5 Reasons ‘Arkham City’ Will Rock/Suck

This week heralds the arrival of one of the most anticipated games of the year (THE most anticipated for cool people). ‘Arkham Asylum’ was a surprisingly brilliant production, rising far above the average bar set by a typical comic book tie-in, and it was the first game created by that company. Little did gamers know that this game was already in the planning stages when the first game was still in development, as evidenced by a so-secret-no-one-noticed-it-until-the-developer-pointed-it-out-to-us room in the Warden’s office that depicted his plans for the Arkham City prison.

A teaser trailer arrived a few months after the release and news, updates and trailers have been drip-fed to us since. Whilst they’ve kept the hype train rolling, they’ve managed to remain pretty cagy about the important details. Geeks being geeks we do tend to get a bit carried away when anticipating a big release. With expectations soaring one can get the uneasy feeling that it may not be all we hoped. So here’s a balanced look – five reasons it will rock, and five reasons it might suck.

Five Reasons ‘Arkham City’ Might Suck

5. It Might Be a Carbon Copy

‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ was a damn solid piece of entertainment. Combat, stealth, story, puzzle solving – all the basic elements of gameplay merge seemlessly together to form a vortex of awesomeness. If ‘Arkham City’ simply takes the original game, redraws the map and throws you straight back in with a couple of new enemies and a gadget or two it will still be a damn good game. But it will be disappointing, especially given the amount of hype we’ve heard about the improved travel mechanics, the more complex detective system, etc, etc. The last thing we want here is a repeat of ‘Bioshock 2’ – it let us down by not moving far enough away from the original.

4. ‘Metal Gear Solid 2’ Fake-Out

For those old enough to remember the early PS2 era, few things were as highly anticipated as the follow up to ‘Metal Gear Solid’. The trailers gave us plenty of good things to look forward, most notably protagonist Solid Snake kicking all kinds of ass. Turns out we’d been had – the game actually focused on new guy Raiden. It’s unlikely to happen, but given the tight control the over the ‘Arkham City’ marketing machine we’ve seen they could well be hiding something. Perhaps the Joker is just making a cameo, and Hugo Strange is simply the front for another, unseen villain. No doubt Rocksteady Studios aren’t foolish enough to play silly buggers with their customers, but we won’t know ’til we play it.

3. Overloaded

The teaser trailer featured The Joker and Harley Quinn, picking it up straight after the first game. Then came the announcement that Hugo Strange would be taking lead baddie duties, Alfred was confirmed as voice support and Catwoman was given an announcement trailer that included Two-Face. So far, so good, a very satisfactory line-up. Then imdb.com posted that the voice actors for Mr. Freeze and Talia al Ghul were signed up. Robin was confirmed as DLC, The Penguin was added, followed up by Solomon Grundy. The Riddler, Bane, Mr. Zsasz returning, Deadshot is revealed, the The Mad Hatter gets leaked. Are there any characters not getting included in this game? A oft-voiced concern at this point is that the game is too bloated with characters, meaning that none of them will be given their dues beyond a cameo and the Dark Knight may spend the game bouncing from one boss-battle to another at the expense of the games other elements.

2. ‘Assassin’s Creed II’ Syndrome

Here’s what Ubosoft did right with their Assassin’s Creed sequels – listened to gamer feedback and responded to it. What they did wrong – respond to ALL OF IT. The sequel to the smash hit was a massive improvement on the original (it featured more than three types of missions that get repeated verbatim for starters) but they threw in so much other stuff it became bloated and padded. Heavily featured in the marketing was Leonardo’s flying machine…which then appeared in one mission of a very large game. With the amount of cool new ideas and character announced for ‘Arkham City’ it’s not out of the realm of reason that some of these concepts are going to get short changed, such as Catwoman as a playable character.

1. Expectations

Is it possible that the game could match the awesomeness that we can imagine? A game is bound by restrictions – data size, budget, time, politics, etc, etc. We’ve been given so many bites of tasty information it’s natural that our imagination is going to get carried away. The promise of the game that surpasses ‘Batman: Arkham Asylum’ is intriguing enough…hopefully it can deliver on that promise.

