Film and drama

Screen Themes: Batman and Hulk Hogan vs the Pirates

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This week entertainment editor John Turnbull looks at three recently released sequels to popular video games and asks the important question: would you rather be a pirate, the Dark Knight, or Hulk Hogan?

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

The Assassin’s Creed series has hit some speed bumps on the road to Black Flag.

While the first few games in the series were moderate to massive hits, Assassin’s Creed 3 became a hallmark for glitchy, unfinished game design.

Fortunately, Black Flag seems to be a return to form, with the player taking on the role of aspiring pirate Edward Kenway as he sails the Caribbean seas, killing and plundering as he goes.

Based somewhat loosely on history, Kenway runs across infamous pirates including Blackbeard, Charles Vane and Calico Jack, while waging war with the British and Spanish fleets.

The action on the high seas is equal parts strategy and savagery, the ultimate aim being to disable your opponent’s vessel, swing aboard and kill people until the crew surrender.

It’s brutal at times, but surprisingly fun.

In terms of immersion, Black Flag is fairly thorough, although tends to ignore the seedier side of pirate life. Rum is traded for cash, but sodomy and the lash are nowhere to be seen, which is probably a good thing. Some players may find the whale and shark hunting tasks distasteful but, to be fair, it’s not a patch on the atrocities you can commit in Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row.

Ignoring the gameplay for a moment, Black Flag is a gorgeous looking game — even on a somewhat tired system like the PS3. The game rewards you for finding elevated vantage points and ‘synchronising’, which treats players to an eagle-eye fly around of the immediate area followed by a leap of faith into a handy haystack below.

Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag is a lot of fun to play, with an interesting story and compelling characters. You also get to kill a lot of people, if that’s your bag…

Verdict: 8/10 — yo ho ho, it’s a pirate life for me!

Batman: Arkham Origins

Created back in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman has been through many incarnations in print and on screen.

Comic book artists, such as Neil Adams and Frank Miller, have depicted the caped crusader across life stages from young and virile to old and broken. Adam West captured the fun side of the Dark Knight; Michael Keaton gave us a Batman who was vulnerable to surprise attack from anyone who wasn’t directly in front of him; while Christian Bale made Batman a growly stalker who started out cool then took eight years off because he lost his girlfriend and hurt his leg. The less said about George Clooney the better.

Following on from the award-winning Arkham Asylum and the Game of the Year sequel Arkham City, Arkham Origins was always going to be a tough ask.

How do you take a hero honed to perfection across two award winning games and keep things interesting?

Flashback, baby.

Arkham Origins takes up back to the early days of Batman, when he was still learning to be the ruthless crime fighting machine seen in Arkhams Asylum and City.

While still an effective hand-to-hand combatant, his fighting style is more brutal, while the sleek batsuit seen in the previous games is replaced by a chunky precursor that looks like it’s been welded together in a garage.

The entire game takes place over one night, a snowy Christmas Eve in Gotham City. A mysterious antagonist (who turns out to be pretty much who you would expect) hires a bunch of the deadliest assassins from around the world to eliminate the fledgling Batman. Comic book nerds everywhere will recognize names like Deathstroke, Copperhead, Deadshot, Lady Shiva and Killer Croc — a solid roster of bad guys to challenge the young Dark Knight.

In terms of game mechanics, developers Warner Brothers Interactive have followed the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ maxim, with controls almost identical to Arkham City. This is far from a bad thing, as the game has an intuitive feel that rewards players who pay attention to the details.

For me, the appeal of this game comes down to that one simple thing — you get to be Batman. In the pantheon of superheros, Batman stands head and shoulders above contemporaries like Superman and Wonder Woman for one reason — he is a man without superpowers amongst virtual gods.

Batman is awesome.

Verdict: 9/10 — come on, you know you want to be Batman.

WW2K14: 30 Years of Wrestlemania

Games based on the pseudo-sport of professional wrestling tend to be released annually, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for game development.

Because of this, WWE games tend to have a samey sort of feel, with the main attraction for fans being the updated roster of ‘Superstars’ for that year and, hopefully, a decent storyline mode.

WW2K14 ticks the boxes on the roster front, including fresh faces such as Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro and The Shield, established talents like Triple H, The Rock and The Undertaker, and wrestling legends like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior and Andre the Giant.

As the name would suggest, the other hook to this game is the 30 Years of Wrestlemania mode, which allows you to wrestle your way through classic matches you watched as a kid in a fort made from couch cushions.

Each match is accompanied by extensive video footage, which makes for a good nostalgia kick.

It’s also interesting to note the change in ‘Superstars’ physiques over the last thirty years — from the doughy yet tough look of Sergeant Slaughter or Ric Flair to the carved out of stone appearance of Goldberg and Brock Lesnar.

In terms of gameplay, WW2K14 is pretty much what you would expect from a wrestling game. Once you get the hang of the controls, it’s a lot of fun, particularly if you’re playing with friends. There are a huge variety of match variations including the popular Hell in a Cell and TLC, and you can spend hours creating your own wrestler from the ground up.

The best thing about wrestling games is that you can skip the ridiculous storylines that take up most of current television version.

Verdict: 7/10 — far more entertaining than actually watching wrestling on TV.

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