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REVIEW: 'Batman: Arkham Origins' Is A Formulaic, Predictable Effort

A lot of gaming cynics were wondering if Warner Bros. was attempting to just cash-in on the popular Arkham series by rushing into a pre-Christmas release. While others were happy to see the Caped Crusader back on consoles again, this prequel has created a few enjoyable tweaks of their own.

For those who have enjoyed Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Rocksteady Games elevated the bar for superhero games to a level that was critically acclaimed across the board. Released last Friday (Oct. 25), the highly-anticipated prequel game was inherited by Warner Bros. Games Montreal, the studio's two-year-old video game startup, and Splash Damage. It is telling that for all the strides made by the previous developer, Arkham Origins plays out much like a filler, as the game is not quite up to par when compared to its predecessors.

Powered by Nvidia's PhysX effects, the game picks up where the previous ones left off in terms of the graphics department. As Batman is pitted against eight assassin's all coming for his cowl during Christmas Eve, the engine delivers both realistic fog and snow that adds a holiday charm to Gotham City, which isn't fully given the proper nod. Split between Old and New Gotham, players are able to grasp the mechanics fairly easy, as they haven't changed much. You still use your grappling hook to glide and zip around Gotham. The most interesting difference you'll find while traveling in the city is that Arkham Origins is a significantly larger open world.

As you navigate the area, you realize just how similar everything is to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The 'Anarky' bomb side quest is but a reworking of answering phones around the city for Victor Zsasz. The crimes that are actively in progress while you coast in the air are still events that you can choose to participate in or ignore when they come up on your radio. Instead of using this as an opportunity to tell individual tales of Gotham's hapless citizens, this ends up being an exercise in pummeling groups of thugs for extra XP, which is something you engage in throughout most of the game anyway. Also unchanged is the free-flow combat, which propelled the earlier Arkham games into the stratosphere (or batosphere?). The animations are still crisp with the emphasis on getting into a rhythm, but it also feels exactly the same as it did before.

The few new enemy types that are thrown into the mix aren't much of a challenge, as Bats must take on martial artists who have an attack that need to be countered twice rather than once. Even when the Caped Crusader gains new abilities in the form of shock gloves, your punches will send joules through your enemy's bodies, but doesn't change the fighting from coming off as rote and routine.

Arkham Origins does offer some new elements in the form of the "Case Files" investigations, which finds you as Batman putting on the World's Greatest Detective hat and discovering clues from a first-person perspective. Playing out in a CSI-style manner, each point is uploaded remotely to your Batcomputer, and you're able to reconstruct the events holographically piece by piece. The addition of fast travel is also a much needed element in the Arkham universe. After Bats clears out the data scrambling devices placed in key areas, he can utilize the Batwing to quickly enter a new section of town. That said, players are forced to see the same cutscene over and over every time they use the Batwing. Hopefully in the future, players will be able to engage in vehicle missions instead of just watching them.

When the earlier Arkham games were out, they placed you right into the thick of the universe, which allowed gamers to delve deep without stumbling over an origin story. In Arkham Origins, the whole assassin storyline falls into the Star Wars category of confusion, where enemies whose animosity festered for years (see: The Joker, Bane) is pieced together in a few hours. Outside of Bane, Deathstroke and Firefly, the rest of the Christmas Eve assassins are nothing more than D-list baddies at best and fail to live up to the previous games' stellar rogues gallery. Equally as important is the fact that as an origin tale, players are never able to discover more about the battered and broken Bruce Wayne that a long-time comic fan would already have known. Arkham Origins would had done well to take us deeper into his heartache to learn why becoming the Bat was a better move than to say... move to Metropolis.

Warner Bros. Games Montreal inherited a title full of critical acclaim and managed to churn out an effort solely for easy money. There aren't too many advances in gameplay with Arkham Origins. There are a few continuity issues that will have to be addressed when Rocksteady picks up momentum for their next installment. Add to that that at launch, the game was not without glaring technical issues (frame rate plummets, loading screen freezes, disappearing enemies), and you are a bit disappointed during your initial play-through. While there is some great stuff to see in Gotham, and Troy Baker (who voices The Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman / Bruce Wayne) do a great job filling the roles left vacant by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, respectively, it doesn't push the franchise out of the predictability lane and into a grand new direction.

Don't believe us?! Well, take a look at the trailer for yourself!

Batman: Arkham Origins is out now and available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC.

