Today was the first day of San Diego Comic-Con for most attendees, and many were fortunate enough to catch a sneak peek at the up-and-coming Batman: Arkham Origins at their panel. The game, currently being developed by WB Montreal, is a prequel to Rocksteady’s highly praised Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, set in the second year of billionaire Bruce Wayne’s reign as vigilante crime fighter Batman. However, the studio isn’t the only thing that’s changed.
Fans were not quite sure how to react back in May when they heard that actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would not be reprising their roles as Batman/Bruce Wayne and the Joker, instead being replaced by Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker, respectively. However, in the months since, people appear to be growing more comfortable with the change. Smith, who is most widely known as the current voice of Resident Evil’s Chris Redfield and Ezio in Assassin’s Creed, seemed just as intent on getting his respect for the actors who have played Batman as we he was on getting the crowd to laugh. “It’s surreal. I’m not ready for this, I haven’t been for the entire process,” Smith said at the panel. “It’s a huge honour. There are no words to describe it; I hope I pay homage to this character.”
Baker, currently enjoying success and praise for his roles as Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite and Joel in The Last of Us, shared a similar sentiment. “This whole process actually started over drinks at Comic-Con last year. It’s not lost on us that we are stepping into some amazing, amazing shoes. I grew up listening to Kevin and Mark; I used to rush home after school everyday so I could hear that iconic theme from Batman the Animated Series. That 10 year old kid never imaged that I would be sitting here.” Baker was also adamant that his performance is not an impression of the Mark Hamill voice, but instead his own version, though he did admit to being extremely influenced by Hamill’s infamous Joker laugh.
The game’s director, Eric Holmes, also explained his desire to create a prequel in the Arkham universe, explaining how Batman and his roster of allies and villains are fully formed characters in the other games and his knowledge of how they fit together made reading Batman Year One exciting for him. In Year One, Jim Gordon is the head of the task force hunting Batman down, pitting two characters who usually cooperate against each other. This kind of conflict is distressing and exciting for the audience, who are eager to see how the characters will fit back into the places that they already know they need to be. Batman is also a very different man at the start of his career than he is by the time of the other Arkham games. Holmes described an arrogance that Wayne would develop after two years of fighting mob enforcers who he so overtly overpowers, and how it would be crushed in his initial defeat by Black Mask. “There’s a freedom to explore the character’s journey in a sequel,” Holmes said. Geoff Johns from DC Comics also expressed that this won’t be the same origins story that fans have read in the past. “They get a lot of latitude because we trust them. It’s all about creative freedom in the right creative hands.”
One of those latitudes was also a big reveal at the San Diego panel when they showed the newest assassin in the game: a female Copperhead. No longer a dude in a weird viper outfit, Copperhead is a pretty badass looking fighter, using stealth, poisons, contortion, and gymnastics to kick serious butt. Some of her fighting techniques were even motion-captured using the help of a Cirque du Soleil gymnast, which is definitely an advantage of the game being developed in Cirque’s hometown of Montreal. Holmes expressed that the team just felt the villain worked better as a woman, and DC seems to agree. “We’re going to be putting her in mainstream comic books shortly after the game because she’s so awesome,” sad Johns. You can see the new “Copperhead Trailer” for Origins below.
There was also a small hint that there may be some more butt kicking ladies in Origins. When a fan asked Holmes whether or not Robin or Batgirl would be making an appearance in the game, he stated that Batman works alone in this game and that he is not yet ready for a sidekick. However, while he stated blatantly that Robin would not be making an appearance, he declined to give a definite answer on the status of Batgirl. While this set the crowd abuzz with the possibility of everybody’s favourite female flying mammal swooping in to join in on the crime fighting action, this author doubts that this will actually be the case. Much more likely is that the character of Barbara Gordon will make a short, secondary appearance, alluding to her later role in the canon. Fans should note that Origins is set 6 years before the events of Arkham City, in which Barbara had already made the transition from Batgirl to Oracle, so there’s plenty of time for sidekicks to come and go between the games.
Ultimately, Batman: Arkham Origins is shaping up to be another awesome gaming experience, living up to the expectations set by its predecessors. There’s also a spinoff PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS game in the works titled Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, set shortly after the events of Origins. Currently being developed by Armature Studio under the direction of Mark Pacini, from the same team as Metroid Prime, will be released the same date as Origins but be much more focused on finding items in the world and less about levelling up. Pacini described it as more of a traditional style of gaming and stated that there will be new characters in the game who have not yet been seen in any other Arkham title.