So, in case you haven’t heard the good news, it was announced today that the third game in the popular Batman: Arkham series, Arkham Origins, will be released this year on October 25th. Exciting stuff, especially since we won’t have to wait that long. But, to be honest, I look at this news with no small amount of trepidation. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the first two games in this series…like LOVED them, as in two of my favorite games ever. And therein lies the problem, as this game will have three of the things I usually don’t like counting against it: 1) it is being developed by a different company, 2) it’s the third in a series, and 3) its a prequel (I swear, 2013 feels like the year of the prequel)! Needless to say, I have high hopes for this game, and I hope it surprises me, but I feel I may be setting myself up for disappointment (this is Ascension all over again!). But I do feel there is hope. I feel like with the proper choices, this could be a really great game. Here are some things, in my opinion, that WB Montreal needs to do to make a great game.
[gn_heading]1. Have a great central villain.[/gn_heading]
One of the great things that the first two games had going for them was that they centered on Batman and his relationship with his greatest nemesis of all, The Joker. Mark Hamill returned for both games to play the Clown Prince of Crime, and he truly shined as a complex, disturbing, yet likable take on the classic villain. Yet, even though there were some rumors that this game would be about when the Joker and Batman first encountered one another, Mark Hamill has been pretty public about the fact that he is not going to return to the role, and I feel that having the Joker again as the villain would be a bit tiresome at this point. It is fitting that the role of the main villain of this game should be passed onto another worthy adversary. But who? Honestly, I don’t quite know as of yet. The Black Mask and DeathStroke have both been revealed as characters in Origins, but who knows if they are the central villains of this piece. Hush, Prometheus, or even an outside Batman DC villain like Lex Luthor or Vandal Savage would make great villains for this series. Plus, it would introduce the aspect of having other great members of the Justice League make appearances (perhaps as enemies as well; picture having a brawl with a mind-controlled Superman!) No matter what, though, the main villain is key. The Joker worked so well because you actually saw the “relationship” between him and Batman and how they counterbalanced each other, both as characters and thematically. The new villain, as the Joker did, needs to challenge the Batman on every level, not just as a tough boss fight.
[gn_heading]2. Don’t forsake the franchise’s history for the sake of a prequel/ have a story that adds to the overall narrative.[/gn_heading]
Oh man, I remember beating Arkham City and being so stoked for the future of the franchise. So many threads were left hanging: the Scarecrow, who had a cliffhanger at the end of the first game, was experimenting with bugs and illicit drugs in a hidden storage container for unknown yet dubious purposes, Azrael was promising to raze Gotham City to ashes, Hush was on the loose and making a Bruce Wayne mask, and there was a positive pregnancy test for Harlequin from the Joker! So many crazy thoughts of a sequel were flashing in my head that I couldn’t help but be excited! And then they announced that the next game was instead going to be a prequel set at the beginning of the Batman’s career…I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed at this outcome. I hope, though, that they will continue the Arkham story in some way, and that the events of this game will lead to the epic final chapter and proper sequel to this franchise.
I guess what I am saying is that I hope that this really is a story/game with a purpose for the overall narrative rather than just a standalone story that has no bearing on the series in general. My problem with Gears of War: Judgment and God of War: Ascension is that they seemed to be games in their respective series made for the sake of having another God of War and Gears of War game. They didn’t really add anything to their respective narratives; they just kind of…exist. I want to know what the next thing that is going to happen to Batman is now that Gotham City is left in an even greater state of disrepair after what happened in Arkham City, not just blip to some point in Batman’s history for the sake of telling a story about Batman. So if this game can give me both a great prequel that tells a unique story, while satisfying my curiosity about what is coming next, then I will be pretty excited for the story it has to tell.
[gn_heading]3. Embrace the “prequel” aspect in terms of style and story.[/gn_heading]
One of the advantages to making a Batman game is that he has a long history as an intellectual property and, therefore, has a lot of different styles and works to pull inspiration from. So you want to make a Batman game about his first year as Batman, huh? Well, you can pull from Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, or The Man Who Laughs. Each of these tells great stories about an early Batman that also showcases several of his great villains. Or you could even showcase Batman as a Silver Age Batman, which would be great as far as stylization. The Silver Age was an interesting time for Batman comics, as they started off relatively light and fun, but grew increasingly darker and more grim (it was the first time the Joker character was introduced as a homicidal psychopath rather than just a goofy villain). Imagine fighting old-style gangsters and using the classic utility belt items. A retro-Batman with antiquated technology might actually be a good bit of fun and add a nice bit of grittiness to the game.
[gn_heading]4. Keep the combat/gameplay refreshing.[/gn_heading]
One of my problems with a Three-quel is that, by this time, the combat and the style of a game can get pretty tired, and the “updates” to the games can feel more surface-y than anything else. This game will need to be fresh and take Batman to new limits, especially where its combat is concerned. The combat in the Arkham games has always fell into two areas: the free-form combat fights and the Predator-style hunting sections. The action needs to be even bigger in scale and more intense, with enemies of several types attacking at once on maps that excite and entice the player. The predator sections need to feel even more varied, force the player to take new avenues and routes, and really help the player think like Batman and strategize. One of the best boss fights in Arkham City was Mr. Freeze, as it forced players to continually adapt their strategy and try, try again to hurt this guy.
And now that we have mentioned the bosses/villains, these should continue to be updated as well. The first Arkham game was critiqued for having some pretty lame boss fights, and the second game surely was an improvement on the first, but I think that this can be taken even further. Imagine that during one of these Predator segments, the boss is instead hunting Batman, and Batman has no idea where the boss is. Or better yet, since this game will take place in Gotham City proper, which I imagine will be populated by civilians, it can add a whole layer to the boss fights where Batman has to take down the villain without sacrificing civilians. As well, each game has those great “trippy” segments that throw players for a loop and break the fourth wall, such as the Scarecrow segments in the first game or the Ra’s Al Ghul segment in the second game, and I am very curious how they will surprise us, as an audience, in this game as well. Either way, this is going to be a tall order, as it is very hard to surprise an audience the third time around. But I remember thinking the same thing when Arkham City came out, and I was pleasantly surprised there as well.
[gn_heading]In the end…[/gn_heading]
I really have high hopes for this game. I hope that it opens up the Arkham franchise in new and exciting directions and gives us either the exciting climax that we are looking for in the series or at least the proper bridge to the exciting climax. It has a great premise going for it (eight assassins going for Batman, oh my!) and takes place in a great time in the Batman’s canon, so it DOES have a lot going for it. But three-quels have a lot of history with being rough games for any franchise (I’m looking at you Mass Effect 3), and it takes a lot of work to surprise audiences and maintain that level of both quality and improvement. Either way, I hope that the Batman can survive and prevail as he always does, and delivers not only just a great Batman game, but the best in the series thus far.