Player Too: Episode 4 – Game of Thrones, Speed Runners, & Sherlock Holmes

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays everyone! This is my last post of the year and completes my goal of doing one post every week for the year’s duration since I started in April. I didn’t set a time limit then but in my head I said “6 months or to the end of the year, then we’ll see”. I do think I’ll keep it up, but maybe less frequently. If you’d like to see the blog continue weekly, please do let me know. A lot of time goes into it every week and it’s nice to hear back if people are finding it worthwhile. Alors (it’s French)..

Finally, I return to Player Too! Sorry to anyone following this particular series that it’s been so long since the last one. Claire and I took our holidays in the intervening time and were each busy enough before and after that we didn’t get many opportunities to game together. That said, I’ve a lot of games backed up now to talk about today. So without further ado..

Game of Thrones (A Telltale Games Series)

Disaster! I mentioned at the end of the last episode that I’d just bought (in a Humble Bundle, admittedly; so not too expensive) almost all of the Telltale Games, including Game of Thrones. I, and just about everyone else who made us recommendations (thank you, guys. Keep them coming), figured Claire might really enjoy these since she was liking puzzles, narrative, the Game of Thrones books/show, and was still a bit of a novice when it came to skill based games.

The first Telltale game we tried was GoT, and it was not a success. We started up the game and the story began. We understood that your character is an original character from a new family, but who will tie in with characters and events from the main GoT story eventually. That’s grand. A few minutes and a couple of minor choices in, a big battle starts in your camp and along come the quick time events (QTEs). At the risk of sounding redundant, this is where the game limits your control input to just a few buttons. It plays an action like somebody about to hit you, then prompts you to quickly hit a given button or direction to avoid the danger and progress.

The first action is to press up to raise your shield as you run at somebody firing arrows at you. If you fail once then you die and actually have to re-watch about 20-30 seconds of cutscene just to try that again. It’s unskippable. Most people would see this as a minor game design failure. Anyway, what I didn’t count on was that Claire’s laptop wasn’t quite up to the recommended specs and the frame rate was very low. This made the QTE responses (especially where you have to move the cursor into a small moving circle to hit a target) feel very sluggish and much harder to perform. Claire had also never seen QTEs before (and doesn’t readily know where X, Y, A, and B are versus each other) so when as I wasn’t present to explain the first one, she kept at it, rewatching the same cutscene and death about 20 times before asking for help. This built her frustration. I tried passing the section (very hard with the low frame rate) and moving to the next QTE later in the battle.

 Quick Time Events demand that you press a certain button within a very short space of time to progress.
Quick Time Events demand that you press a certain button within a very short space of time to progress.

Claire asked and I acknowledged that a lot of the gameplay and obstacles to progression in any Telltale game would be based on QTEs and she said in no uncertain terms that she didn’t want to play any of them. 

Player Too Result:

We can’t say anything to recommend or not recommend the game. It has very positive reviews, and I’ve always found the Telltale Games to be very engaging (if depressing), and their QTEs to be quite intuitive. If danger approaches from the right, you’ll press left. If you have to hit something, it’ll usually always be the same button. 

The problem was that Claire is unpractised in QTEs and the laptop’s frame rate was adding an unwelcome handicap. The game forcing you to rewatch the same cutscene every time you fail was a major frustration though. It took over a full minute to retry the same two seconds of QTE each time, and the first one wasn’t terribly clear on whether you had to press up on the left stick, right stick, mouse, or W key. So it actually took trial and error, too.

I think it’s a shame to fail such a recommended series at the first hurdle. However, Claire feels strongly that it’s not the kind of game she wants to play, and that’s a result too. It brings us one step closer to finding the type of games that really are for her. Speaking of which..


This was on a Steam Free Weekend a few months back (if I remember correctly. There is a free demo too but I think we played the full version) and we played it then. It’s a 2D side-on racing game. You pick a character and the game starts you running. You always run so your main input is to decide when to crouch, jump, or use power ups as appropriate to gain the upper hand. There is also a grapple that you use to swing from certain environmental objects to reach a shortcut or just to gain momentum. You can also use this to grapple on to the person in front of you and pull them back to overtake them. You can play either in multiplayer or with bots.

