Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Preview: Batman: Arkham Origins (360, PC, PS3, Wii U)

There was a small ripple of "What? What!?!" when it was revealed that the next installment of the Batman franchise wasn't coming from Rocksteady, developer of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but any thought that this latest title -- Arkham Origins -- couldn't possibly match or live up to the previous games was assuaged in my mind by one name: Eric Holmes.

Two reasons that Eric Holmes, as creative director of the project, should help off-set any anxiety that Arkham Origins is being developed by the B-Team, are two other games: The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and Prototype.

Holmes is credited as the lead designer on both Ultimate Destruction and Prototype. Ultimate Destruction holds up extremely well, especially the combat, and, say what you will about Prototype, it was great at conveying a sense of power and speed in a wide-open city.

From what is known about Batman: Arkham Origins, Holmes' experience will come in handy.

Taking place before Arkham Asylum, Origins sends Batman back a few years as he's trying to make himself a known commodity in the Gotham City underworld, while the cops aren't quite sure what to make of him. It's close to Christmas and the "New Gotham" area in which Origins takes place is decked out in lights. It's a nice counterpoint to the fact the antagonist, Black Mask, has put a price on Batman's head.

It certainly would appear that a lot of what made the Batman games so popular -- the combat, the traversal, the story beats, the gadgets -- will be returning, though with some tweaks, like fast travel via the (automatic) Batwing, Batman's personal aircraft.

This makes me wonder just how much ground Origins covers. Part of the fun of the previous games was the ability to swing, glide, and grapple across each environment, no matter how far a campaign objective was from Batman's current location. If he has the chance to fast travel, how attractive will the side missions be? Extra experience points by dropping in on a completely one-off objective while on the way to Point B usually didn't take much time in the other games, but if the area is extra large then will the side stuff simply snap the pacing of the game? Hopefully Origins' "Crime in Progress" side missions don't fall into the same trap as other open world action games where the extraneous missions amount to catching balloons or performing the same rote set of actions to squeeze out a small sliver of XP.

For this writer, Batman: Arkham Origins has already fallen into the zone where I don't want to know any more about the game. Launch date -- October 23, 2013 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC -- is fine, but seeing anything else or learning about some new gizmo in the game will feel like too much is being given away. "Less known, more enjoyed." Based on Holmes' past experience at Radical Entertainment and the fact Origins looks to build on the franchise rather than make wholesale changes to underlying mechanics (even if Kevin Conroy isn't reprising his role as Batman), the saying seems a perfect fit.

- Aaron Simmer