With the Arkham series setting the bar fairly high for Batman video games, the developers at WB Games Montreal decided to do something a little different with Batman: Arkham Origins. As the name implies, their game will be chronicling a particularly trying night for Bruce Wayne not at the height of his career, but the earliest days.
Fans had initially taken that intention as a sign that they’d be introduced to a younger, less-experienced Batman; yet most of the game shown so far proves that Origins‘ Batman is every bit the honed vigilante the Arkham series has made canon. Luckily, the game’s designers have provided a bit more context on how their Batman will differ, and why, using one fight between the caped crusader and Deathstroke as evidence.
Fans had good reason to think they’d get a noticeably different take on Batman – a new voice actor would bring the character to life, for starters – but the trailer showing Batman going toe-to-toe with Deathstroke proved that if the dark knight was new on the scene, it wouldn’t show in combat. In an interview with Polygon, senior producer Ben Mattes explains how the team discussed the possibility to featuring a weaker hero, but quickly cast it aside:
“The mistakes he makes are not in the core combat or in the core gameplay mechanics… There was honestly a very short-lived debate on the team of, ‘Well, it’s year two – he should mess up, he should trip, he should not have Batarangs, or he should throw his Batarangs and they should miss or, you know, whatever.’ And for very obvious reasons, that idea couldn’t survive. You can’t subscribe to the fantasy of being the Batman and trip over your cape [in] your first fight and get stabbed in the leg by a pimp.”
It’s hard to argue with Mattes’ points; even if fans would be intrigued by a Batman still learning the ropes in combat, there’s no real way to make the work in the core gameplay without hindering the abilities of skilled players. That’s as sure-fire a recipe for frustration as we can think of, but it doesn’t mean that players won’t be able to see that Origins’ hero still has plenty to learn. Gameplay director Michael McIntyre explains:
“He doesn’t stand straight up and confident like he does in the previous Arkham games. He’s fists-up and ready to go; he’s a lot more aggressive. [...] He crosses certain lines, and he’s learning lessons as he goes along. [...] He doesn’t realize that aggression doesn’t necessarily solve all problems.”
That unchecked aggression (paired with most residents not knowing ‘Batman’ by name this early on) will apparently lead to both Alfred and Commissioner Gordon misunderstanding his motives. In other words: even if Bruce Wayne is skilled in hand-to-hand combat, he’s a long way away from possessing the gadgets and public support that his future crusade may take for granted.
Even so, the likes of Deathstroke, Bane, and the all-new Copperhead are going to offer Wayne more of a challenge than the citizens of Gotham. The presence of villains like that mean inevitable boss battles; but the team at WB Montreal aren’t going to follow the typical formula of introducing a new mechanic – Batman’s new shock gloves, for instance – and immediately structuring a boss battle around it, turning what should be a new tool in the player’s arsenal into a gimmick.
It’s an interesting decision, but one that McIntyre feels fans will respond well to:
“Throughout the game, [players are] doing [free-flow combat], they’re doing Predator [stealth combat], they’re doing navigation. And we wanted to make sure that the bosses were testing that and not necessarily testing exotic skills, things that they would have to learn in the boss fight. [...] If you don’t test people, then they’re never really required to go into that depth. [...] So we wanted to kind of require them to dig a little deeper into some of these systems.”
The article went on to describe an early fight with Deathstroke, glimpsed in previous trailers and ultimately leading to the world’s greatest assassin being unmasked (still keeps the eye patch, obviously). Instead of demanding the player learn a set pattern to take down Deathstroke, the same combat system of attacks and countering is used – with the masked fighter putting the player’s skills to the most difficult test yet.
The fight occurs in several stages, and with Batman’s victory, allows him to use a new gadget stolen from Deathstroke himself. It certainly sounds like a more believable boss battle than some in Arkham‘s past, but since those sections were some of the most frustrating in the series so far, we’ll reserve judgement until we can play the game for ourselves.
What do you think about these changes to the formula? Does the idea of challenging a single, difficult enemy seem more appealing than a mob of baddies, or was that the part of Arkham Asylum and City you most enjoyed? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Batman: Arkham Origins will be available on PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360 on October 25, 2013.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @andrew_dyce.