It works a bit like the old Micromachines games in that the camera tracks all players at once. If one falls to the back of the screen they are eliminated and the round continues until only one player is left. This means that the player at the back can see the furthest ahead of them and can more easily avoid obstacles than the player at the front can. It’s a very simple mechanism that simultaneously balances the game and creates tension.

As you can tell from the trailer above and from my description, the game is fairly skill based, but this didn’t stop Claire from competing. This was the first game where we both played on the same screen simultaneously and we had a lot of fun. Claire usually lost and after a few rounds I went to play online multiplayer while she continued against bots. In the multiplayer arena it was my turn to get my ass handed to me repeatedly. Skill levels are all relative.

I enjoyed this game for what it was; a fun party game and a short, simple distraction. Claire felt the same. She liked it in the same way that she liked Race The Sun. It’s a simple, action-packed game with very few inputs. It’s challenging but fair and with quick restarts when you die. This last point is very important, and is in stark (pun intended) contrast to what I said above about Game of Thrones. The learning curve is also fairly soft but you definitely get better every single time you play.

However, after an hour or two, each of us was kind of done with the game. We weren’t tempted to buy it to play more. I guess this speaks to the value of games nowadays. They’re (sadly) a dime a dozen and as gamers/ rabid consumers, we tend to just have a taste and move on. There are so many great games to play that games often have to be more than just “very good and a lot of fun” to get sales. That said, anyone who’s more into racing games, skill-based platformers, and/or party games than me (and those three are not what I tend to go for normally) might find that this is exactly the game for them and get hours out of it.

There is a free demo of the game and I’d encourage anyone to try it. It’s quite fun and if you want more do consider buying it. I realise I sound hypocritical encouragin you to buy when I didn’t but it didn’t have staying power for me and as an indie developer myself I’m in the unfortunate position of very much wanting to play and support all manner of indie games, but having neither the time nor money to do so. Sometimes the best I can do is spread the word. Go here and find the ‘download demo’ button to try SpeedRunners.

Player Too Result:

The fact that Claire liked the game reinforces what we found with Race The Sun. Simple but engaging gameplay, a small number of input controls, short but challenging rounds and quick restarts (not to mention speed, apparently) make for a solid an enjoyable gameplay experience. 

However, the fact that we both liked both games yet didn’t purchase or return to them suggests that round-based games without a story or greater progression are not exactly what we go for. I already know I prefer story-based games or tactical ones with a greater overall progression (like X-COM or FTL. I’m currently playing The Witcher 3 and Satellite Reign). But this series is about finding the type of game that makes Claire lose hours to fascination, to look for new releases along the same lines of this undiscovered game, and to voluntarily declare herself a gamer.

The most Googled game of 2015, believe it or not! This game is fantastic, and Claire agrees. It’s an extremely simple online multiplayer game played in your browser (or now on mobile), and it’s completely free! You can go to the address and just play. Signing in will track your progress and allow upgrades (like your own avatar or entering your name) but it’s not necessary.

You play as a small circle, very reminiscent of a cell. The camera keeps you centre-screen as you move around a flat and empty (but large) square-shaped arena. There is graph paper in the background for scale. You move your mouse to guide your circle towards smaller circles and as you meet them you consume them and grow larger. There are some small static cells to eat, but most are other players, and it will seem at first that they’re all bigger than you. 

It’s ingeniously simple. You flee bigger (but slower) cells and chase smaller (but faster) ones to climb the ranks. It feels like evolution at its most basic. The ultimate game! You catching a smaller, faster player often means that you succeeded in trapping them against the outer wall or simply between other players. There are only two additional controls. You can split yourself so that you become two or more (faster) cells of smaller size, all of which now follow your mouse in a cluster. This can help you catch smaller targets or (half) escape larger ones. You can also dump mass which makes you smaller and faster but allows your pursuers to eat up what you leave behind.

That’s almost all there is to it. There aren’t even sounds or music. This is a great example of raw gameplay done right, and its appeal is universal. There are millions of players around the world, and the servers are never empty. 

Player Too Result:

 Some of the names or avatars you see really add to the game's unpredictable character. Some are offensive, But being chased by a giant Angela Merkel is pretty hilarious.
Some of the names or avatars you see really add to the game’s unpredictable character. Some are offensive, But being chased by a giant Angela Merkel is pretty hilarious.

