License to Thrill, Kill and Otherwise ill

Arkham Asylum, The Force Unleashed and Stranglehold

Later this month, the Dark Knight will descend into the murky corridors of the Arkham Asylum to battle Gotham’s most vicious and insane criminals. With the demo available to download, and plenty of preview coverage from Ready-Up, Batman’s latest game looks to be something of an anomaly – an excellent licensed title.

But there’s no secret to Rocksteady’s success – Asylum is an exercise in brand exploration, not movie merchandising, preferring to lift elements from Batman’s entire back catalogue rather than converting movie plot points into levels and cut scenes. Arkham succeeds where others fail by making a faithful Batman experience instead of sticking to a single strict narrative – a decision that pays off dividends in terms of quality.

Picking the right elements of a character or franchise is absolutely essential too – some franchise games ignorantly single out the wrong verbs: the brutal violence of The Godfather or the hilariously boneheaded decision to make a Fight Club game about fighting, let alone make a Fight Club game in the first place. Not to mention the mother of all atrocities: the almost sacrilegious revival of Tony Montana in Scarface: The World is Yours.

When movies are made into games, the formula is abundantly clear – new stories and ideas are more successful than boring movie retreads. The Force Unleashed and Knights of the Old Republic are leaps and bounds above whatever junk was pushed onto shelves the same day Revenge of the Sith hit screens. You only need to look at Metacritic to see how the movie tie-ins are doing; Terminator Salvation, Harry Potter, Night at the Museum, G.I.Joe – mediocre to bad to unbearable.

The Force Unleashed marks a relatively new trend in movie tie-ins: games that function as movie sequels. LucasArt’s fastest-selling Star Wars game, which patches the hole between Episodes 3 and 4, filled Wookiepedia authors around the world with joy when a single word was heard uttered by LucasArts … canon.

I thought putting Rogen as The Marshmallow Man would be a bit cruel

Ghostbusters the Videogame also counts, and fills a role that the recently confirmed Ghostbusters 3 just can’t live up to. Now ready yourself, this is quite a bombshell. I know we’ve got some huge Ghostbusters fans at the site, and I don’t want you crossing the streams in outrage when I say this. The original Ghostbusters actors are kinda old. You might not want to hear it, but there’s a very good chance that someone like Seth Rogen will dick-joke his way through Manhattan when GB3 is finally made. Ghostbusters: The Videogame is one of the only ways, outside of time machines and voodoo magic, that the old crew can get together without setting the film in a geriatric ward. The Bill Murray fan club can open their eyes now, I’m done.

Gamers love the idea of prancing about Gotham City in a black cape or slicing Storm Troopers as Luke Whats-his-face, but when the chance of each movie game actually being good is so slim, it’s sometimes not even worth checking the reviews. Luckily, Arkham Asylum, The Force Unleashed and Ghostbusters have taught us an easily memorable and totally catchy way of dealing with movie games.

If it comes out when the movie’s about, you’d do best to pass right by.
The opposite’s true of course, if there’s no film to endorse, so give it a good old try.







One response to “License to Thrill, Kill and Otherwise ill”

  1. bigjonno avatar

    BUT, (yes, it’s a big but) Force Unleashed is really, really boring.

    The point still stands, though. Licensed games are a helluva lot better when they can explore the setting instead of shoehorning a movie plot into a game. It’s what I loved about Star Wars Galaxies; exploring the universe on my own terms, as my own character.

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