Hands-On With Batman Arkham Origins
Batman has been adapted into dozens of games, but the one franchise that has made players feel like they ARE Batman is the Arkham series. The first title in the series, Arkham Asylum, dropped players into a fully realized Gotham continuity. That game wasn’t intended to cash in on the latest film or TV show, it was its own world. No origin story either; it assumed that the Player was already a bat-fan before they even picked up the controller. While the first game didn’t need a sequel, Arkham City came along and let players use the same mechanics, but in a free-roaming style through a much larger section of Gotham City. Rather than continuing the same story, the next installment in the series, Arkham Origins, is a prequel that depicts a young Batman in his first encounter with Gotham’s Super-villains. We got our hands on the game and spoke with some of the voice talent and developers behind the project.
A Trip Through Arkham
Arkham Asylum started the story from a place where most Batman tales end – with Batman bringing a super-villain to Arkham Asylum. The oft-overlooked “What’s next” part of the story was examined by master scribe Paul Dini. With Batman (And the player) trapped inside Arkham Asylum, the game’s designers had an excuse to throw any bad guy they wanted at Batman. The historical nature of the location itself also meant that the story could explore the roots of the Batman mythos through hidden clues left around the Asylum by inmates from years past.
If Arkham Asylum had a flaw it was the ending – a needlessly powered-up end boss that seemed to come right out of a Dark ‘n’ Edgy 90’s revamp of the comic books. Luckily, the same development team returned to continue the story and even used the silly boss battle to see how Batman and his rogues gallery would react to the presumed death of a major character. The story let players explore even more of Batman’s world even as the gameplay mechanics let them literally do so.
Arkham City added in a pinch of Escape From New York and left the inmates to run their own asylum. The concept was a perfect fit for a Batman story and for a free-roaming game where the Player could patrol the streets certain that adventure awaited around every corner. It was like a little like Grand Theft Auto, but without the guilt over brutalizing innocent civilians.
Rather than trying to push the same storyline further with “Arkham Planet” or such, the new development team, Warner Bros. Games Montreal, is taking Batman back the beginning. With Arkham Origins players will see an inexperienced Batman make the transition from being a costumed vigilante to becoming a genuine superhero.
At Last, The Beginning
Although Paul Dini is no longer on the series, the two new scribes are Corey May and Dooma Wendschuh. The two of them have written the Assassin’s Creed games and the reboot of the Prince of Persia series so they have years of franchise-building beneath their belts. Their story has clear inspirations from Batman: Year One and The Long Halloween which depicted Batman as a more fallible character. The new game does the same with sequences that show Batman learning the proper way to terrorize criminals without going too far.
Although the story shows a less experienced Batman, the gameplay mechanics still give the player access to most of the gadgets and abilities that Batman had in the previous games. Not only will they have a well-stocked utility belt, but they’ll even have some new Bat gadgets and new features like a fast travel system via the Batwing.
Fans of the previous games in the series might be skeptical of the new creative team and development studio, but the original dev team Rocksteady Studios was unknown before their work on the first game. After playing a brief mission where Batman meets The Joker for the first time, we can say that the mechanics still hold true in both the sandbox mode and the “Invisible Predator” missions inside The Joker’s hideout. The combat, stealth and rooftop travel should be intuitive to long-time players, and new enemies like a heavily armored melee combatant provide some extra diversity to the fighting.
In our interview with the development team at the New York Comic Con there was a deep reverence for the Batman franchise among the team. Eric Holmes, the Director of Arkham Origins says players will still have the sense of power felt in the previous games.
“We haven’t ‘Nerfed’ Batman. The part where he’s growing as a person, that’s narrative, not mechanics. Our story is one of personal growth. The Batman at the start of our game is used to being the best. Every fight he starts, he’s the strongest guy in that fight. He’s looking down on the criminals of Gotham… But the challenge he faces in Arkham Origins suddenly ramps up.”
That challenge comes in many forms, but foremost in Batman’s first meeting with The Joker. For the last twenty years Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill have portrayed Batman and The Joker in every form of media, including the Arkham games, but the roles have been recast for Arkham Origins.
When Troy Baker of Bioshock Infinite fame was asked what he can add to his role as The Joker he responded: “You need to peel back and reveal something new… I have such a reverence for this character, it’s like walking into the Notre Dame cathedral… There’s nothing that I can do that’s new to this. All that I can simply do is hope that I am honoring a character that has been portrayed so well by so many and hopefully at the end of the day be counted as someone who did service to the character.”
Roger Craig Smith says of his role as Batman “The character is at a different timeline than what we’ve seen previously… It would be very pretentious of me to say ‘Here’s what I bring to this role’… I just go in and hope that I entertain the people behind the glass, because that’s the immediate nature of what I do. And I try not to think too much about ‘Boy oh boy I’ve got to really make my mark with this character.’ No, I’m going to do whatever is right by this character.”
Arkham Origins becomes available October 25th for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.