Both Claire and I loved this game, and you will too! We both played at least an hour longer than intended on the first day, and went back to it several times. Even today as I looked it up while writing the article I spent about twenty minutes on it when I didn’t mean to. It’s a very “one more round” kind of game. Claire swore off it so as she could get other stuff done. Games that don’t end can be kind of addictive and dangerous for productivity, but the fact that she forced herself to stop rather than start playing is a testament to how good this game really is, and real progress for the Player Too project. 😛

The fact that Claire really liked a game as stripped-back (dare I say “casual”?) as this proves at the simplest level that she engages with games. I posit that anyone who plays even one round of this game and doesn’t enjoy it simply doesn’t like computer games. I bet I could even get my dad to play, and that’s saying something!

This was also her first time playing a competitive online multiplayer free for all death match! I wonder if, as her skills improve, she’d take to online racing or shooters. What is Call of Duty multiplayer if not Agar in 3D with guns? Thank God there’s no voice chat in Agar. That said, I did see people renaming themselves as Star Wars spoilers and getting the high scores. The world is full of ass-holes, and it’s generally what turns me away from multiplayer games.

So, from gameplay at its most basic, to today’s last entry; a full modern mystery game.

Sherlock Holmes: Crimes & Punishments

Given our relative successes with the mystery games Gone Home and Her Story, as well of the fondness Claire and I already share for Sherlock Holmes in general (we’ve each read all of the books), a Sherlock Holmes game was pretty much a no-brainer. Of the plenty to choose from, Crimes & Punishments by developer Frogwares was the best rated and most recent.

The game presents six unrelated cases that you can play in 90 – 180 mins each, depending on how stuck you get or how sure you want to be about the result. The first case is lifted directly from the books with only a minor change, so it wasn’t all that challenging for us. The rest seem inspired by the stories but not directly lifted from them. The first case is naturally a bit simpler as the game introduces you to the mechanics, of which there are actually quite a few. Mini-games and set pieces abound, and the game doesn’t often let you wonder what to do next. If it wants you to press X, it’ll damn well tell you.

I’d often complain about that but not here. There are a lot of mechanisms to remember and without prompts you’d be more likely in this game than most to get stuck and give up. Indeed, there is still plenty to slow you up. Gathering clues amounts mostly to wandering a scene looking for pop up boxes to press A on until the game tells you that you more or less have them all, and reveals more story. In a sense, this eliminates any meaningful ‘examining’ of the crime scene, but as players aren’t generally trained detectives, maybe this is for the best.

What does that leave you with?

Fortunately, quite a bit. Each case features a number of locations that you reveal as the story of that case goes on. You can travel between the discovered ones at almost any time. This could have been done without but they left it in, allowing you more agency over what to do next. When you’re a bit into each case, you’ll have a few leads suggested to you and generally you can pursue them in whichever order you like. The negative side of this is that you can often miss just one clue hidden somewhere in one of four locations and waste half an hour or more scouring every inch of multiple levels to find the one clue that will trigger the game to progress, when you may have already figured out what the clue was/meant, but you need the game to trigger that the Holmes on screen knows it. That’s unfortunately a disconnect that can come with story-based mystery games, and the best that developers can do is to minimise it. If you’re a fan of mystery games, it’s likely that you’ve come across this before and it doesn’t bother you much.

The real value this game offers is that each case can be solved incorrectly. You actually can have two or three results, and within those you can choose the ‘punishment’ that the game’s oddly pluralised title refers to. Generally this means you can absolve the criminal or let the police handle it. It’s a moral choice. There may also be a quick time event where the accused attempts suicide or to murder another party. You can fail or succeed at stopping them and still proceed. At the end of a case you can choose to see if you found all clues, if your conclusions were correct, and what other players chose to do. If not for this feature I think the game would really have been very dull as you’d just be walking around pressing buttons and revealing the story, but here you really have to think! That’s the real promise of a detective game, and this one delivered.

It’s achieved through the ‘Deduction Space’ mechanic, shown above. As you reveal clues in the game, they populate your brain. You combine some of these as makes sense to reveal little nodes in the deduction space. Many of these nodes allow you to make two choices about what the clues mean. See ‘Missed Chesterfield’ above. It’s half blue and half grey, showing that you can make an alternate conclusion there. When enough conclusions join up, those white lines connect and reveal the golden node, which triggers an ending if you select it. The thing is it’s very possible to get the wrong conclusion, or partly wrong conclusion, which is where the gameplay happens. You have to intuit things and decide who you believe to come up with the answers. This can be very fun when done with another person. Claire and I played the first two cases together and actually got the second one partly wrong. She then played the final four by herself over the following weeks.

