From the first pitch, the premise of Batman: Arkham Origins is one that every Batman fan can get behind: on Christmas Eve in Batman’s second year on the job, eight assassins descend on Gotham City to collect the bounty on his head. If Batman can survive, he’ll learn the skills and determination that help him to become the master strategist seen in the previous Arkham games.
The only real question, then, is which eight assassins to select from the vast history of Batman. According to the team at WB Games Montreal (the studio founded specifically to tell this story in the series) their decisions weren’t easy, but promise a new level challenge for the franchise, and another chance for players to experience the thrill of becoming Batman themselves.
A few names will quickly jump into the minds of any Batman fan when the word ‘assassin’ is mentioned – Deathstroke at the top of the list. Arkham Origins executive producer Ben Mattes explained to OXM that since Batman’s rogues gallery is home to dozens of contract killers, the developers needed to apply some harsh formulas to narrow down the pool:
“Yeah, so there were three really key factors in making the final list… the DC universe is ripe with people who would kill for money, many of whom would call themselves assassins, many of whom, probably wouldn’t, or would never have been necessarily labelled “an assassin,” but who have very clearly assassinated and been paid for their assassinations.
“And so when we first started looking at this list, of potential candidates effectively, the three filtering criteria were a) are they cool? [laughs] You know, are they – do they belong in the Arkhamverse? Can we make them look grounded and gritty and believable and approachable and like they fit in the same universe.”
“The second being, we wanted to make sure we had a diversity of appearances and abilities and sex and nationalities and dialogue and whatnot… if we worked really hard I bet we could have found at least a few big white eastern European guys who killed for money over the history. There’s lots of opportunity to double up on that, so we wanted to make sure we had that diversity.”
That diversity has paid off already, with a completely new design for fan-favorite villain Firefly, an updated look for Deathstroke, Deadshot, Lady Shiva and more. The executive producer credits the game’s director Eric Holmes with choosing the final roster, since it would have been all too easy to find a number of burly, musclebound masked goons with which to populate their game.
But the challenge of “Arkham-izing” comic book villains wasn’t one that the team wanted to make as easy as possible, going so far as changing the gender of Copperhead. The acrobatic female is an interesting mix of sex appeal and lethality, and although DC Comics chief Geoff Johns had his doubts about the studio’s wish to reinvent the villain, he’s on record as hoping to adopt their version to comic form in the future. But that’s assuming fans accept her in the game – something Mattes hopes will happen:
“Having more women in there was always something that we aimed for.
“Copperhead was particularly powerful for us because we like the idea of having something with clear……uncompromised sex appeal, but a non-standard version of it, right? Like, the sort of woman your mother might have warned you about, that kind of thing. But then, to be able to play with that and say: She. Is. Trying. To. Kill. You.
“I think there’s something quite fun about taking that topic, that subject of the role of women in video games and whatnot, and kind of turning it on its head and saying: ‘damn straight, Batman’s going to fight back, and damn straight he’s going to punch her in the face!’ If she’s trying to slit his throat or whatever it is that she’s doing. We had a lot of fun with that.”
More than character design or an interesting backstory, Mattes insists that the chosen villains were the right choice based mainly on gameplay. With the boss battles being seriously re-designed around mastery of the core gameplay systems, not specific cues or tells in a standalone mode, the chosen assassins had to offer unique and distinct challenges.
The decision is an inspired one from a gameplay perspective, but Mattes believes it fits perfectly with the narrative. Rather than making players unbeatable by the game’s conclusion, Arkham Origins will let players experience what Batman’s progression would have looked and felt like firsthand:
“We want – we’ve used this analogy before – but we are telling the story of a masked vigilante becoming the Dark Knight… In lockstep with that, in parallel, we want the player to earn their black belt in being Batman. We want them, by the mid-point in the game, to be f**king awesome at this game. Rather than, you know, three times through new game plus and after having logged fifty hours on challenge maps, ‘oh, now I’m good, I wish I could experience the story for the first time feeling this bad ass.’ We want a parallel evolution between the player’s abilities and the character’s evolution in the narrative.”
That’s a particularly lofty goal for a series already considered one of the best in recent years, but nobody ever said there wasn’t room for improvement – or experimentation – within the Arkham universe. How well they manage to link player progression with character experience could be incredible if achieved, so we’re optimistic.
What do you think of Mattes’ comments? Are you happy to see more diversity present in a triple-A comic book title, or do you still have concerns over the new developer being handed the franchise? Sound off 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.