Some hints to other places:
Some hints to other places:
I only just picked up Fallout 3 last month so I still need to finish that plus all of it's DLC before I even think about getting New Vegas. Hopefully by then it'll have made it on to the PC.
A trip down memory lane raises one important question: Why hasn't Valve finished off these episodes yet?
Half Life 2: Episode 2 was, as the name implies, is the second foray for Valve into episodic content for their widely acclaimed Half Life series. Episodic content was seen as the new way to produce games but clearly something that did not gel well with the way Valve developed games. The first episode was released in the middle of 2006 and it then took the developer a year and half to complete the second. Perhaps to quell any displeasure at this long wait, Valve bundled Episode 2 with the innovative Portal and long awaited Team Fortress 2. The original Half Life 2 and Episode 1 was also included in this "Orange Box", which means I now have two copies of these older games. If a year and half was a long time to wait for the second episode, consider that it is now going on two and a half years since the release of Episode 2 and there is still no sign of the final chapter. This is despite Valve releasing Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 in the intervening time (not that I'm complaining about those games!). Having just replayed Episode 2, it is especially troubling to consider the possibility that Episode 3 may never see the light of day.
Complaints about Valves failed Episodic release schedule aside, this game oozes the style and attention to detail that the developer is famed for. Perhaps the reason they could not finish these games in an episodic time frame is the sheer amount of game they insist on shoving in. During Episode 2 I fought off antlions, crawled through zombie infested buildings, smooshed combine soldiers in my sweet ride and defended a missile silo against rampaging robot/monsters (robonsters?). That amounts to a plethora of action packed into roughly 4 to 5 hours. There is enough new ideas peppered through the classic Half Life experience to keep things fresh and the constant scenery changes makes the whole experience feel vaster.
Graphically, Episode 2 is an nice improvement on the Half Life 2 games that precede it, which demonstrates the effort Valve put in to making the Source Engine so extensible. The game is not shy about showing off the advances they had made to the venerable engine, with gratuitous particle effects and high dynamic range shots. Still, with a modern eye you can see how long in the tooth Source is getting compared to more modern engines. It will be interesting to see if Valve continues to use and improve on Source in its future games or if they move on to a new codebase that would not be held back by legacy content. That is not to say that the newer Source games look bad, just that these games are often more defined by their artistic styles rather then their ability to pump out the shiniest of new graphical techniques.
But gameplay and graphics is not why I picked up Episode 2 for another spin. Finishing off achievements and getting another S-Rank is the name of the game!
Episode 2 was the first in the series to be integrated with Steam achievements. That doesn't mean that they are of the groan inducing kind that was often seen in other early achievement sporting games. Do I have to mention the tediousness that is Assassins Creed 1 and its mind numbing flag hunt? The 22 achievements include a healthy mix of story, skill and just-plain-amusing achievements. Stand outs include "Little Rocket Man" which involves carrying a gnome (of the garden variety) through almost the entire game only to then launch him into space. There is also "Payback", awarded for killing a Hunter with its own weaponry and "Hit and Run" which requires you to road kill 20 enemies in your car. One of the nice things about the achievements is that they all seem quite gettable. This is more than I can say for the achievements in the other Orange Box games. Gold medalling the challenges in Portal seems to require such technical skill and timing and the sheer amount of Team Fortress achievements means that I cannot see myself even attempting to S-Rank either.
I had actually already performed an achievement run for Episode 2 some time ago to complete some of the more difficult challenges. I can still remember replaying the Antlion section many many many times trying to find every one of those grubs. Here's a tip if you ever try it: Make sure to remember there is a least one grub hidden after you take the elevator out of that level. Another achievement which took several tries was the "Neighborhood Watch" achievement. This is located at the very end of the game and tasks you to save every building during a "protect the base" style mission. I must have got pretty adept at that section at the time because when I replayed it this time I barely managed to complete the mission let alone save all the buildings.
Before replaying Episode 2 this time, I only had one achievement to nab to S-Rank it. "Hot Potat0wned" rewards you for killing a Combine soldier with their own grenade. Not a particularly difficult task when you find yourself in the right situation, but throwing grenades is not how I usually deal with Combine so it had sat on the figurative shelf for quite some time. It must be noted that it takes about half the game for Combine soldiers show up. This was not bad in my case because I was planning on replaying through the entire game anyways.
Unfortunately this meant that I had to endure that dang ending that promises so much for the final chapter. So I'll just say it again. Why hasn't Valve finished off these episodes yet?!
You really have to plan your combos around those guys. I go a bit jump happy with my combos (it's a good way to have a breather while you're planning your next strike) so I'm usually flipping over most enemies anyway. Try and target either the electric shock guys or the knife guys with your special throw or instant take down or just jump backwards and chuck out a batarang at them (if you have enough combo points this will knock them down). Be careful with using the grappling hook against the electric shock guys because if you don't jump over them when they stumble towards you, you'll get shocked.
For some of the challenges, be aware of where the guns and other special weapons are and try to knock down those guys before they can use them because that will mess up your combos. Fortunately an alarm goes off when they try to open up the gun case so you can usually toss a batarang at them even at long range to get them to quit it.
A good way to get huge points in the challenges with the titans is to keep the normal henchmen alive as long as possible. This will help you keep your combo long enough to be still active when you jump on a titans back and then you just rack up the multipliers like they're on sale!
After that, it's just practice. If you do a challenge for long enough, you can tell pretty early on how it's going to pan out. I have done the extreme shock and awe challenge so many times now that I can still see it in my sleep.