Player Too Result:

Very positive! This was at least a twelve hour game, and while Claire initially refused to play as she was frustrated by the dual stick move/camera controls coupled with over 8 other inputs (so I played the first two cases), she did pick up the controls herself and solved four additional cases with little or no input from me, beating the game! 

I mentioned already that Quick Time Events aren’t her friend at the moment, and she failed to stop one or two suicides, unfortunately, but the fact that the game allows that as a consequence only speaks in its favour.

We both found this quite an engaging detective game, though were at times frustrated looking for one trigger clue when we already knew the answer. The developers could have done more to minimise excessive backtracking, as it came into almost every case we played and really slowed the pace. That, and long loading times on Claire’s laptop broke the immersion for her, but it’s telling that she stuck with it. The game engaged her and she looked forward to beating each case. She went back to it night after night in the last couple of weeks. Those are some telling habits.

At the end, she said she really enjoyed it and would be quite interested in playing other similar titles. Frogwares have previously made a number of Sherlock Holmes games, but as this is reputably the best, it’s unlikely that we’ll look backwards. They are releasing Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter in Spring 2016 and it’s quite possible we’ll take a look. The only reason not to would be if it doesn’t feature original stories but instead borrows from something like A Study in Scarlet, in which case we’d know the ending already. I doubt this is the case, but there isn’t much information available yet.

Next Time on Player Too

I think that the ‘project’ (for lack of a better term) is coming along quite well. It was nice over the Christmas days to be playing something myself with Claire sitting next to me on her laptop frowning at clues or gasping at revelations. This is also the first time she’s beaten a long game and wanted to play more.

The Stanley Parable isn’t long but it’s still on the list, as is Life Is Strange (which has a new free demo out, fyi). Given that the Telltale Games games were a bit of a fail, has anyone got other suggestions for games based on what you’ve read today? Skill-based games are still a no-no, but Claire’s definitely improving in that area and we’re getting closer to Portal, I feel, but aren’t really there yet. Valiant Hearts has also been recommended.

Sorry for the long post today, but we had a bit of catching up to do. See you all in 2016! And do please drop a comment if you’ve been following and would like to see the blog continue weekly.

Until next time..

Arkham Knight: The good, the Bat and the ugly

 Click for launch trailer.
Click for launch trailer.

Firstly, I won’t be apologising for that pun, so moving on..

I intended for my blog this week to be a simple review of the game, as I haven’t done a review on this blog yet and I’d had a lot of negative topics recently so that I wanted to start balancing them out. However, there’s far too much to talk about here that doing a simple review would be missing the opportunity to take this game as a case study on a whole load of issues.

I do want to separate the discussion though because basically there’s Arkham Knight as a game, a piece of art, and secondly as a product and its associated business decisions, and I definitely think that they deserve to be separated.

The Review Stuff

I wasn’t going to buy the game because of its pricing (more on that later) but found it at a hefty discount and so picked it up. I played it on PC with an nVidia GTX 970 graphics card, 16GB of RAM, an AMD 6300 3.5GHz processor and normal HDD hard drive. A good PC, but not top of the line either. I also did have the latest nVidia driver released the night before the game and tailored specifically to fixing a lot of issues with Arkham Knight. The game ran fine for me and didn’t affect my enjoyment, so I won’t discuss that aspect in the review part.

This may be controversial, but I liked the Batmobile! Let’s start with that. Many reviewers say that it’s a huge flaw, crowbarred-in as an extra selling point, that the drone combat and puzzles that get you to use it seem forced and aren’t that much fun, and that you’re faster navigating the city without it. I disagree, mostly..
Let’s be clear; the Batmobile wasn’t an afterthought and wasn’t done cheaply. It’s fully developed, has its own upgrade  tree, feels good to drive (maybe TOO good for something that weighty) and results in a lot of fun high-explosive gameplay that is the kind of thing we play games for in the first place, and Rocksteady fully committed to making it a part of the game. I can’t fault them for doing that. They could have gone half-assed but didn’t. The Batmobile plays as much a part in the game as the Predator levels or big-room fist fights do, which basically adds a fully-developed pillar to the game.
The question is; “did the game need it”?
Most are saying no, but I say yes. We’ve had Asylum, City, and Origins which have largely been the same game with new story each time (even if City opened the game into a more open-world style) and this formula was definitely getting tired by Origins. I’m glad they risked going for something new, and I’m glad it was the Batmobile. I’ve wanted to drive it ever since the first time you see it in Asylum. If they didn’t try it we’d all be slating them for going ‘Assassin’s Creed’ on the series, now wouldn’t we? For not taking risks!

