Friday, March 14, 2014

5 Things We Want to See in 'Batman: Arkham Knight'

Rocksteady Games have released their announcement trailer for their upcoming Batman game ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’ and as is often the case with high profile game trailers, it is a thing of divine beauty. The script saunters into cheesy territories on occasion (Thomas Wayne’s will has a lot of personal life advice for his son given that it’s probably going to be read out by a lawyer in front of dozens of people), but as is often the case with the Arkham games, style wins out over substance, with the allure of a beautiful new batsuit, environments more urban and crowded than ever and the triumphant arrival of a drivable Batmobile, at long, long last.

While this is technically the fourth game in the Arkham series, it’s only the third to be made by Rocksteady as they had nothing to do with its immediate predecessor 'Arkham Origins'.

To say 'Arkham Origins' was a bad game is doing it a grand injustice. To be fair, if that exact game had come around in 2009, I would have danced a merry dance around my living room as I soared through the streets of Gotham fighting thugs and GCPD officers. Unfortunately, it’s not the first in the series, it’s not revolutionary in any great sense, a lot of the immersive quality of the first two feels rushed and uninspired and the few new ideas that are brought to the table are far-fetched and a bit silly. For example, the “Shock Gloves” that you unlock towards the end of the game make the combat entirely too easy, removing all of the complexity from it and essentially giving you unstoppable super-punches.

For most of its story mode however, ‘Arkham Origins’ was generally fun, engaging and worth the purchase. It was only when I delved into the side-missions and extra content (usually a highlight and the extra-mile that ensured the perfect scores of the previous games) that my heart was truly broken. Entire side-missions just didn’t work (they didn’t activate when you reached the required area), the classic ‘Riddler Trophies’ weren’t always recorded when you found them, many of the achievements could only be unlocked through the story mode (which made the hallowed 100% virtually impossible unless you were the most dedicated gamer in the world). Add to this, the game was regularly prone to freezing, which led to lost progress and the tendency to just get so frustrated that you’d give up. I’ve since been on the support forums for the game, only to find them flooded with identical complaints, with no sign of support from WB Montreal, the controversial makers of the game.

Suffice to say, I’m glad to see the return of Rocksteady Studios and hopefully their involvement will ensure a return to form for the series. After all, Batman: Arkham City is arguably my favourite game ever made. So in the spirit of anticipation, I’m going to list the five things I most want to see from the new game.

1) Batmobile Race Challenge Maps

The big selling point of ‘Arkham Knight’ seems to be its inclusion of a drivable Batmobile, the most conspicuously absent element of Batman’s world in the previous games (after all, almost every other Batman game I’ve ever played have at least included some kind of mission where you get to drive the Batmobile).

The design of the Batmobile in this new game is as intriguing as it is spectacular - it seems to have borrowed design aesthetics from the tank-like Tumbler of the Christopher Nolan movies, with some of the sleek roadster sensibilities of the old 1989 Tim Burton version (the windscreen of the cockpit is quite similar to the curved one of those films), as well as some Tron-like futuristic elements that recall the current ‘mobile in the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo comics.

Given its obvious similarities to the Tumbler, it might be safe to assume that some of the features we saw in the films might be available to Batman in this game, such as its ability to perform turbo-boost ‘jumps’ and remotely intimidate enemies with various weapons. What I’d most like to see are Challenge Maps that allow you to use the Batmobile in races, or even combat situations. As great as the story mode is in an Arkham game, the replayability of the Challenge Maps allows the player to really sink their teeth into the vast array of features that you don’t always discover during your first foray through the game. The Combat Challenges of the previous two games are a treat and even if you’re not in the mood to play through the story again, you can always jump into the ring and take on some thugs, to make you feel like The Dark Knight.

I’d be very surprised and disappointed if the Batmobile didn’t get its own Challenge missions in some way, given how likely it is to play an integral part of the gameplay.

