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With the slew of coverage and the brand new teaser footage from Arkham Origins, there's Batman gaming fever back in the air again. As a superhero fan, the prospect of another epic Batman title is something that I don't take lightly and this blog is dedicated to capturing what Batman's next best moves should be for his next adventure. Arkham City was my game of the year from 2011 and, with that in mind, I don my cape and cowl to give you my best assessments of what Warner Montreal's Batman entry will bring us and what suggestions I have for it. (*whew*) Okay, let's do this. To the Batcave!
Note: This Arkham Origins Analysis contains no spoilers for Batman: Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, so feel free to read at will.
The Origin Story
Arkham Origin's boldest move is certainly its move to Batman's beginnings, a place that I'm both confident and cautious about. On one hand, the prequel experience one that's hard on series to handle. They often struggle to tip-toe on canon, stomp all over it, or just provide meaningless backstories that fail to matter. These problems can be just as evident for Arkham Origins. Rather than seeing Batman deal with the ramifications of beating his villains, it just shows us going up against them all over again. Plus, what's a clumsier, less competent Batman got to offer? Just picturing him as a screw-up? It's things like this that make me feel that Batman's moving backward rather than forward isn't doing his journey justice and he might just end up on a conveyor belt of repeating experiences. On the other, they can explore more about a character and re-imagine a world in ways sequel won't reveal. Deep relationships of Batman's like those with Alfred as he's continuing to train himself and a younger Commissioner Gordon whose still trying to make peace with him are exciting to delve into. Personal connections with already announced villains like Black Mask and maybe being wise enough to include people like a pre-Two Face Harve Dent and Dr. Victor Freeze are just as entertaining. Others parts like seeing how Batman dealt and learned from mistakes could make him more human in a light we haven't seen him in before. It's these latter aspects that I hope Origins finds its calling with and it's what I'm counting on for this holiday season.
The "coolest" thing that Arkham Origins can deliver to me this cold fall is the open-world that Warner Montreal has raved about and from its description, it might promise the greatest success of the game. Arkham City mercilessly teased us with glimpses of the sparkling skyline of Gotham just right outside its walls, but according to Origins' designers, buildings like Wayne Enterprises and the Gotham Police Department will finally be accessible. Said to be about twice the size of Arkham City in full form, Arkham Origins' Gotham will reuse all the area of Arkham City plus the ritzier parts of the city beyond the other side of the island's bay. Merely revisiting old sections of Arkham City with a simple re-coating can't help but fee like a cheap rush-job on Warner Montreal's part, but the idea of gliding around newer experiences like glossier, richer parts of Gotham intrigues me. I've seen enough of the Gotham slums by now to feel a great urge to sneak around more of Bruce Wayne's friends' world rather than back-alley thugs' street corners. The surreal setting of the game's Christmas Eve celebrations sounds brilliant and the quality and detail of the art I've seen, like that above, impresses me that Warner might indeed have a good eye to quality. The company's announced "Wanted Mode" of tracking down and snatching lesser criminals with your detective skills sounds even better and I can't wait to hold guys over rooftops after a bank robbery and whisper "I'm Batman" in his ear before knocking him out whenever I darn well please.
After Arkham City's end, there were heavy reports that Batman's prequel story would be going back to his Silver Age roots and thus possibly focusing on a goofier, campier Batman in days gone by, but Arkham Origins has evidently stayed clear of that prospect. Origins is very much a prequel to Arkham Asylum and not any other Batman mythos, and as a result, the same brooding, haunting atmosphere of the Joker's madhouse is here to stay. I can't say that I would be opposed to a silly Batman games just for laughs, but there's still so much more to explore with the Arkham universe that I feel it's only right to continue exploring the fascinating, darker world that Rocksteady laid out.
With that said, I'll also say that what Warner needs to further do is recognize the line that's drawn for most Batman stories. True, Batman relies upon a considerable amount of violence like any superhero game to tell his villains, but violence need not be the dominating theme. Batman's always been about a psychological terror and menace, but never a slasher-horror film reliant on blood and guts. Game director Eric Holmes has generally shot-down notions of gratuitously viscious elements being attached to Batman this time around and that Origins will most likely be the same T experience that its predecessors were, and for that I'm glad.
For me, the single best thing about the Arkham games was its stellar rogues gallery and it's in that aspect that Arkham Origins has a lot to live-up to. From all-star characters like Joker, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, Catwoman, Joker, The Riddler, Joker, Rhas al Ghul, and, yes, especially Joker, Rocksteady helped to perfectly capture the essence of its rogues gallery, crafting unforgettable encounters that drew from both comic-books and the games' grounded, gritty realism. Taking that into account, Warner Montreal seems to be seeking something similar yet different. Not relying upon any number of known A-list characters, Warner is interested in focusing on more obscure, less developed Batman foes. We already know that, besides a younger Penguin, Black Mask, former childhood friend and arch-enemy of Bruce Wayne's will be in Origins ruling the streets as Gotham's most powerful crime-lord as well as Deathstroke's role as one of his eight assassins, but how will they stand up to the magnitude of the story? The game designers have already hyped Black Mask as a villain with deep meaning to Batman's past with an emotional connection that I appreciate, but at the same time, I'll miss the more fantastical flair of Arkham Asylum and City's villains. Whatever they appear like, they need to have personality, presence, and appeal in the vain that Rocksteady captured. Black Mask can be villainously grim, but does he have to be boring? Give him grand, comic-book scale schemes to beyond just swing'in dope on a street-corner and truly him host the kind of grand boss battles that the city can feel involved with as well. Just avoid the steroid-fueled, Hulk style smash 'em up battles. Those were weird.
