Here’s What’s Bothering Me About Batman: Arkham Origins

Illustration for article titled Here’s What’s Bothering Me About emBatman: Arkham Origins/em

I watched the trailer for the upcoming Batman game that got released earlier this week and immediately had one inescapable thought: You can’t tell it’s a prequel. That’s not a good thing.

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Nothing about Batman’s look or affect in the four-minute clip makes it seem like he’s in the early days of his crimefighting career. Overall, it could be just another Batman video game that looks like the last ones. That’s to be expected, of course, as Warner Bros’ marketing folks want it to be viewed as part of the same franchise despite being made by a different studio. But trying to do so misses the best thing a prequel has going for it.

Arkham Origins’ biggest opportunity is to show a Bruce Wayne who’s building this identity called Batman. There’s a lot of raw storytelling ore to found in the Dark Knight’s early days. Hell, there’s a whole subgenre of Bat-mythos concerned with just the first year of Batman’s crusade. But the key to having such endeavors work is to ensure they don’t make the audience scratch their head about the long narrative life story of the character.

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Illustration for article titled Here’s What’s Bothering Me About emBatman: Arkham Origins/em

Sure, the idea of a video-scrubbing investigation mechanic sounds cool and, based on what Stephen Totilo’s written on it, it could be one of the better additions to the Batman game formula. But, unless it’s presented as Batman learning to be a better detective, it’s just a gameplay gimmick. Same goes for enemies being to able to counter Batman’s strikes. If it’s understood that they can do that because a younger Batman isn’t as skilled a fighter, then, sure, throw the countered counter counters at me. It's the problem with any prequel. How do you make players feel like they're as much of a bad-ass as they were in earlier games, while making the character seem like a novice?

Trickier still, any explanations could themselves break the trance that Warner Bros. Montreal is trying to cast on the player. Now the game could be an extended flashback narrated by an older Batman. You know, the whole “I was young and cocky” bit. However they handle these prequel problems, they’ll need to be careful not to make a more inexperienced Batman seem like bigger bad-ass than the older versions in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. And that needs to be done without making Batman feel wimpier than in those games.

It can be done. Batman: Year One, the Mask of the Phantasm movie and the Venom storyline all deliver a Bruce Wayne who’s far more fallible than the hero he’d later become. You understand why he becomes a loner, an obsessive planner and more emotionally closed-off. In fact, the idea that you as a player are helping Batman evolve—taking him from a rich guy in an armored suit to a fearsome shadow predator—could be the most compelling thing that Arkham Origins brings to the table. The previous Bat-games let you play a Dark Knight at his peak. This one should let you help him get there.

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To contact the author of this post, write to evan@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @EvNarc

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DISCUSSION

genejacket
Gene Jacket

All good points, but there's far more than that bothering me about Origins, hell even the word Origins in the title is usually a sign of a crap product.

It's being written in-house with creative feedback from Geoff Johns. I know the guy has his fans, and he has a good handle on a lot of DC's heroes, but Batman ain't one of them. He was, after all, the story consultant on the abominable Green Lantern movie.

It has completely unnecessary Multiplayer. The previous Arkham games have been about The Bat standing alone against his foes, cut off from the larger whole of Gotham and his allies save for some com help from Alfred and Babs. Even though Catwoman played a part in AC, she didn't really help Bruce in any meaningful way, and Robin didn't even show up until after Bruce disappeared, and when found he immediately tells Tim to take a hike. Having a multiplayer mode with various Bat-characters running around is just going to undermine that feeling of isolation that the previous games going for them.

It's being made by WB Montreal, who may be the most talented studio in the world, but we wouldn't know since they haven't made anything, and a game of this calibur being their first project as a studio doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Rocksteady was in the same boat going into Arkham Asylum and I know WBM has some spectacular talent on the team, but nothing they've said or sown of Arkham Origins thus far has gotten me hopeful that they can do anything nearly as magical as what Rocksteady managed to pull off.

The absence of Paul Dini, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as Joker may not matter to casual fans, but to us hardcore DC animation geeks, it's a huge loss. Dini's written most of the best Bat-related stuff of the last 20 years, and Conroy & Hamill define their characters for an entire generation of geeks. Their involvement is a big part of what makes the first two Arkham games so special.

Add to that a marketing campaign that has been begging people to pre-order 5 months out from release, screenshots that have been heavily doctored and a curious refusal to show any actual gameplay. Stack all those factors and you're left with something that, as of right now, doesn't look like anything worth getting excited about.