I played a game not long ago that reminded me why I love my hobby.
It reminded me of a lot of things actually, like what can be achieved when you get a group of people together who really appreciate a concept, who completely understand their audience, their source material and harbor a deep passion for their work.
It isn’t something that is specific to making games, you see it everywhere, like the majesty of the world’s finest architecture, in great works of art and music, and seminal films. It’s about loving what you do.
That game was Batman: Arkham Asylum. An unexpected shining beacon of a game among the hundreds of homage’s to the Dark Knight that clamour for the public’s attention. The movement and action in it was supremely well observed, the predator mode giving a true feeling of power and a much-needed update to the stealth mechanic, and the fighting a new, almost balletic, rhythm game style that was easy to learn, hard to master, and well worth the practice to see some wonderfully fluid henchman bashing and a real sense of achievement. The graphics and atmosphere were spot on, the voice acting good, and the plot great. In short, the best game I’ve played in a long time.
Having totally immersed myself in this world, and played every last inch of the island, imagine my dismay upon reaching the final climactic scene with my great nemesis, ready to utter the immortal ‘I’m Batman’ line before putting the cuffs on him, only to be presented with a totally stereotypical three special hits and he’s down boss fight with a weird joker monster type thing.
Eh? Hadn’t Rocksteady just spent the last ten hours or so showing me they had learnt to innovate and break the rules? Why this let down of an ending? Did they just run out of ideas or something? Or was it added on as rush at the end because the game was delayed and their own bosses were breathing down their necks?
Uncharted 2, another great game from this year suffered from an un-inspiring final scene, and this tradition sadly seems alive and well in many of today’s AAA titles. Surely someone can think of a new take on the climax? The boss fight as a means of staggering a players progress through a game is as old as Donkey Kong, and still we have yet to find a meaningful alternative.
Admittedly, a story needs closure, unless it forms part of a series, and even those have some finale to speak of. I just think we can find a better means of expressing achievement than a slog through a set number of rounds, using a specific type of attack, against a hugely over-powered opponent in order to feel like we have ‘got to the end’. Metal Gear Solid 4 almost had it right, with its heart wrenching crawl through the radiation tunnel, causing you to desperately will on a dying man to achieve that last act, which apart from the circumstances would have been a relatively normal undertaking for you character. The sense of achievement from making it to the end of that sequence far outweighed the fist fight with Liquid that followed, and I would have been quite happy for that to form the last act of the story.
Why then, couldn’t the last scene of Batman be an assault on the jokers final refuge? Using all the skills and tricks I had learned during the course of the experience to make my way through his now terrified and demoralised forces, the difficult bit being trying to work out how to circumvent the fiendish traps he had laid and gain access to his bolt-hole and capture him, as only Batman can.
Why couldn’t the ending of Uncharted 2 be summed up by Drake finally uncovering the secrets of the story, and having picked off the last of his protective army popped up behind the evil Lazarevic, who had hidden behind them for most of the game, punched him squarely in the jaw and knocked him clean out, followed by a cheeky quip and a snog with one of the girls. That would have fitted.
Bosses, bullies, dictators and the like are rarely actually the tough ones, that’s why they have private armies, and henchman behind which they hide. Your character, the hero should be the one laying waste to them, not the other way around. You’ve spent all of your game gaining all this awesome power and skill, why not give you the chance to use it at the end to show everyone who the boss really is?
So much in the current line up of games is new, and innovative, that we should be able to give rise to a new mechanic, a new way to say this is the end, hope you enjoyed it. Maybe the next Batman game, which I wait for with baited breath, will bring us that innovation too. And to hell with what their bosses think.