S-Ranking a relatively new game? Say it ain't so!
Yes, Batman: Arkham Asylum finally hit a price point where I'd consider buying it for the XBox360. I refuse to pay more than 100 dollars for a game considering it they are usually about 60 US new and the exchange rate currently puts that at about 66 Australian. If companies are spending 32 dollars or more per copy to ship it here then they need to stop sending them in diamond encrusted yachts. Anyways, this stance on the price point of games means that I will usually hold off new purchases until a sale occurs. So it was a pleasant surprise to go into one of my local games/music/dvd superstores a discover that Batman, which has been described on this very site as the Multi-Platform Game of 2009, at an affordable price. Also, when taking it to the counter I was assured by the sales assistant that it was in fact a fantastic game. Well if you say it is Mister Salesman then it must be true.
He was right though. Batman: Arkham Asylum is a fun, polished, thoroughly addictive action adventure game that handles the Batman mythos with the utmost of respect. The addictiveness of this title can be demonstrated by the fact that on the nights that I played it, I was still punching henchmen and zipping through levels several hours after I should have gone to bed.
The dialogue is great and the voice actors are fantastic. The cast has a solid core of voice actors from Batman: The Animated Series which was one of my staple afternoon cartoons in the 90s. For me, this nostalgia only adds to appeal. Mark Hamill steals the show as the Joker. It is a completely different take on the character than the one in the Dark Knight, but is just as fun to watch. The story at parts is a little gamey, in that some events seem to happen just so you can fight a particular villain. Having said that, this would still make an excellent Batman comic or cartoon on its own. Although there is not much in the way of surprising plot twists, the little bit of forth wall breaking (if that is what you would call it) leading up to the final Scarecrow battle did get me and was pulled off very smartly.
The majority of the gameplay in Arkham Asylum is first class. The different gimmicks are introduced at a steady pace so you always have something new to do. The streamlined controls and Batmans gadgets make the platforming sections fun and varied. It was also really clever to have all out brawling and sneaky stealth scenarios and still make them feel like they belong to the same game.
The brawling mechanics are some of the best I've ever played. The game rewards you for not being too button mashy and actually thinking about the moves you want to do. This is especially true in hard mode as well as the challenges where your score is primarily determined by your ability to chain your attacks for as long as possible, with as much variety as possible. I wish I had done these challenges earlier in my playthrough because they do teach you a lot about how the combat system works. The stealth sections are also a blast to play but the gargoyles (which allow you to escape when things go pear shaped) seemed a little tacked on. I actually tried to avoid these during my hard run playthrough because it is a lot more fun to avoid the armed henchmen using the other stealth and hiding mechanics. Even the collector puzzles, supplied by The Riddler are just hard enough to be fun without being frustrating. They also reward you for going back to previous sections of the game after you have powered up your many gadgets. The boss fights are varied and interesting and they allow you to fight a cavalcade of Batman super-criminals like Scarecrow, Killer Croc and Poison Ivy. If there is one criticism I would give about the gameplay is that the Bane/Titan Henchman mechanic occurred a little too often for my taste.
On to the achievements!
I got most of the achievements done during the initial playthrough, with them either being just rewarded for completing a section of the game, finding a certain amount of Riddler puzzles or performing a relatively easy action like gliding for 100 meters or catching a Batarang you have thrown. The combat based achievement include such tasks as Freeflow Perfection, requiring you to pull off a combo that includes every combat move and Freeflow Combo 40, asking for a combo of 40 moves. Most of these I got when trying to get gold medals on all the challenges (which are also achievements themselves).
When I started the challenges I was doing about 3 or 4 unique moves a combo and these combos were at most 10 hits long. This did not net me very many points however and I learnt that to gold medal the harder challenges I really had to get these achievements first. The way that the points exponentially rise as you master the combat system is very rewarding and by the time I finished the last two brawler challenges I was routinely using all the moves in a 30-40 move combo chain. This also meant I had moved from getting 1000 points a round to 16000 points on an especially clean combo. Even after mastering the combat the harder brawler challenges are still quite vexing, especially the one that adds a timer to the mix. It took me probably 4 or 5 sessions to finish the hardest combat challenges and snag those achievements. This wasn't too frustrating though because most mistakes I made I could see where I went wrong and it was all part of the learning process. On the other end of the scale, the stealth challenges seemed quite easy and I was able to knock those over after a couple of tries each. Only one sticks out at me as being troubling, but that was more getting the guards to bunch up enough to pull three of them off a ledge in one go.
After finishing all the challenges I had managed to 100% complete the game (which, again, is an achievement) but I still had one achievement left! My first playthrough was on the regular difficulty and so I still needed to finish it on Hard to S-Rank this baby. Firing up a new save I was warned by the game that on Hard henchmen don't flash the counter timing and they will spot you more easily. It also advised me this difficulty should only be attempted by the experienced. This is probably good advice. Although I actually had little trouble finishing it on Hard, that was only because I had spent so much time practising on the challenges and so I knew when to counter, stun, dodge and how to stealth properly. If I had attempted to S-Rank this in one playthrough I probably would have failed miserably. As it is, it only took about 2 or 3 sessions to finish the game on Hard and get that sweet, sweet S-Rank.
Getting an S-Rank in Arkham Asylum was especially rewarding because of how skill based the combat feels and the amount of time I spent mastering it to gold medal the combat challenges.
All in all I couldn't recommend this game more highly. They really should have named this game Batman: Crazy Awesome Fun Times. Maybe that can be the sequel.
Use your keyboard!
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