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Swizz Beatz Brings Something Different To Mariott Bonvoy Amex Customers

Before becoming one of hip-hop's superproducers and graduating from Harvard Business School, Kasseem Dean was just a kid from The Bronx who gravitated to the art he saw. Whether it was the graffiti on the trains and the brick walls or the fashion of the late 80s and early 90s, Dean, better known as Swizz Beatz, digested it all.

Now, with a few hits and Grammy's under his belt, the 40-year-old multihyphenate's newest muse is the upliftment of other living artists by way of The Dean Collection. Collaborating with American Express and Marriott Bonvoy, a new travel program for Mariott International, Swizz Beatz, premiered his latest art installation "Deluxxe Fluxx" inside Manhattan's Skylight Studios.

Created by Brooklyn-based duo Faile & Bäst, members of the media, musicians, art lovers and more were able to take part in the immersive experience, which featured neon-colored lights, old-school arcade games, and music that wasn't "regular," as Swizz said.

Before the night's activities began, VIBE caught up with  Mr. Dean to discuss the newest addition to the collection, what art has done for him and what he thinks art is supposed to do for the masses.

How are you, Mr. Dean? I'm good. I love that you call me Mr. Dean.

Well, that's how I was raised.  Respect. Blessings. My first question to you is: The Dean Collection began in 2014 and from my understanding, you started it because you wanted to support living artists. It's one of the reasons, yes.

So, what triggered the launch? The Dean Collection started as me and my wife's personal collection because we wanted to create a museum for our kids to run when we weren't here anymore. It was all about building a legacy. But then we realized shining a light on living artists with our star power, created more star power and more synergy, more education. More! More! More! This isn't something we should keep private. This is something the masses should know and we should help hundreds of thousands of artists around the world if possible with our gift. It's just been a blessing. What is it about FAILE that you took to? Well, I've been a fan of colors and vibrations for a long time and these guys have been killing it for a long time. They're such masters of their craft. I feel our culture needs to understand FAILE and we should support them and celebrate them as creatives. I just wanted to show the culture an amazing experience and different forms of art, not only canvasses on the wall but also an immersive experience. Even the music I'm going to play tonight is not going to be regular. "I want people to know I celebrate all artists. Whether you're African-American, white, Asian, you name it. We at The Dean Collection celebrate all artists."

What is it about this kind of art, like you said not just canvasses on the wall, that feeds you? Well, it's visually and sonically stimulating. Most of us are in our heads all day-- Superfacts. dealing with what we're dealing with, so if I can bring you into a world that can take you away from negatives and bring you into a positive and a creative state of mind, then we've done a good job and that's what art is supposed to do. Art is supposed to take you to another level. Although my next show might be canvasses, this particular one in New York City I felt that we needed this in the city right now just to shake this up.

I'm a disrupter, my partners Amex and Marriott they've been disrupters as well for a long time, and it's organic. When you come in here you feel like it's about the creativity. Even though we have strong brands backing us--and all artists need strong brands to back them--but its how you collaborate with those strong brands, and the artists trust The Dean Collection to represent them well. What are you wearing? I have on vintage Dickies. This is my Father's Day gift from my wife and my kids. I have on a cool G-Shock that happened to match the vibe. I dig it. Thank you. Oh, and these shades I've got are ECOODA. My last question: You're a kid from The Bronx. Before Ruff Ryders, before Harvard Business School before you met the love of your life how did art keep you? You know, different sides of the art kept me. Growing up in The Bronx, I grew up with graffiti on the trains and on the walls. It excited me. I grew up around fashion where you painted the back of your jacket. It excited me. I grew up around DJs and music and DJing so that excited me. Those chapters have been written before, how they organically came out, I just let it flow.

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'Black And Blue' Trailer Puts Body Cam Footage Front And Center

Filmmaker Deon Taylor is making his petition known with his latest full-length feature, Black and Blue. Set in present-day New Orleans, rookie cop Alicia West (played by Oscar-nominated actress Naomie Harris) returns to her Nola roots in hopes to serve and protect. It doesn't take long, however, for West to realize being from the neighborhood means nothing when she's wearing her uniform or badge.

The trailer for the forthcoming thriller premiered Sunday night (June 23) during the 2019 BET Awards. In the three-minute spot, viewers follow West as she exits a squad car and enters an abandoned warehouse. Seconds later, she witnesses a corrupt cop (played by Frank Grillo) kill a local drug dealer.

West now becomes a target after realizing the murder was recorded on her body cam. Her problems are only compounded when local drug dealer Darius (Mike Colter, Luke Cage) is working in concert with the police and puts a bounty on West's head. Now West has a decision to make: either ignore the truth or expose it.

