Bestowing a fledgling developer with a popular game franchise is always met with trepidation from most fans, and quite rightly so, especially when that studio has limited experience. In the case of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham series being given to Warner Bros. Games Montreal, however, the risk may not be as great as first feared.
A prequel set five years before the events of Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham Origins takes place during the hero’s second year of donning the cape and cowl as he takes to the streets of a stark, snowy Gotham on Christmas Eve; though don’t expect to see jolly citizens roaming the streets with their festive shopping.
After taking down gang members and petty thugs, a young, brash Bruce Wayne has made his first powerful enemy in underground crime lord, Black Mask. Putting a bounty on the Batman’s head, Mask has invited eight of the world’s deadliest assassins to Gotham City, allowing the game to expand upon the already lengthy roster of supervillains who have featured in the series.
Antagonists rumoured to make their Arkham debuts this time round include mercenary and occasional anti-hero Deathstroke – voiced by Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman – radical political terrorist Anarky, and a new female version of master thief and contortionist extraordinaire, Copperhead. As well as dealing with the usual suspects, players will also have to face hostility from the Gotham City Police Department as an alliance has yet to be forged this early in the vigilante’s career.
The game world has expanded upon the section of Gotham playable in Arkham City, necessitating the implementation of a fast-travel system. This is achieved by using the Batwing, with reports suggesting that travel locations must first be unlocked by disabling enemy towers with various gadgets in order to summon the vehicle in that area.
Speaking of gadgets, many of the series’ favourites are set to make their return along with some new tech to utilise such as the Remote Claw which allows Batman to set two targets and tether them together with great force. Whether that’s used by bringing two enemies crashing into each other or watching a thug struggle as he is strung up on a nearby gargoyle is up to you.
Where does he get those wonderful toys?
Warner Bros. Montreal has also been tinkering with Detective Mode in order to enhance the puzzle-solving element of the gameplay. Bats can now gather information and put the facts together to see a virtual recreation of past events, with the ability to slow down and rewind the action to spot clues vital to the investigation.
Change isn’t always necessary, however, and recent reports suggest that the game’s popular free-flow combat system will remain intact.
One thing that may concern the more hardcore fans of the series and Batman in general is the news that neither Kevin Conroy nor Mark Hamill will reprise their roles as Batman and Joker respectively. Whether this is solely done to add to the idea that the characters are younger or as a way for the new studio to put their own stamp on the series is unclear, though Hamill has announced his retirement from the role he made so popular.
To say the breach has been competently filled, however, would be an understatement as Roger Craig Smith, known to the gaming community as the voice of Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series, has taken up the Batman’s mantle. Arguably the bigger task is following Hamill’s Joker, with voice acting royalty Troy Baker stepping in after finding success earlier this year voicing Joel in The Last of Us and Booker De Witt in Bioshock Infinite.
Origins is the first in the Arkham series to offer a multiplayer experience, developed separately from the main narrative by British indie studio Splash Damage, best known for developing the 2011 futuristic first-person shooter Brink. An online deathmatch mode sees players participate as henchmen in a gang war between villains Joker and Bane, with a third team of Batman and Robin dispatching the criminals with stealth and guile as the two clans do battle with each other.
Whilst Rocksteady passing the baton to Warner Bros. Games Montreal may not be the most welcome news after the roaring success of the first two games, there is method to the madness. The Canadian studio previously worked on the Wii U version of Arkham City and is therefore familiar with the Unreal Engine 3 system and the expectations of the fans.
This, along with a close working relationship with Rocksteady, should see that Origins becomes the game that ends the Arkham trilogy on a high.
Batman: Arkham Origins is released worldwide on October 25, 2013.