Unless you’ve been living under a rock, are out saving starving African children, or backpacking through Europe, you’ve probably heard about the sequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum that was announced recently. The nerdgasm inducing trailer revealed at the Spike Video Game Awards ended with the tease that Arkham had moved, leading us to believe the game will be taking place in the renowned crime infested city of Gotham. With this change of location come new scenery, new possibilities, new baddies, and tons of new things to do. Using my experience designing games and my limited knowledge of the Batman franchise (all gained from the films, games, and occasional animated cartoon episode) I’ve decided to write a letter to Rocksteady (the creative masterminds behind Arkham Asylum) about what I would like to see in the next game.
Batman has always been one of the premier superheroes, but it wasn’t until recently that he began getting the attention he deserves. The recent reboot of the film franchise has breathed new life into an always-strong franchise, and this August we finally got the Batman game we’ve all wanted for so long. An artistic blend of amazing storytelling, innovative gameplay, satisfying combat, and redesigned versions of familiar enemies and locations made Arkham Asylum a contender for Game of the Year. The next game has to be good, right? In a perfect world, yes. But anything can go wrong no matter the developer’s pedigree or quality of the franchise, proven by Resident Evil 5. Yes, I know comparing Batman to Resident Evil is like comparing bats to zombies, but what RE5 showed us is that anything can happen. What follows are some ideas, some you may agree with, some you may not, of what I think can be done in the next Batman game. You may have noticed that I didn’t say, “this is what I want in Arkham Asylum 2”, mainly because the title hasn’t yet been revealed. We won’t be fighting thugs in an asylum anymore so the subtitle may be dropped for something new. Of course, there’s also brand recognition to consider, an issue Modern Warfare 2 dealt with when deciding whether or not to keep the Call of Duty title. One thing we know for sure is that whatever this game ends up being called, it has a lot to live up to. Unlike my recent rant on what I want in Resident Evil 6, this is less me bitching and moaning about what they did wrong and more of what I think they can do to make this sequel the best it can be.
I think it’s safe to say that the campaign will be as meaty as the last, just toss in a few new villains into the mix. There will be new baddies for you to take down, and the Batman series has no shortage of villains, but there are a few I hope remain. The first, and already confirmed to be in the sequel, is Batman’s arch nemesis: the Joker. He’s looking a little beaten after that bizarre fight at the end of Arkham Asylum (I won’t spoil anything since the game’s still relatively new). The only villain that I badly want to see again is the Scarecrow. In Arkham Asylum his sections were my favorites, adding a level of psychological horror to the mix as you fight off skeletons while trying not to go insane. This was also a great way to show some of Bruce Wayne’s human side, something I thought the game lacked.
Whatdya know? This leads me to my next idea: improved character development. Everyone knows who Batman is, thanks to the multi-billion dollar grossing films, but Bruce Wayne is an interesting persona too. I thought The Dark Knight did a good job of expanding on the character of Bruce Wayne, leaving us with the question of whether Bruce or Batman is the fake persona. Giving us some levels where we control Bruce, billionaire playboy, as he tries to hide his identity while solving crime and making love to countless supermodels (insert God of War style interactive sex scene here) could be fun. So long as they give me a reason to care about the character I’m controlling, I’ll be happy, and seeing the man behind the mask would do just that.
Expanding on that idea, why not introduce Rachel Dawes? Having a love story sub plot might not be an interesting idea to the trigger happy 12 year-olds out there, but for those of us looking for a deeper story she would be a great way to show more of Batman’s human side (otherwise known as the side you see when he’s not kicking the asses of random thugs). Assassin’s Creed 2 had some of this, no doubt borrowed from the series I’m discussing, in that you controlled Ezio, a wealthy young man who did as he pleased until tragedy hit his family. There was some love interest thrown in, primarily located in the scenes where you’re not inside the Animus, and it worked really well. A lot of my frustration with AC2 came when I miscalculated a jump and fell to my death (or near-death), so Batman’s auto cape-flap move (that’s what I call it at least) would cut my random cursing to a minimum.
Assassin’s Creed borrowed from Batman, and I think the next Batman game should do the same. Just divide up Gotham City into explorable sections where you have your main story mission as well as a handful of side quests scattered about. Arkham Asylum merely touched the tip of the side quest iceberg (wow, that sounded weird) with the optional Riddler side quests (another villain I think should return in the sequel, if only to give us more Riddler missions), there’s so much more now that we have an entire city to explore, assuming of course, the game takes place in Gotham. Imagine taking a break from the main story to save a helpless citizen from a group of muggers? Or helping the Gotham Police Department solve some cases when you’re not invested in finishing the main story? I don’t know about you, but that would add a ton of new content and even give Commissioner Gordon an expanded roll (and everyone likes him).