2) DLC Sidekicks that are playable in the free-roaming city

The Arkham games have always offered a wealth of terrific extra content and while some view premium additional Downloadable Content as being an unfair and unjust way of witholding content in a game you’ve already paid for, it’s hard to deny that in almost every case with the past Arkham games, you’ve gotten your money’s worth. The inclusion of extra DLC characters in ‘Arkham City’ was a welcome one. While Catwoman actually played a part in the gameplay, Robin was reduced to a cameo and was only playable in the challenge maps. Nightwing didn’t even get a cameo.

Sidekicks are always a touchy subject in the Batman universe - fans of the comics usually recognise that they’re a necessary part of the lore that help give Batman a family structure that prevents him from going over the edge. Fans of the films and cartoons (which are more limited than comics in how big a story they can tell) often feel that sidekicks just get in the way of Batman’s mystique, unfairly removing focus from the most interesting character. I feel like Arkham City side-stepped this issue very well - not only was Robin given an awesome redesign, his role in the story was limited enough to be respectful, without being excessive.

What was disappointing about him and Nightwing however, was that unlike Batman or Catwoman, you weren’t able to explore the streets of the city with him. Given how much is left to explore and accomplish in the free-roaming City after the story has concluded, it would have been nice to play as Robin while searching for Riddler Trophies and completing other various side-missions. The Modding Community eventually made this a possibility for the PC version of the game, but it’s very much something I’d like to see in the actual build of the game, should the sidekicks return.

On that note, the only confirmed playable character other than Batman in ‘Arkham Knight’ is Harley Quinn. While that sounds like fun (hopefully she’ll have some Joker-esque gadgetry), I really hope we’re not limited to her (Azrael, Batwoman or Damian Wayne’s Robin would all be terrific options).

3) Story threads from Arkham City continued

If you haven’t played Arkham City, you’d do well to skim over this next portion…

While I had my reservations with Arkham City’s bizarre main storyline, I enjoyed some of its subplots. Whether it was the origin of Thomas Elliott’s Hush, or the creepy background appearances of Azrael, I really feel like we deserve some resolution to the story threads introduced in the side-missions of Arkham City. We know at this point that Scarecrow will play a large part of the villainous role (as well as an as-yet unknown original character), but I’m honestly more excited about Azrael’s gloomy prophecy of destruction.

4) RPG Elements

While Arkham Origins thoroughly fudged the potential of giving the player more control over which gadget upgrades they want by making it muddled and confusing, there’s still a lot of potential for a more RPG-like aesthetic, where players have more input as to what kind of Batman they want to be. The number one problem I’ve had with the Arkham games in the past is that the player is given no control over the outcome of the story, or any of Batman’s decisions or his personality. The Mass Effect dialogue-wheel system is a good example of the kind of layout I'd like to see incorporated into this series (although it needn't be anywhere near as complex).

Given that the aim of these games is so often said to be to make you ‘think like Batman’, it seems unfair to present situations where you feel like you’re taking orders from him. The prime example of this was in the finale of Arkham City, where Batman nearly placed the fate of Gotham at risk for the sake of saving Talia Al Ghul’s life. This was a wholly un-Batman-like act, especially given that (as usual) Talia was presented as a thoroughly unlikable individual throughout the whole game.

5) Movie Skins and Alternate Batmobiles

One of my favourite aspects of ‘Arkham City’ was being able to play in alternate Batsuits, particularly Animated Batman and Batman Beyond (who had the wonderful addition of the pop-out wings he had on the cartoon). The one notable exception in the vast collection of past outfits was any of the suits from the Hollywood films. The Adam West suit finally had its day in ‘Arkham Origins’ (even if it had the misfortune of being a PS3 Exclusive - a nasty trick to play on consumers), but there’s still yet to be an Arkham game where we can play as Batman in the suits worn by Michael Keaton or Christian Bale. We’d even settle for Val Kilmer or George Clooney. Obviously the peskiness of likeness rights mean that those actors’ faces will never be used, but come on, you’d only see their chins anyway.

(On second thought...)

What’s exciting about the Batmobile being included in the game is the possibility of alternate Batmobiles also featuring in the game. Obviously the Tumbler and the 1989 roadster should be included, but who in their right mind doesn’t want to tear down the urban dystopia of Gotham City in the iconic, swingin’ 1966 Lincoln Futura?

Atomic batteries to power and turbines to speed, you guys.

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