Before 2009 there were two absolute certainties, Rocksteady Studios were unknown and superhero video games were bad… like really bad.
Fast forward six years and the UK based developers have released the final instalment in a genre-defining trilogy with Batman: Arkham Knight. Their efforts had resurrected, what had been, a sleeping giant of a genre which had been dormant since the glory days of Spider-Man 2.
So far had the superhero genre fallen, that when Batman: Arkham Asylum was announced at the end of 2008, IGN’s release article was two paragraphs long with a total of 94 words. Granted there wasn’t much information swirling around at the time, but there wasn’t even any filler on the article about the Dark Knight’s gaming history.
Numerous overwhelmingly positive reviews and fan acclaim later and Rocksteady had Batman fans swooning over what was, at the time, the best superhero game ever.
The rest, as they say, is history. Follow-ups Arkham City and Arkham Knight reaffirmed their legacy as the studio that truly did the Caped Crusader justice.
Yet, four years after the studio announced they were done with the franchise, take away the trip into virtual reality with Arkham VR, it seems that they may not have moved on after all.
In a week of video game leaks, it was posted on 4chan that a new Arkham game is in development at Rocksteady, dubbed Arkham Universe. The company has done nothing to dispel these rumours, with multiple job listings for what they have been calling “AAA title”. While this is not concrete evidence of a new Arkhamverse game, it fuels speculation that their collaboration with Warner Bros and DC is far from over.
For over three years it has been circulating that a new Superman game was next on the agenda. Then it was the Justice League. And initially, after the leaked Harry Potter footage, that Rocksteady was behind this project as well.
While the interest in Batman video games are at an all-time high, from the information revealed about this game, is this instalment really necessary or rather just excess padding as an excuse to roll out another Arkham game.
So, using information from the leak, which are not facts by the way, here are some opinions about what Rocksteady could be planning for the future of Batman.
Story and Timeline
Details outline that Universe is to take place within the Arkhamverse, so in the same realm as the stories of Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and Arkham Knight… and Arkham Origins to be pedantic.
As a secret society, the Court of Owls has been working from within the fabric of Gotham for years and attempt to take down the Batfamily to seize control… sound familiar? Their run in the comics pitted their Talons i.e. henchmen, soldiers etc. against each of Batman’s allies before a climactic showdown between their leader and Bats. A storybook reciting a tale of the Court of Owls is seen in Arkham Origins, so it’s implied they are around in this Batman universe.
Supposedly, there are an array of characters the player will control. Batman, Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, Catwoman and Red Hood are all going to be playable, even in free roam.
And one surprising addition is Batwoman. Batwoman has gained fame through her run in the New 52 and her alter ego, Kate Kain, was confirmed as part of the universe thanks to a voice message left at Wayne Tower in Arkham Knight.
This ties into the theory of the game being set in the past, the only question is where does it fit?
In her message, Kate recalls that no-one has seen Bruce in months which is consistent with Batman’s mood after the events of Arkham City. The death of Talia al Ghul and The Joker led to Bruce becoming even more distant and brooding.
So, this seems to suggest Kate was around at least during the Arkham City story, yet there’s no mention of her during Asylum.
Now, with a spoiler warning for the end of Batman: Arkham Knight, surely a new game set in this universe is going to be a prequel? It would really undersell the supposed “demise” of Bruce Wayne and Batman after his identity was revealed by Scarecrow, even if Universe is set prior to the final game.
One contradictory aspect is that Red Hood is going to be playable. Canonically, Red Hood was only introduced after the end of Arkham Knight. Before these events, he was presumed dead after being tortured by the Joker but fled to plot against Batman as the Arkham Knight. If Red Hood is going to be part of the story, the timeline is going to be screwed up just on this aspect alone.
Gameplay and Design
If we are expecting major gameplay overhauls, it seems we are going to be disappointed.
From what has been “revealed,” the game is going to incorporate the various mechanics that have been implemented throughout the series.
Traversal and combat are set to remain the same, although “parkour has been expanded. Characters move a lot quicker and more fluid”. Could this be a page out of Spider-Man PS4’s book? It would certainly fit with the more acrobatic natures of Robin, Nightwing and Batwoman.
One of the most divisive introductions was the Batmobile. Used mainly for combat and puzzle solving in Arkham Knight, it appears its usefulness will be severely limited to just traversal across the open world. The Batmobile will be exclusive to Batman whilst other characters will rely on motorcycles to get around.
As mentioned, multiple characters will be available in free roam sections. However, what is interesting is the introduction of a new co-op mode which will see the dual takedown mechanic in play and new options during stealth missions. It would be intriguing to pair up with a friend to experience Arkham’s combat while interacting with each other’s character.
The Batcave is to serve as the main hub, where character swaps can take place, purchase new upgrades, scout new missions and enter the different game modes.
Now the open world, which was meticulously crafted through Asylum all the way to Knight, is supposedly set to be 1.5x the size of Arkham Knight’s map with new or overhauled districts and neighbourhoods.
Wanting to add more layers to an already impressive open world has its pros and cons. Losing some of the focus can be rectified if the world is immersive and full of unique distractions. What the series has done so well in the past is to weave the side quests and activities into conjunction with the main plot. And with random crimes, apparently in the game – à la car chases, bank robberies etc. – will the focus shift away from the storyline to just chasing XP?
Described as a “living, breathing city” it is starting to feel like this is going to be more of a Batman simulator with you able to access every part of his universe. I wonder where characters like Commissioner Gordon or Alfred will fit into this?
Those who attend the Xbox fan event, XO18, may be in for an exclusive reveal of the newest Arkham title.
A potential Autumn 2019 release is floating around, yet fans may want to hold their breath, especially after the delays of Arkham Knight.
Universe will supposedly be available across all current generation consoles, apart from the Switch, and on PC – they better get the PC port right this time!
Apart from the reasons already mentioned, it cannot be stressed enough that this is nowhere near a legit reveal.
While a few games have had their releases leaked over the years, developers are becoming more and more savvy on how to handle them. The best example was just this year when hackers managed to steal some concept files for CD Projekt Red’s upcoming Cyberpunk game. After the files were held for ransom, the developers claimed the information seized was “old and largely unrepresentative of the current version of the game”. So take that hackers, you got nothing.
And this is also true with the Arkham series.
In February 2017, another leak reported that Arkham Insurgency was in development over at WB Montréal, the developers of Arkham Origins, set to take place three years after the events of the prequel game. And that was slated for a release in November of last year and yet we have no more news of Arkham Insurgency.
Arkham Universe has a lot of competition to battle too. The releases of games such as Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and even Marvel’s Spider-Man, means if Universe is just a compilation of the Arkhamverse mechanics, it will need to amaze with it’s narrative and add even more into the design to make it stand out.
Rocksteady has always gone over their games with a fine toothcomb. And while adding multiplayer and co-op will no doubt be a fun addition, setting this game in the Arkhamverse is going to be a challenge to make sure it keeps the high standards of the series’ storytelling.
If you are a massive Arkham fan, like me, another game in the series would give us even more reason to put back on the cape and cowl. Yet the contradictions I find are keeping me wary of the intentions of the game.
If the storyline will flush out the Arkhamverse with necessary nuances to add to the lore, then bring it on.