 Avoid the lines to win drone fights. This turned me off the first time I saw a video, but when it comes to playing it you'll be glad that the batcomputer predicts firing lines. You'll still take a lot of hits and would be totally screwed without this and the Batmobile's other abilities.
Avoid the lines to win drone fights. This turned me off the first time I saw a video, but when it comes to playing it you’ll be glad that the batcomputer predicts firing lines. You’ll still take a lot of hits and would be totally screwed without this and the Batmobile’s other abilities.

The drone fights can get repetitive, yes, but so can the Predator or combat sections, especially if you’re trying for 100% completion. Most of the drone combat I did was in optional side-missions, but the main story paces all the gameplay pillars pretty well and making things go boom-crash is fun now and again!

Also, city traversal isn’t slower in the Batmobile unless you’ve to reach a bridge to cross a river, so there!  It just depends where you’re going.
The Riddler challenges are tedious, and often involve the Batmobile, but they were tedious in all 4 games if you ask me so I can’t fault the car for that. I will fault the game for including over 250 trophies to collect though. And collection them is required to put the Riddler in jail and get the ‘full’ ending. 250 is too many when not a single one of them is fun to do! They’re the biggest chore and the biggest flaw in all 4 games, but they’re optional.

My one Batmobile-gripe is that despite all efforts by the team to show the Batmobile as a non-lethal weapon (because Batman don’t kill) there were tonnes of situations where I said “there’s no way that guy survived that” and I just had to get over it and enjoy the game.

So that’s the car, the big new selling point, and I liked it.

Story-wise, I think the game’s fantastic, and through all the Arkham Games (except maybe Origins) it’s been the primary thing driving me on. This is a dramatic and well-written conclusion to Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy (i say ‘trilogy’ because Origins wasn’t a Rocksteady game, though Knight does give it the nod several times throughout, making it is canon). I won’t give spoilers but there’s plenty of drama going on, and it’s not all driven by discovering who the Arkham Knight must be. There’s lots of nods to and borrowings from the comics alongside new content. There are several set-pieces that I enjoyed. Rather than take me out of the game they enhanced the drama and I ate them up! The story also results in a number of sections where the entire game gets one major shift in how you have to approach it for a while, before returning to normal so you can continue your normal sandbox experience. More so than any of the other Arkham titles (possible exception of the first, Asylum) this game understands pacing and variety, and again, people may not realise that the Batmobile helps out in spades with this.

 I couldn't stop playing until I learned the Arkham Knight's true identity! I had my short list, but was never sure.
I couldn’t stop playing until I learned the Arkham Knight’s true identity! I had my short list, but was never sure.

The drama leads me to talk about boss fights. They’re still present, and varied, and I played several where I thought they must be the last fight of the game, because the stakes were getting so high. When the game didn’t end it drove me straight onto the next one. I couldn’t stop! This is huge praise for a story-driven game.

I loved how the Joker’s legacy/ghost affects Batman and the world in this game, too. Spoiler here until end of paragraph: And no, he’s not the Arkham Knight. That would be stupid. So Rocksteady didn’t do it. Because Rocksteady are smarter than Splash Damage.

I do have to say that the other games had more memorable boss fights, though. Too many of these were glorified drone or Predator sections, but all the same, none were bad. Just none were as good as the Copperhead or Deathstroke fights from Origins or the famous Mr.Freeze fight from City. There are also slightly less of the supervillains in this game because the Arkham Knight and militia take up a large chunk of the missions, but this isn’t to the game’s detriment I felt.

