Christmas Eve. Eight of the world's greatest assassins descend on Gotham at the behest of gangster Black Mask to take on the ultimate prey - the Batman. That's what we know about Batman: Arkham Origins so far, with more information coming in the next few weeks. But what do we want?
One of the best things about Arkham was its use of space to create a world that felt cramped rather than intimate. It made Arkham feel like a real place, despite its often silly interior architecture, with the narrative progression of the main plot conveyed as much by its effect on the world as anything else. Simply running the player through the same area five or six times is rarely anything to praise. When the ante is constantly being raised by everything from snipers to Titan-infused plant monsters to seeing Joker slowly build... something... though, revisiting old areas gets interesting.
By contrast, Arkham City did develop over the course of the story, but nowhere near as dramatically - something not helped by having Batman spend most of his time swooping over it rather than getting a flavour for the place at ground level. Gotham City is supposedly twice as big as Arkham City was, which could be cool, but could also very easily lead to just blurring through the streets without taking in the details. Of course, there are other ways to encourage players to stop and smell the roses, then beat up Poison Ivy before she can rob a bank with them. Whatever the method though, we really should know this slice of Gotham City by the end, not just vaguely remember some pretty streets.
Admittedly, fans of the comics and cartoons would have been fine with Arkham City's late-game shifts, but pity the casual fan who stumbled into that mess of assassins, Batman's ex-girlfriends, shape-shifters and Lazarus Pits. Assuming that the new villains in this one will be existing characters rather than originals, we want to see the story introduce everyone without assuming too much knowledge. Deathstroke for instance has been revealed as one of the name characters in this one, but the game itself needs to make that mean more than "Now Batman fights a dude with a sword." Ideally without having to keep bopping over to a codex every time someone appears the first time.
On the one hand, it'd be a bit predictable. But on the other: Scarecrow! To mix things up a bit, maybe this time Batman could fear-gas him so that we can be the terrifying hallucination in his mind.
Also tying into the scale issue, we're hoping that Batman's multiple villains will get out and mingle a bit more. Arkham City largely left them in their own thirds of the town, with talk of turf-war pretty much just that. Having eight assassins and at least a few of Bats' usual rogues gallery - we know for instance that Penguin is in it - allows for real potential to mix up the personalities and develop alliances and stories that can make the battle a real web of intrigue rather than a pure case of Batman vs. Them.
A younger, less steel-chinned Batman is also in more of a position to indulge in a bit of give-and-take with at least the less actively homicidal ones, especially in a jam. Even if that less dogmatic attitude would have cost us one of the best boss fights ever in Arkham City, with Batman and Mister Freeze just admitting that the other is basically trustworthy in that kind of situation, it'd be handy here.
Batman's traditional rogues gallery is a bit of a boys club, but that's no excuse for the fact that both Arkham games were generally bloody awful with their female cast. Arkham City's rape threats and cat-calling - often literally - got old fast , with a dismal version of Harley Quinn and embarrassing Catwoman, Ivy reduced from one of the first game's heavy hitters to the subject of a crap joke, and even Talia al-Ghul slipping Kate Beckett's voice into the damsel in distress role distressingly easily.
No, no, no, no, no, no. If this is going to be about assassins, at the very least we need the likes of Lady Shiva kicking Batman's ass up and down the High Street, to say nothing of Catwoman in at most antihero mode, and if necessary importing talent from elsewhere, like Cheshire. This doesn't mean Batman should be fighting the League of Equal Opportunity Injustice or anything, just a wider selection of characters, treated with as much respect as the male cast. It's painful to try and watch cutscenes when your eyes are constantly rolling in their sockets at the prepubescent stupidity.
Oh, and while we're on the subject of the Gotham girls...
Oh god, those horrible outfits. It's Christmas Eve. An Arkhamverse game will never have a better chance to go back to the classic jester look, ideally with a Santa hat. It's unlikely that Joker will play a big role in this story, save perhaps for a running gag where he keeps appearing, but gets interrupted or thrown out of a window every time he opens his mouth. And that's a good thing. As great as Joker is as a villain, switching the focus to Black Mask is a good way of both shaking things up this time and giving new developers WB Games Montreal a chance to put a stronger stamp on things. Even if they're not making a great start by also setting half of it on a snowy evening in the same part of town.
Obviously, this is assuming that Joker is left out or just cameos rather than just being re-cast with John DiMaggio or one of the other actors who've played him in recent animated movies. It's not as if they couldn't have him if they wanted him, even if Mark Hamill isn't interested in showing up.
It would be a shame not to see Harley though, if only on the side-missions. The obvious arc for her would be a villainous 'shopping' spree for Mister J's Christmas present, both adding comic relief and being the daffy character that made it big after the animated series. Plus, something like that allows for a satisfying twist at the end where she both a) realises that Batman's head would be the perfect gift, and b) turns out to be one of the game's hardest bosses. After all, despite what Arkham City seemed to think, she's a pretty good fighter and typically has at least some measure of superhuman strength and speed. True, Superman wouldn't exactly quake in his red pants at the thought of fighting her. But Batman? Surprisingly similar weight class, at least in the early stages of his superhero career.
At the risk of sounding crap at these games... possibly true... about midway through Arkham City I was finding the sheer number of toys and special-case enemies hard to keep track of. At the very least, quitting the game and coming back the next day would mean a lot of "Okay. So, he's got a shock-stick, so I need to do X, but against him ..." type stumbling around being bloody useless.
Origins looks set to add more toys and complexity to the system... but I'm not sure how much more complexity it actually needs at this point. More ways to do things stylishly sound good, and having side missions that force you to use your skills more effectively, but for the main campaign? Again, bigger isn't automatically better. Gadgets that offer tactical breadth and clever fighting styles are fun, and obviously just punching everyone in the face isn't very interesting long-term. Too many special-case enemies are tedious though, especially when they're defeated through specific combos rather than skill.
Arkham Origins promises to pick up where Arkham City's detective work left off, though that honestly wasn't too taxing. It would be great to see at least a few missions that play out more like adventure games than 'use toy on X' sequences that show why Batman is as respected as much for his brain as his batarangs to the face, with genuine intrigue for players who don't mind not being led from nav-point to nav-point. Some contacts, some cut-scenes, some plot twists and turns... if you're not up for it, skip it. If you are, here's where you finally get to play as the World's Greatest Detective.
At the moment, "Batman: Arkham Origins" is a weird title. It's not set in Arkham, and doesn't even seem to heavily feature its usual residents. It's not the origins of Arkham, which happened quite a while before Batman came onto the scene. It's not as if the series has any running mythology really, save its aesthetic. Really, at the moment, it feels like the only accurate word there is "Batman." It would be nice to think that's for a better reason than "Batman: Gotham City" not sounding like a sellable enough name, though we probably shouldn't expect the reveal to be that Batman is secretly a Dalish Elf.
That's the official release date. Can it please be the official release date on PC as well this time?
And a good port this time would be lovely too, because while Arkham City was a great game, the wait for the PC version last time was not worth it. Nobody should be tempted by a lesser console copy.
From the Joker's HA-HA-HA to Saint Nick's HO-HO-HO. He's making his death list. He's checking it twice. That's what you have to do when your target has a secret identity and-
No? Okay. It was just a thought. The others seem appropriate though, at least until more information is revealed. What do you hope to see in this year's return to the streets of Gotham City?