Warner Bros. Games Montreal’s Batman: Arkham Origins hits stores next week, and despite wave after wave of screenshots and info on the villains of the project, it has not managed to raise my excitement above lukewarm. I’m a self-confessed Batman fan and I adored the previous two entries (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, despite the latter’s Day One DLC debacle), yet the prospect of purchasing the third entry has left me feeling numb
“But this is The Batman!” I hear my inner geek scream.
“So was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin,” replies the pessimistic part of my brain.
In an attempt to reconcile these loyal feelings of fandom with my lackluster enthusiasm for the game, I decided to dissect exactly why Origins is not pushing my buttons.
While Batman: Arkham Asylum showed exactly how you do an excellent superhero game, Arkham City did it with a little bit more style. The marketing campaign featured a series of grayscale character profiles on a glaring white background with subtle dashes of colour. It should not have worked, given the Caped Crusader’s favorite nickname and his preference for dark shadows. But it did. It was edgy and thrilling and captured the characters perfectly, especially the back-to-back pose of Batman with Catwoman. Yet, for Arkham Origins, there has not been as much effort. The character images have looked garish and tawdry, giving off a whiff of the Schumacher films.
No Other Superheroes
Much of the focus of the game seems to be on the eight assassins that have been hired to take out The Batman, which includes the likes of Black Mask and Deathstroke, as well as lesser-known enemies such as Firefly and Copperhead. But this is the first game to be released after Christopher Nolan’s trilogy defined The Batman for our generation. The next will see him battling against Superman in 2015, courtesy of Zach Synder’s sequel to Man of Steel. Yet where are the team-ups here? I’m not suggesting that Superman make an appearance as a playable character, for many reasons, but why not someone else from the DC Universe who could work within the game? Green Arrow immediately springs to mind, or someone less known like Hawkman, Deadman, or Cyborg. Catwoman’s segments in Arkham City were fun and varied from Batman’s style of play; it seems a shame to return to the single hero.
It’s A Prequel
It is rare that taking a step back in time will result in an improvement upon the original, whether it be games, films, or TV shows. Yet for every Gears of War: Judgment, there will be a Yoshi’s Island. There is no way to tell which side of the coin Arkham Origins will fall on, but (minor spoilers) given Azrael’s appearance in Arkham City, foretelling that Batman is a prophesised warrior, I wish the series was moving forwards, not backwards.
Not to discredit Warner Bros. Games Montreal, as they carried out a well-polished port of Arkham City for Nintendo’s Wii U, but Rocksteady was the studio that originally breathed new life into The Batman in video games. While there is no doubt that Rocksteady’s mysterious next-gen project will be all shades of awesome, and hopefully Batman-related, there is an inescapable feeling of dread when one studio takes over a property the previous one managed to mould so well. From early reports it looks as though the studio has opted for the approach of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” with the only real change being the further development of Detective Mode. Whether this is for better or worse remains to be seen.
The Title Makes No Sense
The developers have said that “Arkham Origins” actually refers to the birth of the supervillain and the insanity that eventually infects Gotham. However, the screenwriter in me is hoping that this is not the entire meaning behind the title, and that the game climaxes with the foundations of Arkham Asylum being laid [Ed. Note: Per DC canon, Arkham Asylum existed for decades before Batman]. It irks me that the word “Arkham” has any inclusion at all in Arkham Origins without being the focus of the game itself.
Perhaps it is harsh to level what is becoming an industry-wide accepted practise at just one game, but we already had this with Batman: Arkham City when it was revealed that Catwoman could only be played if a player had a VIP Pass (i.e. not a used copy of the game). This was despite her content being a large part of the single player story, not to mention her playability being heavily used in the marketing campaigns. It looks as though Deathstroke is only a playable character in Challenge Mode, but still, for those who choose not to pre-order the game, or simply cannot afford it, these sort of exclusive offers always seem like a bat-slap in the proverbial face.
Even now, as I rewatch the trailers and recall endless nights spent wandering the streets of the amazing Arkham City, I’m wary of pre-ordering this one. While my fears may end up being unfounded, I shall wait and see what consumers have to say once the game hits store shelves on October 25. Perhaps then it will prove to be not the Batman game that we want, but the one we need; a true Dark Knight Rising.