One of the worst-kept secrets of 2014 was announced recently: Batman: Arkham Knight. The game is being touted as the finale to the Rocksteady-developed Arkham saga, but not necessarily the end of the Arkham franchise overall (WB Montreal could potentially develop a follow-up to last year’s Batman: Arkham Origins). Rocksteady Studios, the developers behind 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and 2011’s Batman: Arkham City will be the first to introduce the dark knight to the next generation of gaming.
I am a pretty big fan of the Batman, and I have expressed my thoughts on not only where the character could go in the wake of Arkham City’s ending, but also on the possibility of giving the character a break after the release of last year’s Batman: Arkham Origins. As good as Arkham Knight looks – that is an understatement – I am hopeful that this final story will indeed close out the character’s arc and lead the way to a Superman, Green Lantern, or even Justice League game.
With a Game Informer cover story leading the charge, there is already a wealth of information regarding Arkham Knight out in the open. There are a lot of new aspects that are being brought to the table and I am looking forward to quite a few of them, but it is all wrapped in the same bouquet we have been handed time and time again with the Arkham games. The combat system will likely be a highlight as always, and I’m sure the batmobile will be as well, but it will be the same villains, the same setting, and the same tone.
Arguably the biggest bet in terms of gameplay will be the addition of a playable Batmobile. It is something that gamers have clamored for since it first played a huge role in Arkham Asylum. Personally, I find the addition of the batmobile to be a little underwhelming. The prospect of driving the car around Gotham City could simultaneously take away from the immersion. When I read that the vehicle would be able to smash barricades, trees, and building corners, I immediately thought of this:
It is extreme, but I could not help but think of the recklessness and destruction that could be caused by allowing gamers to control the Batmobile freely. Granted, there have been numerous interpretations and takes on the character over the years, one of the most recent by Christopher Nolan in the Dark Knight trilogy has normalized the character’s recklessness – it is simply something that I personally have a hard time swallowing as it takes away from the characterization of Batman as a myth. In that series, Batman destroys private and public property without a second thought, so I also cannot say I am too surprised that the acceptance of that eventually translated into other interpretations of the character.
However, there is definitely a lot more going for this idea than against it. With the ability to leap from the batmobile straight into combat, or call on it to perform various tasks, Rocksteady seems to be on track to transforming the batmobile from a simple tool into a character.
Speaking of characters, the villains that have been announced so far are par for the course and predictable. The main villains are seemingly Scarecrow and “newcomer” Arkham Knight, with Hush rumored as well – much like Arkham City’s Hugo Strange and Ra’s Al Ghul duo. They are currently rounded out by the Penguin, Two-Face, and Harley Quinn. Frankly, after two games (in which he played a major role), I have had enough of Penguin. As for Two-Face, he hasn’t had many compelling stories aside from his origin; I do not know what else they could do with him outside of relegating him to “jobber” (wrestling terminology) status a la Arkham City.
Harley Quinn is certainly in dire need of a good story after the events of Arkham City and the disservice that she received with her DLC, Harley Quinn’s Revenge. The Riddler could use some love as well. Rocksteady and WB Montreal were both on to something when they transformed him into a Saw and Anonymous-esque character, respectively. The next step needs to be taken to integrate the character into the full story, and not relegate him to “the villain with the trophies.”
However, my biggest gripe with this recent news is the clear absence of villains that have never been used. It would turn some heads and definitely get people talking if Rocksteady utilized villains like Man-Bat, The Court of Owls, Doctor Hurt & The Club of Villains, or even Jason Todd as the Red Hood. Not to mention it would potentially take the story in a direction that we have not seen three times already.
The other big piece of news is the absence of multi-player. Normally, this would not be huge if not for the fact that developers and publishers these days have a predilection to implementing the mode in traditionally single-player games, and the fact that Arkham Origins left a sour taste in quite a few people’s mouths. However, I still think there is a missed opportunity here in the way of cooperative gameplay. There has been an unmitigated and irrational stance taken by both filmmakers and game developers towards the character of Robin. Story-wise, Batman does not exist without Robin, or Nightwing – he needs those characters. The “lone wolf” characterization of Batman has been done enough, and it would certainly be a shot in the arm for the franchise to at the very least (a cooperative mode is no small order) make Robin and Nightwing integral parts of the story. Relegating them to challenge maps a la Arkham City is a disservice to the characters and fans.
Of course, there are numerous other bells and whistles being added to the game that will likely improve the Arkham combat that we have come to know and love. I have no doubt that the gameplay will be the hallmark of the franchise that it always has been. But as the subtitle says, the story feels like it is simply rehashing tropes and characters that we have seen in the previous games. With seven months to go until the game’s release (and E3 on the horizon), I sincerely hope that these latest bits of news are the tip of the iceberg.