This is the first time I've worked E3 as a games journalist. Last year and the year before it, I was working with E3 Insider. My job was to upload pictures and descriptions of games I hadn't played, and as is the ESA standard, no commentary or criticism was allowed. This year, working for USgamer has made the E3 experience much different. I can cover games with my own editorial voice, I have actual appointments for press conferences and game demos, I even had access to the VIP lounge at the Nintendo booth, led from one game to another by a woman getting paid to make me feel comfortable. At the Batman: Arkham Origins developer demo and hands-on event, I even got a free beer.
Not that I'd have to be intoxicated to like an Arkham game. The pinnacle of the series for me is Arkham City, but when Origins was announced, I immediately liked the idea of exploring an origin story in a game, even if it was being developed by Warner Brothers Montreal and not Rocksteady. Because it's an origin story, I assumed the game would look significantly different from what I had played in past games. When the previews started popping up on the Internet, I was disappointed to see Origins looking more like Arkham City 2. Except now Batman has stubble. This was not the level of innovation I was expecting. But then again, big game companies don't take big risks with popular franchises like the Arkham series.
To date, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City have sold over 8.5 million units combined. They also stand as two of the most critically acclaimed games of the current generation on Metacritic. The series has made Warner Brothers boatloads of money, which is exactly why they'd rather play it safe. They took careful measures to ensure Origins is well received at E3, and they even managed to wow me with their developer demo.
I was standing in a small viewing room with upwards of thirty people, looking at a blank television screen that must have been the size of a twin mattress. It was definitely the largest TV I've ever seen outside a Best Buy. We heard a thing or two about the game, namely that as an origin story, this is Batman's biggest challenge in his career, and he will be facing many of the villains for the first time. The next thing I know, I'm watching a level designer on the team control Batman through South Gotham. He made it look easy, the way Takeru Kobayashi does when he eats an insane amount of hot dogs and pork buns. The last thing on my mind was how easy it is to fumble over controls when you first get your hands on a game, especially in an open world when you don't have the map laid out in your head. I immediately forget how easy it is to fumble over the controls of a game when you first get it in your hands, especially in an open-world game when you don't know the map yet.
Because the game looks so good, which is pretty much par for the course with big budget titles, and because the demo was so well choreographed, I fell right in to thinking I had been wrong, and that Origins was not simply Arkham City 2. The big screen had me fooled, and by extension, so did Warner Brothers.
They introduced a new mode in the demo, highlighting both Batman's mastery of detective work, and his penchant for cutting-edge technology. They're calling it the Case File System, and with it, Batman was able to flip to detective mode, hunt for evidence, piece clues together, mock up the footage to a video, fast forward and rewind it to find where the next piece of evidence might be, and in this case, it led him to a laser sight coming from a building across town. It looked incredible. I think I drooled. But when I went hands on with the demo, this part was much less elegant.
It was then I realized I had been fooled. Not to say Arkham Origins is bad. I'm going to play the hell out of it when it comes out October 25. But my first real impression of the game came from watching a guy who knows the game inside and out play it gracefully, the events choreographed to showcase new features as elaborately as possible. So while I sipped my beer, encouraging my muscle memory to remember the complex controls, trying not to feel embarrassed as the character designer next to me kept pointing out where I should go because I wasn't on target, I realized two things. One, I want a TV that big. And two, it's marketing that made me like Batman: Arkham Origins.