‘Batman: Arkham Origins’ aims for darker spirit of Nolan trilogy
Batman returns in "Arkham Origins." (WB Games Montreal)Link
The Joker is no longer voiced by Mark Hamill in "Arkham Origins." (WB Games Montreal)Link
Anarky makes an appearance in "Arkham Origins." (WB Games Montreal)Link
Fight mechanics are largely unchanged for "Arkham Origins." (WB Games Montreal)Link
Batman has new gadgets in "Arkham Origins." (WB Games Montreal)Link
Opponents are said to better counter Batman's attacks in "Arkham Origins." (WB Games Montreal)Link
“Batman: Arkham Origins” captures a “rawer, scarier Batman,” according to the creative leads of the next entry in the Warner Bros. Interactive “Arkham” series. The game, due Oct. 25, is set five years before the events of 2009’s “Batman: Arkham Asylum,” on a Christmas Eve when many still considered Gotham City’s vigilante to be a myth, said senior producer Ben Mattes.
Mattes and creative director Eric Holmes, who were in Los Angeles last week to showcase scenes from the game, including new weapons, a new voice cast and enhanced detective abilities for Batman, said rewinding the bat clock allowed them to create a game that emphasized Batman’s more aggressive nature.
Mattes often used the term “wraith-like,” as numerous scenes showed Batman evading an army of assassins and the police, as well as torturing a criminal by dangling him from a grappling hook off a Gotham City high-rise. Mattes said the primary inspiration was the “Legends of the Dark Knight” comic series, launched after the success of Tim Burton’s 1989 film.
Yet the emphasis on Batman’s earlier days may make “Origins” feel even more spiritually akin to the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” trilogy than prior entrants in the interactive series. As in “Batman Begins,” James Gordon is not yet police commissioner, and the Gotham police trail Batman promising the “use of deadly force.”
“That’s the time in his career we loved, and we believe it dovetailed very appropriately with being a player in a video game — that feeling of raw empowerment that comes from knowing the people you’re fighting in the world are scared of you,” Mattes told Hero Complex. “They are genuinely worried about what happens when you get your hands on them. That creates a very strong feeling of power that we want to put in the hands of the players.
“There’s all sorts of fun things we can do with that,” he continued. “When we introduce Bane to the mix — the big masked enemy — he can take that feeling of power away from you very quickly because of his physical size and his intelligence.”
Bane and the Joker were featured prominently in game-play scenes demoed last week at an event designed to preview Warner’s offerings for June’s Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3). Bane was shown punching through walls and dragging Batman down through a ceiling while the Joker danced around bombs wrapped as Christmas gifts.
Students of Batman will notice multiple nods to the Dark Knight’s past cinematic endeavors. The contrast of Batman’s loner presence with snow and Christmas decorations recalls the 1992 film “Batman Returns” while tussles with the Joker in his penthouse are set to operatic scores reminiscent of the balletic fight scenes of Burton’s 1989 “Batman.” At least until the Joker detonates what appears to be an entire city block.
“How many lives did you just take?” Batman asks as Bane rendered him helpless.
“None, I think,” replies the Joker. “That was a little stocking stuffer — a construction site blocking my view.”
Yet familiar faces such as Bane and the Joker aren’t even Batman’s primary foes in “Origins.” It’s Black Mask, described as the biggest crime lord in Gotham City. He’s hired eight assassins to take down Batman while the likes of the Joker, Bane and the Penguin try to take advantage of the chaos. Other lesser known criminals make cameos, too, such as the sometimes ambiguous and subversive Anarky.
“The premise that we set up we believe is simple to understand and very accessible,” Mattes said. “Black Mask has hired the eight most deadly assassins to kill Batman on Christmas Eve. Everyone gets that. Everyone gets the pressure that puts on you, the player, to survive. But this formative night in Batman’s career becomes so much more than just the assassins. There are other members of the rogue’s gallery who are taking advantage of this opportunity and putting their own nefarious actions into place.”