Dialing in from Los Angeles, Taylor spoke to VIBE about the premise of the Peter A Dowling script, the timeliness of the film and did he, in fact, give it all away in the trailer?

Why the name change from Exposure to Black and Blue? Deon Taylor: In the film, Alicia West (Naomie Harris) kept being asked 'What side of the line are you on? Are you black or are you blue?' and what I thought was incredible throughout the movie was she's saying there is no side, we're here to serve the people. We wanted to lean into that. I thought it would be a great conversation piece and it's also about blending the worlds and creating a better place for people to live. So that's why we made the change.

Is the film as much entertainment as it is a political statement? Yes. I'm going to answer yes to that. Right now, we're in a world where we don't want to feed people medicine. We want to put the medicine inside the candy. That's what I feel like this film is about.

Our first goal is to make sure you have a blast in the theater. You're getting all those elements you would get from Training Day. But, as a filmmaker, I'm also trying to drop some messages and some Easter eggs in the film. What I'm hoping is this film shows us what we need to do to be better as a people as we're fighting against what we're seeing in the news every day. What's so current is here's Alicia West, Naomie Harris playing this character saying 'Nah, we not doing that. Y'all are corrupt and I'm about to expose it. I don't care what side of the line I'm on.'

Why did you choose to film in New Orleans? We filmed in New Orleans for New Orleans. New Orleans is interesting because as we began to put the movie together, I just loved being in the South where people are really homegrown. New Orleans was one of the places that had high corruption after [Hurricane] Katrina, and we just felt like New Orleans was raw and unfiltered. I love that Naomie Harris' character had those southern morals.  The backdrop of New Orleans is also beautiful. The music, the people, the culture itself. We featured a lot of B. Mike's artwork and the murals he's done as well. Mike Colter went from being everyone's favorite black superhero in Luke Cage to this scary, menacing drug dealer. Why did you choose to reimagine Mike Colter this way? What I love about being a director is I love playing people against type. In The Intruder it was Dennis Quad and the new thriller I did it's Hilary Swank. This movie is no different. For Mike Colter, when I thought about what character he's playing without giving it away, it would be easy to cast someone to be tough and beat people up and have that energy, but Colter's character in the movie, Darius, he's more complex. He's someone who's a product of the environment but also a cerebral thinker.

So for that, I needed to find an actor that was intimidating, but when he opens up his mouth and he talks, I needed someone who had the correct tone to be a more complicated villain. What I tried to do with the Darius character was build someone I know. Colter was able to reimagine the character that way in which you can see the tough exterior, but at the same time, he's calculated in how he thinks and how he moves.

My last question is in a lot of films, they give the best stuff away in the trailer. Have you done that?  Nope! [Laughs]

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The Exonerated Five Receive A Standing Ovation At The 2019 BET Awards

Korey Wise, Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, and Yusef Salaam had their childhoods ripped from them after being falsely accused of rape in 1989. Thirty years later, the men known as the Central Park Five have earned a new title: The Exonerated Five.

With Ava DuVernay's directed Netflix series fresh in people's minds, the now middle-aged men --who had their sentences vacated after the real rapist confessed--have merited empathy and an outpouring of love from many.

On Sunday night (June 23) they took to the stage at 19th annual BET Awards and earned a standing ovation from the crowd.

THE EXONERATED FIVE at the #BETAwards pic.twitter.com/DSxVTLGJPW

— 106 KMEL (@106KMEL) June 24, 2019

The men were on hand to introduce singer-songwriter H.E.R. Yet, before the Grammy-Award winner performed, they spoke about how their worlds collided three decades prior.

“We are all on an individual journey in life. We don’t know where our journeys will take us or how they will collide with others,” the men said. “I didn’t know that one day would bond me to these men for the rest of our lives. But I know that in telling our truth, our lives have been changed forever. Your truth is the foundation your legacy will be built upon. Your truth will be the memories people keep long after you’re gone.”

On May 31st, Netflix premiered When They See Us. The four-part series depicted the lives of all five boys prior to being arrested, illegally interrogated, tried and convicted of the beating and rape of a white female Central Park jogger. Most of the men served seven years in prison. Wise, who was 16 at the time, was sent to Rikers Island and served 14 grueling years behind bars.

In 2001, Matias Reyes confessed to the rape, which resulted in Wise's release and the rest of the group's sentence being vacated. In 2014, the men were awarded $41 million from New York City, however, a public apology was never issued.

Watch The Exonerated Five speak at the 2019 BET Awards in the video above.

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