Graphically (assuming here that you’re on console or it’s worked on your PC) this game is gorgeous with so many wind, rain, paper, rubbish, and environmental destruction effects going on. I can understand plainly why performance has suffered slightly in places for how beautiful the game is, and the trade off is well-worth it. I never suffered enough of a slowdown to affect my experience and the visuals stunned me repeatedly. Add to this the musical score, the idle conversations between and about all the various gangs and militia members, and the top class voice acting from Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Jonathan Banks and John Noble, you have a game dripping with atmosphere. The complete removal of loading screens is a major help here too, and Origin’s fast-travel system has been removed, forcing you to traverse enemy-occupied streets to get where you’re going. The only downside to that is there’s no Batcave any more, but I didn’t even realise that until half way through the game as GCPD and a couple of other locations stand in for the Batcave’s functionality. The police station fills up with all the people you’ve captured or rescued too, which is a great touch!

 Gotham city is gigantic, beautiful, alive, and full of enemy aerial drones (which are fun to land on and explode) and watchtowers set up on skyscrapers.
Gotham city is gigantic, beautiful, alive, and full of enemy aerial drones (which are fun to land on and explode) and watchtowers set up on skyscrapers.

Lastly the combat. In each game Rocksteady expanded on their excellent combat system and improved it without losing the balance. With Origins, Splash Damage were so afraid to change Rocksteady’s formula, to their discredit, and the only memorable change they attempted was shock gloves, which were overpowered and unbalanced the combat.

Knight removes the shock gloves (you can find them in GCPD’s evidence room with a tongue-in-cheek explanation as to why Batman didn’t keep them) and adds a number of new enemy types, enemy actions, and a few new player skills to counter them. Also, the upgrade tree is vast, and even after finishing the game I don’t have all combat abilities and gadgets, so more so than the other games this is one where you really choose and develop your own fighting style.

The Predator sections have been touched up as well with enemies now able to learn your tactics (better than before), flush you out of vents with incendiary grenades, pair off into teams to thwart your ambushes, place mines and gun turrets, and control UAV drones which can also attack you. Don’t worry though, you have the tools the handle the new behaviours if you use your brain and “be the Batman”. This has really made the section of the game that most bored me previously into a fresh experience.

All round, I think this game is a great sequel (a rare thing), a great end to Rocksteady’s trilogy, a well-paced and very-well balanced game, and a great example of what AAA publishers can do when they set their minds to it.

 The other games may have had some snow, but the rain effects on top of everything else make it readily apparent that you're playing a next-gen game. PC owners may not appreciate that statement as they don't like sharing space with console owners but they still have to understand that there's a common performance bar that has to be aimed for when making million dollar games.
The other games may have had some snow, but the rain effects on top of everything else make it readily apparent that you’re playing a next-gen game. PC owners may not appreciate that statement as they don’t like sharing space with console owners but they still have to understand that there’s a common performance bar that has to be aimed for when making million dollar games.

I don’t really have a personal scoring system in place but Metacritic, if I average-out the PS4 and XB1 scores, comes to 85% and I think that’s fair.

I just think that a lot of people, myself included, were far too ready to hate this game for other reasons. I’ll now explore those reasons without having tarnished the game itself as a piece of art that hundreds of honest developers poured their hearts and souls into.

All the other stuff

Warner Brothers published this game, and have made a lot of enemies with their policies in the last few years. Arkham Origins (the most recent Batman release in 2013) came out the gate with a host of bugs and issues, and Warner Bros. basically said they wouldn’t be fixing them because they were working on DLC for the game. Which is ludicrous! They expect people to pay more when what they’ve already paid for isn’t working!

Then, short on good will, they are charging €40 for the Season Pass (six months of DLC content) for Arkham Knight. This is 2/3 of the price of the main game, and brings it up to €100 all-in. Granted there were discounts for getting them together at €80, but still it’s a very high price for the Batgirl mini-story and a few racetracks and skins. Further, I don’t want to be drip fed my €40 back in six monthly instalments. I’d like to play the whole game this week please, and move on. I wasn’t going to buy the game myself in protest, but I did find it (with Season Pass) for €30 on and relented.

The practice of working on DLC and charging more for the content before the game is even out and/or working properly is hugely unpopular with consumers, and, paradoxically, hugely widespread with developers. It takes developer time out of making a working product, so that they can ask for more money for 1.2 or 1.5 inferior products, instead of one good one. They carve up one game’s content into the game, plus pre-order bonus content, plus later DLC content. Consumers lose nearly every time and they had no recourse.
Even with the ‘Premium Edition pre-order’ that I picked up, I somehow didn’t get the Harley Quinn pre-order story DLC bonus thing, which apparently wasn’t included in the more expensive version, only in the normal version. Just wtf?! Paying more up front in this case gets you less of a game on release than if you paid less!

