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The World Of Batman: Arkham Origins

by Matt Miller on Apr 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM

Batman: Arkham City set high standards for a big exploration-focused open world filled with content to uncover. Warner Bros. Games Montreal aims to embrace the model established in that earlier Rocksteady game, but plans to dramatically expand the world to have Batman explore the full breadth of Gotham City. Along with a dramatic choice for the setting in time, the game world of Arkham Origins promises to offer a mix of familiar and surprisingly new elements.

One of the big features that sets Arkham Origins apart is its midwinter Christmas setting. The game picks up on a cold and forbidding Christmas Eve night in Gotham City. Batman is not new to his crime-fighting job as the game begins, but neither is he the grizzled veteran we’ll see in later Arkham games. Up until this point in his career, he’s been fighting mostly normal criminals – mob goons and heist artists – but tonight brings a new and far more dangerous series of threats – super-villains bent on the Dark Knight’s destruction. 

The Christmas Eve setting is a purposeful juxtaposition of a normally joyful time cast in the light of the grim world of Gotham City. “It’s a really cool, happy, warm thing and then a really sad thing mixed together to make this ironic image,” explains creative director Eric Holmes. “It’s a beautiful thing in an ugly place. It adds an ironic humor to things without breaking the seriousness of the theme, which is really fun for us.” Scattered throughout the game world in the demo we saw, Christmas lights shine a pale light onto shadowy alleys. Decorative Santa statues take on a frightening tone when placed side by side with gothic gargoyles. Plazas are decked out for holiday celebrations, but they lay vacant thanks to a combination of intense cold, an awful winter storm, and escalating gang activity. Christmas in Gotham is not the stuff of happy dreams.

As Batman faces his new foes in this not-so-cheerful winter wonderland, he’ll have a far bigger world to explore than in previous Arkham games, but the entire setting is thematically tied together. The team calls Gotham City a parachronistic location – a place that seems to be dislodged from time and out of place. Many of the structures seem old and stylized, but the technology available in the world feels modern day or futuristic. “In terms of the timeline, there are aspects of 1930s all over. Like various incarnations of Batman, it’s very consistently in a 1930s style world. But Batman’s technology is clearly from the future. Batman has stuff that we don’t have today.”

[Next up: Rediscovering Old Gotham, and exploring the skyscrapers of New Gotham]

In this early stage of the Arkham timeline, the section of the city that will one day become a walled Arkham prison is still connected to the rest of the city. Called Old Gotham, players once again get to explore the area, but will soon realize that it is dramatically different from how it appeared in Arkham City. Old Gotham is dominated by lower buildings and slums, but many areas will seem entirely new. For instance, Jezebel Plaza, recognizable for its retrofit of prison bars, containment facilities, and gang hideouts in Arkham City, is still a premier shopping district dominated by a massive Christmas tree. Elsewhere, the great flood that drowned so many buildings has not yet occurred, and Batman has the opportunity to explore the dock areas that still exist. Docked just outside of the city limits, players find The Final Offer. This massive ship is the headquarters for the Penguin and his minions, as they illicitly engage in an arms trade with the many parties in Gotham City who are interested in their wares. The off-land HQ provides a no-man’s land of laws, and they ply their trade without interference from the police. Batman isn’t so careful of jurisdictions, and players can expect extended gameplay sequences aboard the hulking ship. Inside, visitors find a full casino and theater in a large passenger section, as well as less public arms storage decks.

While the landmass that will become Arkham City is painted in a new light, it represents less than half of the overall outdoor city area players explore in Arkham Origins. Cross the bridge from Old Gotham, and Batman enters New Gotham. This island of towering skyscrapers, mazes of pipes, and soaring catwalks is an entirely new gameplay space. New Gotham offers dramatically expanded opportunities for gliding navigation, as you climb to the high rooftops and float down through the snowy streets. Though the buildings are high and the streets might be wider, WB Montreal is focused on trying to make New Gotham just as dense with gameplay as any area players encountered in Arkham City. “There are a lot more opportunities to position enemies above and below you because there’s more than one level,” says senior producer Ben Mattes. “In Old Gotham we’ve got the ground and we’ve got rooftops. Now we’ve got ground, we’ve got medium rooftops, we’ve got tall rooftops. So it expands the playground along the vertical axis. We’re not interested in making a big sprawling city where you run for blocks before you find someone to fight. We want to maintain that density where around every corner over every rooftop there’s always something interesting both visually and gameplay-wise.”

With this new, larger space to explore, many players may enjoy the lengthy glides and grapnel trips involved in traversing the distance. For those looking for a quicker route, Arkham Origins introduces a fast travel system using Batman’s signature Batwing plane. He can remotely summon the aircraft to carry him up and away and closer to his current objective in an instant. However, players have to work for the privilege. All around Gotham, Batman finds jamming towers held by enemy forces. Echoing popular systems in games like Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry, by taking over those towers, he gains access to a number of collectibles in the area and the ability to call in the Batwing to whisk him away. 

It’s a mistake to characterize the world of Arkham Origins as a dramatic departure from previous entries. Rather, WB Montreal has wisely maintained many of the visual aesthetics and city characteristics that made the earlier Arkham games so iconic. Instead of reshaping something that doesn’t need to be changed, the Origins team has instead focused on painting that brilliantly realized Gotham City in a new light for a different moment in time. In addition, their ambitions suggest a game world that is around twice as large as the last game in the series. Together, the game world we witnessed in our demo has us itching to dive in for ourselves, and finally spread the shadow of the Dark Knight’s cape across all of Gotham. 

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