Some things that should stay the same though would be the combat, a near perfect improvement of a system borrowed from previous games. The combat in Arkham Asylum was amazing in its simplicity and the way you glided from thug to thug almost effortlessly until there was nothing but a heap of enemies laying at your feet. There will no doubt be some improvements to it, but I would like to see a similar system in the next game. The combat was also the inspiration for one of the game’s separate combat challenge room modes. The Predator and Combat challenge rooms should, and probably will, make their way to the next game (hopefully) alongside a few more challenge rooms as well.
For the most part, the story in the first game was great. Action packed and unpredictable, the only major issue I had with it was the pacing. The last third of the game took a visible dip in quality, notably in the boss fights. The sewer battle against Killer Croc was repetitive, the Venom fight was uninspired, and the Joker fight was just ridiculous. It’s difficult to keep a story interesting after ten hours and few games have managed to accomplish such a feat, so hopefully the sequel’s pacing will be more balanced. I think one of the problems that caused this was that Rocksteady had a limited amount of space to work with, so keeping it all interesting with all the backtracking obviously proved challenging. Should Gotham be the location of the next game they’ll have plenty to work with, so keeping players as interested in the end as they were in the beginning shouldn’t be so tricky.
As you can see I’m basing a lot of my ideas on the idea that Arkham Asylum 2 (or whatever it ends up being named) will be in Gotham. This isn’t so farfetched since the trailer showed quite a bit of chaos taking place in the infamous city. If it does, and I hope it will, this leaves quite a few possibilities for multiplayer. The ideal multiplayer, for me, would be some sort of cooperative play where you and a friend assume the rolls of Batman and Robin (I believe in Arkham Asylum Batgirl was in a wheelchair, but I could be wrong). If they have something along these lines I don’t see it being available in the single player story (Resident Evil 5 taught us this doesn’t always work, and I apologize for constantly bringing up that game as an example). Instead, I can see a separate, shorter campaign where you get to team up with Batman’s sometimes profoundly annoying sidekick for some missions that compliment the main story.
But as a longtime lover of cooperative features in games, this is my dream, and dreams don’t always come true (RE5 taught me that. Err, sorry). So what else could they do? You can bet the leaderboards will make a return along with the Challenge Rooms, so you can boast to your friend(s) every time you surpass their score. But leaderboards are sooo four months ago, we need something fresh. What about cooperative and/or versus Challenge Rooms? Genius, right? I know! I don’t know how I come up with this stuff! Fighting against waves of thugs with or against a friend would be good fun and add a higher level of strategy to the modes at the same time. If you see your friend getting overwhelmed, just whip out your Grappler and drag a few to you. Or in Versus maybe you could leave traps or guide the enemies towards your opponent? All ideas are a work in progress, but I give the talented bunch at Rocksteady my permission to take these ideas and make them good.
Another excellent series I think Batman could get some ideas from would be the Condemned series, more specifically the investigation sections. You come across a crime scene, maybe for one of the cases you took from the Police Department in my above idea, and get to use your large arsenal of gadgetry to solve the case, Batman is a detective after all, and while there was some investigative sections in Arkham Asylum, I think they could be expanded upon. I would love to put my skills to the test by really figuring out what happened and sending my findings to Batgirl and see how I’ve done.
The most obvious feature the sequel needs is the ability to drive Batman’s vehicles. The most famous of which would be the Batmobile that was teased in the first game. Driving that around Gotham with the top down and Scissor Sisters blaring would bring me joy (and give me the chance to cross one of the items off my list of things to get done while I’m alive). What about when you get sick of the car and want some airtime? That’s when we get to drive the Batwing (also teased in Arkham Asylum) and take out baddies from above! If we see any vehicles in the next game it’ll most likely be those too, but should there be any more Batman games (and there will) I can picture the Batcycle (other wise known as the Batpod) for alley chases, Batboat for leisurely fishing excursions, and Batcopter for… sightseeing?
The next Batman game is in good hands; Rocksteady has managed to create a legendary game and the start of a franchise that will no doubt be one of the many that define this generation of games. Arkham Asylum was a surprise hit and a success on almost every front both artistically and technically. Batman has managed to join an elite number of games; few in number but colossal in their influence on the industry. A decade from now we’ll be talking about a select number of games and I’m positive this new series will be one of them. There are a lot of people looking up to you, Rocksteady, myself included, but you’ve more than prove yourselves as developers and as artists. I’m proud of the talent behind this series, and I’m also proud of only mentioning the Resident Evil series a handful of times in this article. Oh, and if anyone at Rocksteady is reading this abuse of the English language and loves my ideas feel free to hire me as Lead Designer Extraordinaire (that’s the title I would demand you give me). I’ll drop everything and jump on board. I don’t even like it here. Seriously. Call me. I’ll treat you right.
So what about you, dear reader? What would you like to see in this eagerly anticipated game? Do any of my ideas tickle your fancy or is it all rubbish? Let me know. I welcome the feedback, both good and bad. You know why? Because I’m steady. Like a rock. I’m rocksteady.