It’s time for some commentary based on the latest rumor mill rumblings. For a long time, years even, the development studio behind Batman: Arkham Origins has been working on more licensed DC Comics video game goodness. I say goodness, because Origins was my favorite game in that series. One of the projects, since cancelled, was a Suicide Squad title. Nobody knows what the current one is, but several rumors and even teases have led people towards The Court of Owls, which is now considered a modern classic in the DC Comics canon. But as we get closer to figuring out the truth, I find myself wondering: if this rumor is true, would that storyline actually translate to a good video game?
Presumably, this will be another game either in the Arkham series or inspired by it, in terms of tone and/or gameplay. That’s important to this thought exercise, and what I’m framing the big question with. It’s possible of course that WB Montreal is going in a totally new direction, but for our purposes here, let’s go with the Arkham framework. That’s important, because the Arkham series is traditionally open world and very heavy on action sequences and extravagant boss encounters. There is also a huge emphasis on collectibles and occasional big stealth sequences, usually indoors or in sectioned-off areas.
To be honest, I’m having a difficult time imagining the Court of Owls storyline fitting into that framework. The Court of Owls got so much attention because it was a distinct kind of Batman story, one from a fresh (to Batman) writer at the time in Scott Snyder. Snyder took over pretty much the entire Batman mythos when DC Comics introduced its New 52 line, which has long since morphed into something else. In this story, we spend a lot of time learning more about Gotham City itself, in one of the few times in modern Batman storytelling in which the city is presented as a character all of its own. It has a rich and dark history, with an almost genetic relevance to the chaos within its borders. The titular Court of Owls is largely a force in the background, one that drives Batman to some serious inner conflict.
Court of Owls was not a combat-heavy storyline, nor was it much of an action vehicle. A lot of it was internal, and the rest of it historic and abstract. It was about history, lineage, and old blood mixed with old money, as well as how those decades-long relationships can color a community and its structures for the worse. Batman punching dudes and doing cool superhero stuff was a relatively small portion of it, save for an exciting romp in Arkham Asylum that helped reintroduce everyone for the New 52. There’s also some stuff with Talon, once the mysterious group finally takes center stage, but Talon isn’t even really an antagonist in the same sense of Batman’s rogues gallery.
Now, that isn’t to say the Court of Owls is an impossible storyline to adapt into the Arkham universe. Just like anything else, it can be embellished upon, expanded with other little side stories, and other villains and characters can be sprinkled in. There were tie-in comics in other books that saw Mr. Freeze and Red Hood to get involved, for example. There was even some involvement with the Birds of Prey, which would be pretty cool to see in a video game. That said, so much of the story succeeds because of its more story-driven conceit, because of how much of it happens outside of the usual Caped Crusader exploits.
If WB Montreal truly does end up revealing a Court of Owls video game adaptation, I will approach it with an intense skepticism only those of us with multiple longboxes stuffed away in closet space can. At the same time, I would still approach it, as seeing how this story could be adapted into AAA, Hollywood-style video game form is certainly an intriguing prospect. And really, as a huge fan of Arkham Origins, I have to admit the team on that took some comics material I generally don’t care for (stuff from The Killing Joke for example), and made it part of a well-told, if silly and over the top, departure from the grit and self-seriousness of the Rocksteady games. So if we’re dealing with a similar writing crew here, in this hypothetical Court of Owls game, I’m down to give it a fair shot.