Friday, January 24, 2014

Theorizing the Game: Arkham Origins

When I watch bad movies, which is often, I like to think of ways that I could have made the movie better. Usually the mental exercise starts with only editing and re-cutting, absolutely no re-shooting. The nice movie theater is kind of far from my house so I generally have a lot of time to be thinking about this. When I get stuck in traffic, which is actually fairly rare, I try to see what I could have added to see what kind of super movie I could have made.

Anyway, it's time to turn that lens onto video games and the very first one I want to take to task is Batman: Arkham Origins, a game I liked but desperately wanted to love. To be totally honest its not a bad game, in fact, I think it improves upon Arkham Asylum in a lot of ways. However, it also improves upon Arkham City in pretty much zero ways, which is a shame.

In brief, Arkham Origins is the story of how, in one night, Batman is introduced to a massive amount of his rogues gallery. The previous Arkham games are also guilty of this, they have brilliantly written stories that force Batman into a situation where he has to fight a pretty sizable portion of his rogues gallery. It's a conceit but it works in the first two games, to a certain extent.

This is the problem with Arkham Origins, it's trying too hard. The game tries so hard to do so many things and then the inevitable happens, it doesn't succeed.

So now to theorize what I'd do to improve Arkham Origins.

First thing, pick an "origin" to tell. There's too many first time meetings going on here for me to really care about any of them, or at least care enough about them. I understand that this game is trying to pack as much in but the conceit doesn't work, I don't care.

And speaking of characters I care about, I'd like to point out the tragic under utilization of Deathstroke. Why even include him if only to toss him out after one scene? Oh right, he needs to cough up that one particular weapon.

But even for how much I love Deathstroke, he's dead weight. As well as Copperhead (who is an excellent redesign), Firefly, Killer Croc, Shiva, Deadshot, Electrocutioner, and Bane, especially Bane. None of them add anything except being the boss of a particular level and their various plans make no sense in the greater context of the game.

This doesn't mean we drop the whole assassin plot, it just means that the assassin plot is now a much more "human threat". This is early Batman, some people haven't even figured out that he's real, why would he have such a robust rogues gallery? I think that early Batman would be fighting conventional villains like Black Mask as mob boss who has hired conventional hitmen to do things all over Gotham to draw out and exhaust Batman.

Notice I left the Penguin in there. In my mind, the Penguin bridges a gap between more conventional villains like Black Mask and over the top super villains. Oswald Cobblepot still has to maintain a public image but his particular brand of villainy is definitely over the top. So leave Penguin and have Batman need to attack his empire as a consequence of Black Mask making major moves on this particular night.

Now, I cut a lot of villains out which might make for a pretty thin game. This is where I do crazy things. Give the Joker more levels, a lot more levels. The Joker levels are some of the best ones and Batman fighting Penguin and Black Mask create the perfect space for the Joker to begin his ascendancy. The game is not afraid to have Batman punching out GCPD officers left and fight, it's time to let the Joker in on that action.

If there is an origin to tell it's this one. How does Joker go from being just another guy to being one of the most feared people in all of DC. I read somewhere that when DC villains want to scare each other, they tell Joker stories. This can be a really scary Joker story. Black Mask and Penguin represent an ordered kind of villainy where success is measured in power and profits but the Joker is pure chaos, there's no rhyme or reason to his actions and that should get Batman's attention.

That game can till be long and fulfilling and have plenty of fluff that some of the more random challenges provide. However, if the game needed to be longer how about actually telling a Batman origin? Give me a level where he explores his first days in Gotham or his days training to become Batman. There's dozens of these "what did he do before Gotham" stories and this could be one of them.

I think that game is in there and is very doable without needing a brand new engine or anything. Batman is just a man underneath the suit so I can understand how Metroid-vania makes sense for Batman but he's Batman, a world class detective and a genius, let me see how his ingenuity help to create some of these iconic gadgets that he later goes on to use in the other Arkham games.

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