“Origins” is the first “Arkham” game not being developed by Rocksteady, in which Warner bought a majority stake in 2010. At the time of the purchase, it was announced that Rocksteady would start developing games based on other Warner properties, and WB Games Montreal has kept much of what Rocksteady established for “Origins.”
The “Arkham” combat system remains largely unchanged although new villains will put it to the test in different ways. One criminal, Martial Artist, has the ability to counter each of Batman’s counters, resulting in fight scenes that boast lots of slow-motion aerial shots. WB Games Montreal has also added graphics on the top left of the screen designed to give players “feedback on performance,” with the goal of letting the player know how he or she can improve on fight mechanics.
More intriguing, however, is WB Games Montreal’s increased emphasis on Batman’s detective abilities. In one playable scene, Batman watches as a police helicopter is shot down and the player is then instructed to go investigate. Utilizing what were described as “sensors in his cowl,” players can scan in evidence by pressing a button on the controller.
Once enough evidence is scanned, the actual crime is recreated for the player to pause, fast-forward and rewind. It is as if Batman is wearing a tiny supercomputer in his mask that can digitally re-create the entirety of the criminal activity based simply on glimpses of dead bodies, shrapnel and points of impact, regardless of whether Batman witnesses any of it.
Mattes described it as a form of interactive storytelling. It isn’t so much based in puzzles, as the player simply needs to scan enough of the evidence for the crime to be re-created. Yet the player will need to pause and rewind the footage to deduce exactly what and where Batman should be scanning. Mattes said most detective scenes are optional, but could span the breadth of city and be connected throughout the game.
It’s too early to tell, however, if such abilities are integrated as more helpful hints, boosts to the narrative or full-on deduction challenges.
“Generally speaking,” said Mattes, “they follow the same core mechanics. You digitally re-create the crime scene, you identify the clues, you scan in the clues, which allows your cowl and bat computer to digitally recreate the events as they took place. You scrub through those events in order to find the key piece of information, in which you have to do that fast-forwarding and rewinding in order to understand how a piece of evidence went from one place to another. Then you need to go over there to scan the next piece of evidence in. It’s not just follow the bread crumbs.”
Fans of previous “Arkham” games will recognize other changes as well. The Joker, for instance, is no longer voiced by Mark Hamill, who had handled the role in games and animated films and TV episodes since the early ’90s; Hamill previously had said 2011’s “Arkham City” would be his last voice work as the Joker. Taking over the role is Troy Baker, who recently portrayed Booker DeWitt in “Bioshock Infinite.”
Also out is the longtime voice of Batman, Kevin Conroy. The voice of Sonic the Hedgehog, Roger Craig Smith, will be Bruce Wayne and Batman in “Origins.” Mattes said the change was made to reflect that Batman is at a “different point in [his] career.”
And just because this is a prequel, don’t expect more rudimentary bat gadgets. WB Games Montreal has introduced an item it is calling the “remote claw,” a grappling hook-type device that Batman can attach to two targets at once and then bring them smashing together. Mattes said when it comes to Batman’s abilities and tech, the studio opted for game play over narrative consistency.
“Players having finished ‘Arkham City’ expect a Batman who has certain abilities, certain skills, certain gadgets, that if we remove them from Batman’s arsenal completely — if we said he only gets those in ‘Arkham City’ — they would be playing a [weaker] version of Batman,” he said. “They would feel less empowered. It would be a less exciting game.”
Mattes said his team always has the option to simply correct the narrative discrepancy in the inevitable sequels.
“There’s five years between ‘Arkham Origins’ and ‘Arkham Asylum,'” he said. “There’s a long arc where we can explore why this gadget doesn’t exist here or there. We feel that was the right choice. We’re ensuring players have the empowering Batman game play they’re looking for with lots of opportunities to solve those narrative challenges along the way.”
– Todd Martens
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