 No I don't want to pay extra for this, thanks.
No I don’t want to pay extra for this, thanks.

In walks Steam’s brand new refund policy, the hero we deserved. This deserves its own blog post as there are many angles on it. I’m not praising Steam for finally giving users a basic consumer right, but I’m glad they have.

The ability for a buyer to return a product for any reason (within limits, as laid out here) means that if a game is released in a sorry state, the buyer can simply return it. This at last pushes developers to stop releasing games in a sorry state, and here Arkham Knight is hugely important.

After less than two days, the PC version of Arkham Knight was voluntarily removed from sale on Steam by Warner Brothers. Why? Because the game wasn’t fit to be released on PC in the first place. Not yet. As I said, I had no problems, but users with AMD graphics cards or just more average PCs found the game literally unplayable in many cases, or severely disappointing performance-wise. PC gamers tend to have an elitist, snobbish reputation, and having a game run less well than on a console rubbed a lot of them up the wrong way. The Steam user reviews for the game are “Mostly Negative” (I challenge you to find a positive one) and refunds were being demanded in droves.

 Testament to the botching of its release this header box on the game's Steam page says both that the game was released on June 23rd, and that it will be available in Fall 2015. 11,000 users are not happy.
Testament to the botching of its release this header box on the game’s Steam page says both that the game was released on June 23rd, and that it will be available in Fall 2015. 11,000 users are not happy.

With my finely-functioning game I’m actually in the minority on this one, and I still experienced a few bugs and body textures that never rendered properly when I got in-close. You always find some bugs in big games. There’s a certain leeway granted, which I granted, but the game has to actually work! Hours before it went on sale, Warner Brothers ramped up the recommended minimum settings for the game, which is a huge deal if you bought it expecting that you could run it, and then were told that you couldn’t. It’s unacceptable, frankly, and until Steam refunds came along, I’m sure Warner Bros. would have taken a “tough shit” approach to customer care.

But they didn’t. Instead they removed the game from sale. You can read their press release on why here but essentially it’s been removed until it works, with no clue as to how long that will take beyond “Fall 2015”.

 I have literally never seen this, and I don't think anyone else has either. That's PC gaming history right there, no exaggeration.
I have literally never seen this, and I don’t think anyone else has either. That’s PC gaming history right there, no exaggeration.

I’d like to mention that Rocksteady didn’t handle the PC port, and don’t deserve all the ire here. Iron Galaxy Studios did the port (or were still in the middle of it, it sounds like) and Warner Bros chose to publish it rather than push the PC release date back. The game had already suffered lengthy delays in production, but unfinished is unfinished! 

Okay, so bad decision there, obviously. It was a farce and will go down in gaming history as one of the most catastrophic releases of all time. I can’t actually think of another game that’s been removed from sale after release for performance reasons, and examples of games that should have been are in no short supply. Assassin’s Creed Unity, Sim City and Battlefield 4 all leap readily to mind.
But Warner Bros. are owning up to it. They removed their own game from sale and even linked readers to the Steam refund page directly in the press release. Would they be so eager to appease if not for Steam refunds? Hell no, would be my guess. But they are, and deserve a modicum of credit for that, at least.

Consumer faith in the industry, particularly in the bigger publishers, is at an all-time low. Delays, DLC, and broken releases are now expected and it’s hard to look at big upcoming releases like Battlefront with anything better than very cautious optimism, never mind fanatical hype. Publishers were incentivised, through the unavailability of any refund policies, to release unfinished games and move onto the next one, letting the game’s problems get fixed in a later patch, or by the modding community, or just never. This feels like the first time in recent memory that we can put a point on the consumer’s side of the scoreboard. Hopefully this will force publishing houses to cop on already! We need more faith in the industry because if consumer good will keeps being abused the way it has been, people will not be pre-ordering big games, will buy them less often, and expensive AAA games like Arkham Knight would simply not get made any more.

“Cut the crap, Publisher. This is my city”.

I, for one, am glad that Arkham Knight exists, glad that it had a botched PC release, glad that it was taken off sale, and am hopeful that this marks a turning point in publisher behaviour and consumer confidence.

If it does, who better to have saved us than Batman?