What I hope to see in Batman: Arkham Origins
Thanks to a media announcement honked across the internet today, it’s been confirmed that Warner Bros. Games Montreal (and not Rocksteady) will be developing Batman: Arkham Origins, the third title in the (now) Arkham trilogy.
Taking over a series for its third installment can’t be an easy task. Imagine if, before the release of The Dark Knight Rises, Warner had announced that Christopher Nolan was bored with coaxing silly voices out of Christian Bale and wanted to give someone else a go at Batman. There’s no telling what the resulting film would’ve been like, but you can be sure there’d have been plenty of dark murmurs of uncertainty prior to its release.
Momento isn’t exactly analogous to Rocksteady’s Urban Chaos: Riot Response, but it’s fair to say that both parties made it properly big with their takes on Batman. Warner Bros. Games Montreal have warmed up for this task with the Wii U version of Arkham City (probably not a bad way to get familiar with the style of the series, in truth) but now have to deliver a full game of their own.
As an admirer of the previous two games and a moderate Batman nerd, here’s some of what I hope to see in Origins.
Worldly Wise: It’s already been mentioned that the game will take the series to the actual streets of Gotham for the first time. Both ‘Old’ and ‘New’ (fancier) Gotham areas have been mentioned. That sounds marvellous, and it’s bound to get people speculating about whether this title will be edging even closer to a, say, Sleeping Dogs-sized open world city.
In theory, that could be great. But remember that the strength of Arkham Asylum was how tight and focused the game was. There were incentives and narrative prompts to explore and back-track, but the Asylum itself was a neat, self-contained space that allowed Rocksteady to tell a concise story and set up key areas for gadget use.
Arkham City expanded the space in which to roam, but felt looser for it. It wasn’t quite open world, but nor was it as focused as Asylum. If Origins is opting for a full-on open city it needs to develop the mechanics and pacing to match this new sprawl, or risk unravelling completely.
Snow-pen World: The game is going to be take place on Christmas Eve, and concept art images have already suggested that it’s a snowy December in Gotham. I love snow effects in games. The dusted peaks of Just Cause 2‘s mountains, the Painted World in Dark Souls, hell, even football titles that bother to include snow-covered pitches. I love ‘em all.
This is the chance for Warner Bros. Montreal to side-step away from “gritty” and ramp up some serious noir atmosphere, Animated Series style. I want to see Batman’s cape being whipped up by an icy breeze, drifts piling up in the streets and Christmas lights blurred by thick gusts. Arkham City gave us some gentle snowfall; now let’s see some flurries.
Dial Back the Acid Trips: No doubt about it, the Scarecrow sections of Arkham Asylum were fantastic. They messed with the player’s preconceptions and contributed to the story’s pace with their altered gameplay. In Arkham City, Rocksteady tried to drug us again with the Mad Hatter segment. It didn’t play such a crucial role in the game or the story, but it was still pretty neat.
But we’ve done that now. To stretch things further with yet another trippy sequence would just make Warner Montreal look a touch desperate for ideas.
Too Many Crooks?: Who’s the best Batman villain? It’s Joker, right. Of course it’s Joker. If Joker isn’t planning to show up then the game either needs some really solid portrayals of other familiar faces, or to go with some blanker slates. According to the details released so far, eight assassins are wanting to give Batman the gift of death for Christmas.
I’m hoping that each of them gets enough ‘screen time’ to establish what they’re about and are distinctive enough to merit their inclusion. Deathstroke has already been revealed as one of the gang, which is interesting insofar as I know very little about him. Hopefully this game will do a good job introducing and defining him, as well as the rest of the group. Black Mask (another ‘uncommon’ foe) is said to be the ringleader.
After Asylum and City I’m ready to tackle some of the lesser-known villains; but only if they’re each given time to shine. The Origins of the title seem to refer to the villains rather than Batman, so that’s encouraging.
Less “Bitch”-ing, Please: Somewhere during the development of Batman: Arkham City the idea of augmenting an ominous environment filled with dangerous characters through deft writing and nuanced detail was dropped in favour of having everyone just yell “bitch!” all the time. “Bitch, bitch, bitch” chirps Batman’s bat-comms device as he leaps around the city, the sound following him like the birdsong of truly awful writing. It’s not EDGY REALISM, it’s just tedious, lazy and kind of uncomfortable.
Much as I enjoyed Arkham City, this aspect was disappointing. I’m pretty sure Warner Bros. Montreal can manage to avoid a repeat of it.
HEY BATMAN! BATMAN! OVER HERE BATMAN!: I have an enduring memory from Arkham City. It’s of Batman, knelt in reverent respect at the place where his parents were gunned down so many years ago. As the camera began a slow, 360 degree pan of our hero and the music turned soft and sombre, the mood was punctured by the cries of yet another mugging victim.
I felt bad for Batman, because it‘s kind of hard to hold a moment of quiet reflection when someone is screaming “HELP, OH GOD, SOMEONE HELP ME!” in the next alleyway.
Too many side-quests badgering for attention all at once. That’s distinct from “too many side-quests,” by the way. I don’t mind having extra tasks to do. Just make them SHUT UP every once in a while. Seriously, it just gives a player completion anxiety.
Paging Commissioner Gordon: Gordon’s been given somewhat short shrift in the past two games. During Asylum he spends most of his time looking like a victim of steroid abuse and needing rescue, while in City he’s off-screen until given jurisdiction to secure the area.
Well, Gotham is Gordon’s beat, so if we’re going to be in the streets of the city then I’m keen for the Commissioner to take a more active role. He’s always a splendid foil for Batman, and provides a useful narrative inlet to the more traditional police work going on in the city. If the game’s timeline puts us before his promotion to Commissioner, then let’s at least see the detective struggling to cope with departmental corruption and Batman’s vigilante antics.
Hands Off The Hand-to-Hand: Don’t touch the combat.
I know, I know, the temptation will be there for Warner Bros. Montreal to put their own spin on it and fill press releases with painful terminology like “evolved” or “reimagined” but … just don’t. Arkham City pretty much perfected an already outstanding fighting system. There’s really no need to mess with it.
Precious Silver: The earliest rumours about a third ‘Arkham’ title consisted of suggestions that it would be inspired by the ‘Silver Age’ of comics. Origins clearly isn’t that game (the tone looks similar to the previous titles, and Deathstroke is an 80s villain) but I’d still love it to happen at some point.
Whether the Silver Age game was ever a possibility isn’t really known. Early word about Origins may have been misconstrued and warped into the rumours we received, or there may yet be another Batman game in development based on the mid-50s to early-70s period. Much as I’m eager to see what Warner Montreal can do with Origins, there’s a part of me that pines for the absurdist Batman that brought us covers like these.
Joker on the moon? Now there’s a videogame premise.
Batman: Arkham Origins is due for release on 25 October. You can hear the team discuss the announcement further on the IncGamers Podcast.