Batman: Arkham Origins – The Beginning of the End for Batman?
For more E3 news, previews and commentary bookmark Game Front’s official E3 hub.
Attack, counter, attack, attack, attack, counter, attack, counter, attack, attack, and… combo! Yep, this is Batman. That about sums up my experience with Batman: Arkham Origins at E3. As a cape and cowl-wearing supporter of the franchise, I had a blast using non-lethal force on superstitious and cowardly criminals in 20 minutes of hands-on time with the third installment. It also felt like more of an expansion to Arkham City than a full-fledged sequel. Still awesome, but still very much the same. That and a few other developments have me concerned that, ultimately, Arkham Origins could mark the beginning of the end for Batman.
If you weren’t aware, Arkham Origins is being developed by WB Games Montreal, the guys and gals who ported Arkham City to the Wii U, not Rocksteady Studios, the other group of guys and gals who actually created the Batman: Arkham series. Now, why would a publisher even think about giving away the keys to its best and biggest franchise, a series that has raked in the dough while receiving near universal acclaim? It wouldn’t. No, I think it’s safe to say Warner Bros. hasn’t lost its mind. The PR rep I spoke with at E3 didn’t want to touch the question, but I think it’s safe to say Batman is now in the hands of not one, but two studios.
For its part, Rocksteady has given its blessing and support to WB Montreal while avoiding all queries about what its own current project is. I’ll go waaay out on a limb here and suggest it’s another Arkham game, being designed for next gen platforms and penciled in for launch in time for holiday season 2014. Crazy, I know. If you’re picking up what I’m putting down, you realize that means two Batman: Arkham games in two years. Yes, all signs point to Arkham going the way of Madden NFL, Call of Duty, and Assassin’s Creed and becoming a franchise that features annual installments.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer “new” over “more,” and that’s why I’m not exactly thrilled with the direction Batman: Arkham appears to be headed. I could be wrong. It could be that WB simply wanted to keep up with its two-year Arkham cycle, sneaking in one last Batman game for this generation of platforms while giving Rocksteady the extra time it needed to become acquainted with next gen hardware and design a truly new Arkham experience. That’s what I’m hoping. But after Arkham Origins inevitably sells a bazillion copies and wins a shelf-full of awards (it’s already taken home a handful of Best of E3 2013 trophies and Game Front nominated Batman), will the publisher really be able to resist churning out a new installment every year, with WB Montreal and Rocksteady alternating development duties, Infinity Ward and Treyarch style?
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t point out that Arkham Origins will not feature the talents of writer Paul Dini. The long-time comic scribe and Batman: The Animated Series writer has more Eisner Awards than Will Eisner himself and penned the scripts for Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. In my book, Dini was a critical cog in making Arkham not only one of the best licensed video games ever, but also one of the best comic book video games of all time. We’ll find out in October if Arkham Origins’ story can hold up without him.
Other Batman fans out there will be more concerned that Mark Hamill has decided to hang up his purple pin-striped suit, retiring from his role as the voice of the Joker, and Kevin Conroy, the voice of Bruce Wayne, will not be lending his talents to Arkham Origins. Seems like a double barrel of auditory disappointment, but having heard their replacements in my demo, I can honestly say that I could only tell a slight difference in Batman (the less hoarse voice actually works for the younger Dark Knight being portrayed), and the Joker’s mad cackles are a near pitch perfect recreation of Hamill’s.
There are concerns, to be sure, (heck, even WB Montreal says gamers have a “right to be cynical” of Arkham Origins) but I should repeat that I really enjoyed my time playing it at E3. It’s more of the same, but given how terrific Arkham City was, that’s not such a bad thing. Will I be able to say the same in three or four years if a slightly new take on attack, counter, attack, attack, attack, counter, attack, counter, attack, attack, and combo drops every 12 months? I don’t think so. Here’s to hoping Warner Bros. doesn’t make me find out.
Mike Sharkey is a former GameSpy (RIP!) editor. He’s currently contributing to IGN and Game Front while catching up on a sizable gaming backlog. Follow @mjsharkey on Twitter.