them become the killers they might become without his help. So his foster father was right, he really is a good boy – in his own way.

I also found the idea quite interesting to have a serial killer work for the police. Dexter is a blood-splatter specialist, working with the forensic team, while his sister Deborah (well, foster sister) works as a cop, following her father’s example.

Dexter knows how not to be caught, he knows what the police can find out and thus what to avoid. He knows how to kill slowly (something his victims practically deserve, being what they are) and how to dispose of the body in a way that keeps him out of trouble.

Unlike in the TV series (from what I’ve read on, Dexter only kills once or twice throughout each novel, giving him a lower body count. And I like the fact that the books develop the story quite nicely. Since you’re always inside Dexter’s head (sharing, as it were, the space with the Dark Passenger), you know, hear, feel and see what he knows, hears, feels (despite his own words, Dexter does have feelings) and sees.

I’ve been discovering Dexter rather late, but at least I discovered him. And sooner or later I’ll find a way to watch the series, too.