Up until recently, Batman fans who were gamers were… well, not very well off when it came to getting their Batman fix in gaming. That changed in 2009 with the releases of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. Now, new developer Warner Bros Games Montreal will move the series forward by going back in time with a prequel. At Comic Con International, I got a look at the upcoming Batman: Arkham Origins at a panel and some hands-on time with a demo.
Arkham Origins takes place in about the second year of Batman's career. He can be considered somewhat overly confident because he's only so far been tested by mob thugs. Things will change for Batman on Christmas Eve. Black Mask, a smoothly dressed figure adorning a black skull mask, has become the top crime lord in Gotham. Because of the rise of Batman, Black Mask is hell bent on taking him down. So on Christmas Eve, Black Mask offers the following to the top assassins around Gotham: $50 million to the first of them to kill Batman.
Creative Director Eric Holmes explained that Arkham Origins will be about how Batman grows into who he is. In the previous games, we see fully developed characters who fit into their place. Origins will not have that comfort. Batman will grow from a somewhat over-confident fighter to a battle tested veteran, establishing himself and relationships along the way. That means you won't be as smooth of a fighter; you will be more of a rumbler. You won't necessarily have a resource like Oracle (Barbara Gordon), who fed you information in Arkham Asylum. Even Alfred, Batman's trusty and loyal butler, was described as not being the biggest fan of Bruce Wayne's endeavors at this point in time. This will be an independent Batman.
One of the more interesting elements of the panel came from the voice actors on hand: Roger Craig Smith (Batman) and Troy Baker (Joker). Both are seasoned voice actors, with Baker fantastically voicing Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite and Joel in The Last of Us this year alone. However, both were incredibly humbled by taking over for Kevin Conroy and Mark Hammil, for Batman and Joker, respectively, as both of their predecessors set the standard for these characters' voice over work. Prodding for examples typically were shut down, not in a defiant way but out of respect. However out of that, Baker dropped examples of what a Christopher Walken Batman would sound like. The world needs that voice over, trust me. Baker opened up more about taking on the task of being the Joker. He hoped that gamers would not see Troy Baker trying to sound like Mark Hammil, but rather that all they would hear is the Joker.
The panel premiered a few Comic Con exclusive announcements. The biggest reveal was Copperhead, one of the primary assassins. A shadowy figure, the cinematic showed her to have a fighting style best described as slithery. She'll be able to twist around Batman in a way that male adversaries can't and she appears to be a better fighter than Catwoman (the only comparable series character thus far). Also announced were skins of a Batman One Million suit and Worst Nightmare suit.
The demo did not include any direct gameplay against the primary characters. Rather, I fought through a few groups of Black Mask thugs and stopped a few crimes, including a bomb set by the villain Anarky (shown only in an in-game monitor). The game played primarily the same, but the fighting style certainly felt quicker and younger than before. Batman seems to be a bit more spry and not nearly as refined.
He feels a lot more punishing. The finishing moves were more brutal and in a cut scene instance, Batman drops a thug off a roof (just not to his death). He’ll move at a faster pace and so you’ll be stringing together stronger combinations which will be needed more than before. Enemies are more adaptive to Batman’s style as you’ll encounter more martial artists and armored enemies. Taking on more side missions (such as the Anarky issue we can into) found via a radio scanner will allow you to once again upgrade your character in a quasi-RPG style.You’ll earn more points if you take less damage in situations and employ solid use of your gadgets. Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the demo ended just as I was introduced to a young Bane and a more wild than usual Joker.
From what's been displayed and what we’ve played so far, Arkham Origins should be a solid continuation of what's been a great series so far. Despite a new wave of consoles releasing later this year, this could be one of the games that has you hang onto your Xbox 360 and PS3 a little longer. Batman: Arkham Origins releases for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC October 25, 2013.