Five Reasons ‘Arkham City’ Will Rock

5. Paul Dini

Don’t know that name? Let me help…he wrote for ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ and ‘Batman Beyond’ (plus other shows like ‘Animaniacs’, ‘He-Man’, ‘Transformers’…which is rad, but not relevant here). He also writes ‘Detective Comics’, ‘Harley Quinn’, ‘Streets of Gotham’, ‘Gotham Sirens’ and the flagship Batman title ‘Batman and Robin’. Oh, and he created ‘Harley Quinn’, the most popular new Batman character of the past twenty years. The guy is a fantastic writer of superheroes and cartoons, and he’s supplied the story for ‘Arkham City’. The story sounded cool for a game as is, through a writer like Dini and it’s really something to look forward to.

If you want a warm up, he has also penned two sets of ‘Arkham City’ prelude comics (one an online exclusive), and they rank among the best Batman stories currently on the market.

4. Freedom!

These days there isn’t a superhero game hitting the consoles unless there’s a movie tie-in happening. With the high quality original content on sale week-to-week, it’s little wonder. Whatever way you slice it, a game that is based of a comic is going to be average at best. Throw in a movie tie-in and you’re looking at a one-way trip to Crapopolis. Even the last two Batman games were tie ins – one to the ‘Brave and the Bold’ TV series and one to Lego (of all things). The ‘Arkham’ series has no responsibility to recreate a movie, cartoon or even material previously used in a comic. It’s free to tell its own story outside of canon and develop their own take of the characters and setting, and what they’ve chosen to do with that freedom is make the fans very, very happy. Great, original stories, new takes on familiar faces (who didn’t love The Scarecrow) – we cannot wait to see what they’re going to do next. Hell – even Robin looks kinda awesome.

3. Philosophy and Design

Some gaming companies just have a damn good philosophy driving their productions and developers. On one side of the coin is Lucasarts, who happily churn out mediocre and broken games pulled along by a multi-million dollar marketing budget content in the knowledge that the ‘Star Wars’ brand will sell itself. The other side of the coin are companies like Valve, who don’t live by anyone else’s expectations or standards, will constantly push the boundaries of what is possible in gaming and create masterpieces of the industry. ‘Half-Life 2’ saw the integration of narrative into gameplay and a fusion of genres that would look like indecision in any other game. ‘Portal’ was a scrapped idea from ‘Half-Life 2’ and it still sat head and shoulders above the rest of the market.

Rocksteady seem to be in the same camp as Valve. Whilst ‘Batman’ is hardly the most original idea doing the rounds, they went into the game with a blank rule-book. They experimented with different styles, abandoned an idea where it would become a rhythm game during combat (seriously) and build their world up from scratch. What they produced was combat and stealth mechanics that felt completely original, and it only took until the next Spider-Man game for people to start ripping it off. They didn’t wait until the first game was a success before getting into the second either – they liked what they were doing and wanted to continue, so they did. This approach bodes well.

2. Building on a Strong Foundation

Half the work was already done for them, and that half was bloody fantastic. They’ve got the style and the basics of gameplay already taken care off, now all they have to do is tweak what they had and start building on top of it. Fans are very excited about what is in store for them.

1. It’s the Goddamn Batman

Pop quiz, hotshot: what’s the best superhero movie ever? The Dark Knight. Which comic series has attracted the best line-up of writers and artists ever assembled, including Dini, Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, Brubaker, Lee, Miller and more? Batman. What’s the best superhero cartoon series? ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ (‘X-Men’ a close second). Which superhero has appeared successfully in more forms of entertainment over a longer period of time than any other?

See where I’m going with this?

The Batman Logo on a product is a sign of quality (with a small number of exception, sure. Also: fuck you Joel Schumacher). The character is not only a flagship of the comic world, but one of the most adaptable. Sure Superman has been around longer, but when was his last good film? When has he EVER had a good video game.

Batman makes everything he’s in more awesome by default. Now let me play the damn game!