I recently purchased Batman: Arkham City and I am really enjoying it, but when I opened the game case I was very disappointed. Perhaps I am part of a small minority of gamers, but I always read through game manuals when I purchase a game. Not only do I read through the game manuals, but I typically do it before I even put the game disc in the tray. I think it relates back to the days of when I would go to a store with my parents, pick out a game and start reading the back of the box while we were in the store. Then, when we got to the car, I would open the game and start reading the manual cover to cover because I was too excited to play to sit still. Does anyone else feel that way anymore?
I remember being a little kid and opening my copy of F1 World Grand Prix for my Nintendo 64. The first thing I did was sit in awe at the amount of content the game manual was filling me in on. While basic by today’s racing game standards, I felt like F1 World Grand Prix had a plethora of customization options because it allowed the player to adjust tires treads, fuel amounts, and the angles of the front and rear wings. All of the information I needed was available in the game manual. When I opened my copy of Halo for my Xbox, I loved reading every bit of the backstory to the game, including the little biographical information on the major characters, the alien antagonists, the weapons, and the vehicles. On a more fundamental level though, the game manual’s first and foremost function, in my mind, is to map out the game controls for the player as an easy reference point. What does the “A” button do? How do I save the game? These are all questions that, at the very least, should be answered by a game manual.
As a result, I am sure you will not find it surprising that the first thing I did when I opened my copy of Batman: Arkham City was to read the manual. Or at least I tried to read the manual. Unfortunately it was nowhere to be found. Disheartened, I inserted the game into the disc tray and began playing. As you begin the game, you are essentially thrown into combat. I was in disbelief. It has been my experience that games which lack a game manual substitute one by holding the player’s hand at the start of a game with on-screen prompts over button usage. There were no prompts. Enemies began attacking me and I was stuck pressing all the buttons on my controller to try and figure out which button did what.
Now I should be fair and say that if you pause the game and navigate to a certain menu, you can view the game controls on the screen (though I only discovered this on a hunch as I cannot find anything that tells you to look there for it). I have two problems with this solution. First, I expect a game’s controls to be present in a manual that I can quickly refer to and not something that requires me to pause the game and navigate to. Forcing me to pause like that kills the immersion. Second, and more problematic, is that games today are designed for high definition televisions. I happen to own an old 42” CRT, as well as a recently acquired 32” HDTV (lovingly given as a birthday gift). On my CRT, the text in-game, whether in menus, subtitles, or a game controls page, is far too blurry to read. Thus, trying to read the game controls page required much eye-squinting and movement closer to the TV. Should game developers cater to an admittedly dying breed of televisions? I do not think it is asking for much. Increasing the size of text in-game would probably extend to more consumers than those with older televisions, but I digress.
Upset by being thrown into combat without clue as to how to fight, I decided to make sure I did not somehow miss the game manual. There were a total of five inserts on the inside cover of the game case. One of them was a Batman: Arkham City catalog with advertisements for things like calendars, posters, hats, action figures, etc. available at various online retailers. There was a code you could enter for a chance at the beta for Gotham City Impostors (an upcoming multiplayer game set in the Batman universe). There was a code for the Catwoman DLC (hey, finally something useful!). And lastly, there were two copies (yes, two copies) of a one page, generic insert that had health warnings, an ESRB rating explanation, Xbox Live information, and one line regarding the whereabouts of the real manual that said “To see a list of credits of those who brought you this game, and to view the full manual, please visit www.batmanarkhamcity.com.”
So I went to the website to try and find the game manual but I could not. Growing impatient I did a search online and I managed to find it. Here is the page (and a local copy here of the Xbox version). Please take the time to look at it. All I could think when I did was how amazing the game manual actually looked. Within it was all of the fantastically drawn art I had seen in trailers and advertisements for the game, complete with all of the information I would expect in a self-respecting game manual, and then some. It was fantastic.
Fantastic but useless. I was not about to print out the game manual, fold it up and insert it into the game case. Nor was I going to bring it up on my computer whenever I needed to make reference to it as I played. It would almost be better if the game manual didn’t exist online at all. Now it is just depressing knowing that something very cool was poorly distributed. I can only think of two reasons why the game manual was not included in the game case. Perhaps the manual was not ready in time. I recall in the past that some game manuals have been slightly inaccurate due to last minute changes in the game. It is possible something similar happened with Batman: Arkham City. More likely though, it feels like most publishers/game developers do not think the cost associated with printing the manual is worth it.
Rocksteady is not the first developer to withhold a game manual from the game disc and make it available online instead (and most games do not even give you the option of going online for a manual). Batman: Arkham City is just another game in a growing trend of games that cannot seem to find the money or effort required to include a game manual with the disc. Speaking on behalf of a younger self that got excited reading about the awesome features in the game I just got, and thinking about how new, future gamers will not have that chance if this trend continues, I think it is rather sad.