Riddle me this, riddle me that. What do we really want from our next bat?
It’s no secret: I love Batman. Specifically, I love the Batman: Arkham, series. The original game, released in 2009, blew the doors off of what it meant to be a good Batman game. Up until that point, it appeared that it was damn near impossible to give the Caped Crusader his due in the gaming world. The Batman Begins movie licensed tie-in was passable (and enjoyed marginal success) but was certainly nothing to write home about. Rocksteady showed us exactly what a great Batman franchise could look like, infusing killer controls and game play mechanics (while rooting it in the mythos from the animated series and comics), which set the bar so high that the idea of anyone else developing a Batman game is considered second rate.
I know what you’re probably thinking right now is, “What about the latest Arkham Origins? It wasn’t developed by Rocksteady!”
While this is technically true, WB Games Montréal was smart enough not to reinvent the wheel. Things were handed off to them on a temporary basis, and they ran with a tried and true formula. They kept all the fundamentals about the game that we know and love, and just expanded on them. Actually, that is my biggest criticism of Arkham Origins. Don’t get me wrong, I loved getting to go back and revisit this version of Gotham, especially with things being set right around the time of a Year 2 Batman, who is just meeting many from the gallery of rogues for the first time. However, much of the experience (although done well) felt a bit like old hat to me. The game so closely resembled what we all loved about Arkham City, it almost plays as an extremely long expansion pack. Now, I’m not really complaining, because, as I’ve said, I LOVE Arkham City. It’s just that I was hoping to find something that could recapture that initial sense of wonder and excitement I felt when I first walked outside the walls of Arkham Asylum and into the vast wasteland of Arkham City. Granted, I can’t blame the folks at WB Games Montréal, as I know that Origins was given to them as kind of a diversion. It was a game to keep fans interested in the franchise while Rocksteady (presumably the developer for the next game) began work on the extensive follow up and true sequel to the original (with Origins acting as a prequel). This assumption is substantiated by the fact that we’re already starting to hear rumors and info leaking about the possible sequel in the works. Most expect Kevin Conroy to return as the voice of our hero (as he more or less confirmed it in comments he made earlier this year). Also, rumblings of various CG based job postings online all point to Rocksteady already having begun production on the title, even as you read this.
The question is, where does the big black bat go from here? We’ve covered a lot of ground already in previous games, so where is left for us to tread? With three games under their belt, we’ve now run the gamut of many standard villains from the Batman mythos. Just introducing new adversaries this time around isn’t going to have the same appeal. Also, with Origins, we finally see the inside of a full fledged Batcave and have the opportunity to explore parts of Gotham we’ve never seen. Are there really any interesting stones left unturned to explore in a new Batman game?
Well, first of all, I think it’s time Batman stops working alone. Yes, we get the chance to play as characters like Catwoman, Nightwing, etc., but that’s not what I mean. Can you imagine how awesome it would to see a next-gen Superman fly down and land atop Gotham Police Headquarters? The idea of the early stages of a pre-Justice League beginning to form is something I’d love to experience. Of course, there are always the loose ends of the Joker’s death they have yet to tie up, and with Mark Hamill looking to step away from playing the role, could we see an opening for a Jokerless game? To fill this void, perhaps introducing the concepts of the DC multiverse and the infinite versions of Earth could possibly lead to some interesting face-offs.
I’d like to also expand what we can do in Gotham besides the main story mode and drop the Riddler’s challenges. There’s real fun to be had is things like the “Hush” subplot that ran through the story line of Arkham City. I say take this concept and expand it. Imagine a non-linear ending to a Batman game that branches in different directions, depending on the state of Gotham at the time you reach the end. The replay value of going back, finishing side quests just to see how it affects the outcome of the game could provide endless possibilities for Bat fans. Plus, who else would like to take control of the Batmobile and Batwing? If done right, vehicle based missions in an Arkham game could be a hell of a good time.
I know that many of these concepts depend on certain X factors, and nothing short of the planets aligning just right will see them make it into the final game. I’m just looking forwarding to where Arkham will take us next. They’ve done a hell of a job defining a genre, but I really think now comes the time to redefine it. Understand that I’m a “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kinda’ guy, but I recognize when things are starting to get stale. I’m not saying Arkham Origins is, but I think if the next entry doesn’t have the same ground breaking impact that Arkham City had, it could be the early signs that the sun has begun to set on this awesome franchise.
Look at me like the Alfred Pennyworth of the series. I only scold the Bat because I love him, and I want to see him survive.