On another note, according to director Eric Holmes, the story may further involve escapees from Arkham that have their own separate agendas for Batman in Origins (Joker?!) and'll remain in the shadows for now. Who knows? Maybe we'll get to see our Clown Prince of Crime after all. . .
A Note on Voice-Acting:
One development in Arkham Origins' announcements is that beloved Batman voice actor, Kevin Konroy, a personal favorite of mine, will not be returning as Batman's voice and neither will Mark Hamill for Joker, reportedly. Loving both of their superb work in past cartoons, games, and direct-to-video movies, I can say that I'll miss them a lot, but meanwhile I don't feel forever broken up about it. Obviously Batman's younger this time around and Kevin Konroy's gravelly, over-the-hill Batman wouldn't fly in a prequel story and, as far as is known, Joker's not present anyway. Further, to me, Batman's always been strictly a comic-book character with no true, live-actor basis to be inspired from, so adding another actor to the bazillion Batman veterans doesn't seem that big of a deal. To the new actor(s), I can only say that they need to capture what Konroy and others did: Batman's tough, gritty sensibilities along with his noble charm and wit. Otherwise, proceed.
One of the best gameplay elements to come out of Rocksteady's Arkham games was the flair and action of Batman's masterfully designed combat system, and it's only right to take it to new heights with Arkham Origins. As a prequel story, Warner Montreal made it clear that much of Batman's been given a clean slate as far as his skill is concerned. Younger and less refined, the company description of Batman's new combat seems to imply that Batman's still emerging fighting skills will make him less graceful and strategic than his older self's by Arkham Asylum, but that doesn't have to make it any less fun. Most likely, we'll see it include fewer gadgets, but a wilder and more brutal Batman would be all the better for intenser, more satisfying fights. A more interactive environment where you could just grab a chair or rip a pipe off the wall to bash the perp right next to you would be dandy and more of a "dirty fighting" mentality of sucker punches and fake-outs would be greatly entertaining. Whatever Warner Montreal adds, what they should make sure of is that they definitely keep what simply worked for Rocksteady. Keep the efficient, counter-attack system, keep up the huge number of enemies, and make the enemy AI more and more intuitive. On a final note, humorous features like big-head mode in Arkham City shouldn't be discounted either. Adding in "Bwams" and "Pows" in a joke-mode? Golden.
Warner Montreal made it clear that the new world of Gotham will be painstakingly huge, and with that kind of open-world comes a need for some fast transportation. They already stated the presence of the Bat-wing as your top method of fast-travel between points and, unfortunately, it'll simply involve a cutscene akin to using Assassin's Creed's catacomb entrances and there'll be no controlling it or the chance of a Batmobile. As a fan who dreamed of riding in any Bat-vehicle since he was six, that's a major bummer, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of a (*wink* *wink*) Bat-mobile story mission. If Batman's indeed traveling across Gotham frequently in-game, surely Batman's enemies would be privy to mess-him up, like Arkham Asylum's "Protect the Batmobile" sequence showed. Just gimme a single Need for Speed style sequence of racing down the highway to a story checkpoint shaking off clowns from my wind-shield and I'll be a happy Bat.
Another terrific feature of the Arkham games was in all the goodies that you exploited from Batman's utility belt and if Arkham Origins is a Batman game at all, there's surely some amount of toys that you're going to be treated with along the way. While it's highly likely that Origins' younger Batman has probably come nowhere near to inventing the items you have in your arsenal by Arkham Asylum outside of Batarangs and maybe a grappling hook, there's every chance that you could be making more. A Macgyver method of crafting your own devices from the environment with good old duct-tape and rubber bands would be an ingenious component to make you feel like a smart superhero as well as a bad-ass one and revisiting areas in the footsteps of Zelda or Metroid and give you a sense of discovery in exploiting newly unlocked areas.
Lastly, the most mysterious and oddest feature Arkham Origins seems to be introducing is a "multi-player" mode. According to rumors and leaks, you'll be playing as any number of the in-game villains, Deathstroke, Black Mask, and supposedly Killer Croc included, trying to take down Batman as you compete against other opponents and the clock. I have no idea how successful this'll be implemented, but I do like the sound of finally getting my hands on actually controlling any of Batman's rogues gallery. I would be most concerned with the obvious an difficult need to balance villains' abilities (a.k.a realistically pitting Penguin against Killer Croc), but the idea has potential and if there's an even playing-field for the characters, then I'm all in.
Perhaps the greatest and most untapped potential within Arkham Origins is something outside of the Batman universe itself: the rest of the DC heroes gallery. Much of Batman's history has been being a part of a greater universe of characters and the chance of Arkham Origins connecting him to an early Justice League would be an enormous opportunity. Other heroes working together with Batman, in an unintrusive, sensible way that matters to the story would be amazing and only expand the Arkham universe into something At the very least, the subtle references like the presence of Daily Planet newspaper trucks on a Gotham Street corner or easter eggs like the blur of the Flash whizzing across the distance would be highly entertaining and a fun . On the other hand, having a post-credits, Nick Fury style scene of Martian Manhunter or Green Lantern arriving on earth to "recruit" Batman could be something to launch a Justice League game itself. At the same time, it's understandable that a Arkham Origins' first priority is being a Batman game. Using up precious time including any outside characters at the cost of developing Bruce Wayne's journey would be a risk, but it could be one that might pay-off given just the right treatment.
Will Arkham Origins be the game that fans deserve, or will it be the one that Gotham needs? Come this October, Warner Montreal's Gotham will tell us and I know that I'll be there. Tune in next time to this blog, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel!