So, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment has announced the last game in the Arkham series, Batman: Arkham Knight. Arkham Knight takes place after Arkham City and acts as Rocksteady's return to the franchise after Warner Bros Games Montreal's Batman: Arkham Origins. An all-new Batmobile, a bigger city, more villains, a single-player focus, and a next-gen only release on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC act as enticements for players to return to Batman again.
Like some other ongoing franchise releases, Batman: Arkham Origins felt a bit stale. There's a fine line between providing a familiar experience for series fans and giving them something new to keep them coming back. It can be hard to find your way over to the right side of the line, especially when you're inside a giant AAA machine of 100+ developers.
While Arkham Origins was a well-developed and solid game, I felt like I had tread the same ground two years ago in Arkham City. There were new bell-and-whistles like Detective Replays, but Gotham itself felt lifeless and it certainly didn't feel like a step up from the previous cityscape. Batman's famous rogue gallery had been well and truly mined by the first two games, leaving WB Montreal in a hard place: returning to those mainstays would be boring, but how many fans would care about the new cast of B- and C-list DC assassins? WB Montreal did the best they could, but I hungered for more. When Rocksteady bowed out of Arkham Origins, I was hoping they had moved on to another hero or heroine in DC Comics' considerable stable.
Why is Warner Bros Interactive afraid to leave Batman behind for something different? From a business perspective, it makes sense. The first Batman film was the Iron Man of the 90s, establishing superhero films as a force to be reckoned with and grossing $411 million worldwide. All told, the Batman films have brought in a total box office revenue of $3.72 billion.
Batman is a proven sell for Warner Bros. It's why we've had four Batman cartoons and a host of animated films starring the Dark Knight. The Man of Steel sequel film? It's now a Batman/Superman movie instead. TT Games' DC Comics-focused Lego games were Lego Batman and Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes, while the competition went all in with Lego Marvel Super Heroes the first time out. When they announced the Infinite Crisis MOBA in March of last year, the first hero they opened with was Batman; Superman didn't even join the roster until this January. Even The Lego Movie briefly featured Superman, Green Lantern, and Wonder Woman, but who's in the main cast? Batman. Batman is the vanguard for everything else in the DC Universe.
So it's imperative that Rocksteady doesn't drop the ball. The studio needs to remind fans why the Arkham series is amazing. Part of the problem with annual or bi-annual releases is the previous title is still fresh in our minds. Ubisoft can testify on some of the difficulties of keeping the machine going: Assassin's Creed II led into the improved Brotherhood, but Revelations didn't bring much more to the table and Assassin's Creed III was a disappointment. Even I was starting to wonder if Ubisoft's annual drive wasn't souring the series and I'm crazy for all things Assassin's Creed.
Until Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag touched down. All is forgiven, Ubisoft. Black Flag and its DLC, Freedom Cry, were some of my favorite games last year. The game took the solid core of Assassin's Creed and added a wide open-sea to explore. It was pretty great; the perfect mix of old and new.
Batman: Arkham Knight needs to be that same kind of mix. We need Batman: Black Flag, not Batman: Ride or Batman: Warfighter. A game that reminds us why we loved Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City in the first place, but also adds something new to the experience. Warner Bros could do that by focusing on a new DC hero or expanding outwards into Batman's inner circle, but in the absence of both options Rocksteady has to make Batman himself novel again.
Right now, we're still in the dark about a number of things. Rocksteady has a great pedigree and that was a moving cinematic trailer, but we have yet to see Batman stomping about in real-time; PAX East or E3 will be our first real chance to see what they have in store. I'm intrigued by what they've announced so far, especially the creation of all-new villain for Batman to fight (the Arkham Knight referred to in the title). If that character is great, the Batmobile is a solid addition to the series' gameplay, and next-generation Gotham shows off more life than its predecessors, they could have a hit on their hands. But that's all ifs and maybes at this point. Fingers crossed. Stick the landing, Rocksteady.