Gamescom 2014: Warner Bros Roundup

Dark heroes. Plastic versions of dark heroes. Iterate.

by Manny Brown Aug 29, 2014 at 10:15 AM

  • Gaming Article


    Gamescom 2014: Warner Bros Roundup

    Batman: Arkham Knight

    Sure enough, it only took a couple of minutes for Batman: Arkham Knight to feel joyously familiar. Leaping from the top of an Ace Chemicals plant and gliding to the platform below, I completely forget the reversed flight controls and smash headfirst into a fight with the very group of goons my Rocksteady guide had me stealthily avoiding. Ten smashed skulls later and... yep, this is still Batman alright.

    For somebody that skipped the previous game for fear of burning out on the series, Arkham Knight feels fantastic; combat maintains that fluid one-two-counter rhythm that characterised the original, while Batman gets to play with an augmented array of gadgets that expand his movement and puzzle-solving repertoire.

    Chief amongst these is the Batmobile, which features heavily during our fight to liberate the chemical plant. It’s part supercar, part tank and part environmental tool. It's capable of rocket-boosting over jumps, and then instantly transforming itself into a Battlezone-style strafing ordinance delivery platform whenever required. It can be interacted with on foot too, allowing Batman to take down enemies with remote-triggered combination attacks from its turrets, or to blast through walls in order to provide new and extremely convenient pathways for our troubled hero.

    It feels great in motion, and a far cry from the forced expansion I’d initially feared. Much of the rest of this small section of Arkham felt like it was lovingly designed with the sort of brutal stealth on which Rocksteady built its foundation, and as you might imagine for a studio that prides itself on visual fidelity, Arkham Knight’s dark, rain-swept streets serve up the sort of shiny spectacle that’ll really test your new console (or be eaten for breakfast by a mid-tier PC).

    Anticipation rating: take my money!

    Lord of the Rings: Shadow of Mordor

    A Far Cry from the dubiously Assassin’s Creed “inspired” original trailer, Mordor has come a heck of a long way towards being an interesting project in its own right. Sure, it’s wrapped in a familiar layer of parkour-style traversal and outpost infiltration, but it’s the darker, more adult version of Tolkien’s fantasy world that begs for attention.

    Monolith’s take on the land of Mordor is sharply presented, looking every inch the home of orcs and beasts. Moonlight casts shadows across cave floors, while the freely-roamable cliffs and patches of grass segue into muddy floors on which loose stone structures and fortifications have been hastily erected by the forces of evil. Sauron's creatures themselves are as familiar as you’d imagine, but with the added twist that each of the orc leaders is a fully-voiced character with lines that flits between sinister and comedic gold. They’re all British, it seems. Of course they are!

    The vocal work is a by-product of Monolith’s “Nemesis” system that produces a hierarchy for the orc leadership. Our demo worked through a few layers of this. We defeated a high-ranking orc leader in one fort infiltration and then lost our life to another, the game then presenting an animated, ranked bestiary to show promotions and new orc sub-leaders coming into the field of battle. They can be pitted against each other on the field, rivalries created and manipulated with both execution and mercy. It’s a system that's fascinating to watch come to life, and rich with possibility.

    None of that would matter if protagonist Talion wasn’t handy in a fight, of course. Guided by the good and evil pairing of the elf Celebrimbor and slimy bastard Golem, he's handily capable of rending his enemies in two with a series of brutal execution moves that punctuate the Batman/Assasin's-styleweapon-based combat. In more exotic fashion, Talion can also peer into darkness with wraith vision, teleport himself short distances across the map, and no doubt produce all sorts of other fancy tricks that unlock as the ethereal power slowly takes hold of his consciousness.

    The conflicting goals of Celebrimbor and Golem look set to take Talion through the majority of Mordor's storyline and upgrade system, but although the open-world action, slick combat and unique Nemesis system left a very good impression during my short period with the game, I’m still not sure whether Monolith can deliver on a storyline that matches its mechanics. We’ll find out soon enough.

    Anticipation rating: watching with interest

    LEGO Batman 3

    Yes, it’s LEGO. Yes it’s Batman. Yes, you might want to punch your screen when seeing the number ‘3’ next to those two words, but fear not; LEGO Batman 3 is set to deliver much more than its title promises.

    This particular branch of the comic-book plastic brick tie-in has been slowly expanding its roster, taking in more of Batman’s niche storylines and paying homage to TV history as it iterates. The upshot of that scraping of content is a Gamescom demo headlined by two sequences: a spaceship mini-game that’s essentially a cutesy version of Resogun, and a fully-voiced 1960’s Adam West Batman costume complete with old-school bat-cave and speech bubbles attached to every punch and kick.

    You can stop me there, because frankly that last reveal is enough for a sale, but the other bits of LEGO Bats 3 look equally promising. There’s the expanded roster of characters to consider (up to 150 at the time of writing), the Justice League storyline that enables Traveller’s Tales to break their earth-bound shackles in favour of weird and wonderful alien settings (the demo level we played was a fuzzy version of Avatar, essentially), and there’s also Plastic Man - home to the greatest and most ridiculous repertoire of LEGO videogame animation of all time. Also a cyborg that turns into a washing machine. Batman, everybody.

    It’s easy to be jaded by LEGO videogames at this stage of their life, but it wasn’t until picking up the LEGO Movie game on PS4 that I remembered these are actually damn fine individual titles in their own right (and Movie isn’t even a particularly good example). LEGO Batman 3 looks set to continue the Marvel tradition by providing a frankly huge roster of players and a galaxy full of levels to explore, and if that doesn't whet your appetite for the cutesy platformer, I know a bloke in a rubber suit that might want a word.

    Anticipation rating: watching with interest

    Mortal Kombat X

    If we had an IGN-style rosettes to pin onto the Mortal Kombat X demo room at Gamescom 2014, they’d read “MOST enthusiastic presenter!” and “LOUDEST audio system in Germany!”, such was the ferocity with which Ed Boon’s latest creation was demoed.

    It suits the game. I don’t know why I was surprised, but NetherRealm has yet again upped the ante with regards to its penchant for extreme gore, finding new ways to beat the incredibly brutal Mortal Kombat (9). Not content with the individual fatality animations that characterised that game, Mortal Kombat X now features faithfully rendered internal organs for all of its protagonists, allowing the team to rip faces off in real-time, split skulls to reveal gelatinous brain, or (in possibly my favourite fatality of all time), to expose a dangling, still-beating heart and then cleave it in two.

    If you were uncomfortable with those elements of the last game, this *is not* for you.

    As with the 2011 release (and the DC-themed Injustice), NetherRealm’s engine has undertaken a few tweaks but it’s still the serviceable, heavy-fisted fighter you may already know. Character movement is fluid and responsive, while each fighter now comes with three variations in combat style, allowing some additional depth to the one-on-one action. Environmental interaction is also expanded, with the snowy forest stage we used in our session home to a large number of tree branches that could be swung from and used to traverse the screen in surprising patterns.

    Of course, it'll all be for naught if they don't fix the travesty that was Mortal Kombat's online functionality. NetherRealm has promised big things on that front, including a metagame that'll see everybody contributing to community-led goals, but to be honest I think I'd be happy with just one-on-one matches and lobbies that actually work. Mortal Kombat X plays as slickly as you'd hope however, and the new character designs prove this is a team still bursting with creativity (and entrails).

    Anticipation rating: watching with interest

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