Why you should be skeptical about WB Montréal’s upcoming Arkham Game

In case you haven’t heard already, WB Montréal, the studio behind Arkham Origins, is most likely releasing a new Batman game later this year. If true, this will be the first installment in the series since 2015’s Arkham Knight and, given how (relatively) disappointing the finale to the original Rocksteady trilogy turned out, fans are pretty excited for this mysterious next chapter—but there’s more than a few reasons why they probably shouldn’t get their hopes up.

Much like the 2014 Lord of the Rings-inspired Monolith game Shadow of Mordor, WB Montréal’s Arkham Origins was one of the more surprising games of the last decade. I say ‘surprising,’ not because the project didn’t seem like it would be any good—and yet it was—but because it wasn’t, and yet people liked it anyway. In fact, not only did Origins receive generally favorable reviews upon its release, its reputation has only gone up over years.

And that’s quite a feat, considering how much the inexperienced Canadian developers did wrong. While they beat Rocksteady at making a game set in Gotham, the result wasn’t exactly something worth celebrating. The map, while big (though not as big as Knight’s) felt lifeless, and whoever designed the metropolis clearly had no knowledge of urban planning. Far from it: streets slither in unrealistic directions, massive industrial pipes appear out of nowhere to rise up higher than some buildings, and every interior seems like it was designed for the Caped Crusader’s predator mode rather than, you know, their actual inhabitants.

If the artificial environments couldn’t break up the immersion, then the story—along with all the fan service that was packed into it—certainly did the trick. Just as WB Montréal was the first developer to explore the streets of Gotham, so too were they the first to give in to popular demand and strap Brucy boy into a Nolan-inspired armored suit. Though the paramilitary getup may look a lot cooler than the comically cringeworthy spandex, this change in wardrobe was emblematic of a rather poor design choice to make the Dark Knight stronger and better equipped with every subsequent entry in the franchise.

The result of this decision was strongly felt. One of the things which the original Asylum did right was that they made players feel as though the odds were stacked against them sky-high. The opening sequence, in which you escort a captured Joker to the institution’s Intensive Treatment Facility, was like walking straight down into the lion’s den with a massive sirloin steak strapped to your crotch. It made for a feeling of dread that no other entry in the series has quite managed to capture yet, and maybe that’s because it’s hard to come up with foes that feel truly threatened when you’re wearing a bulletproof outfit and got an indestructible car at your disposal.

Is there anything to look forward to, then, regarding this upcoming production? Yes—yes there is. A few months ago, a post teasing the upcoming project was retweeted by veteran comic book writer Scott Snyder, who worked on issues like Death of the Family (not, mind you, Death in the Family, the Joker-kills-Robin storyline that was featured in Knight), Endgame (the Batman version, not the Avengers one), as well as the origin story of yet another secret society of the hero’s absurdly large rogues gallery: the Court of Owls.

Snyder’s involvement in the project is great news not just because he’s a skilled writer, but because he is intimately familiar with the Batman mythos. Past projects had good writers, too. Origins was written by Assassin’s Creed writer Corey May, and Knight by Rocksteady founder Sefton Hill (as opposed to Arkhamverse creator and DC Comics wizard Paul Dini), who had worked on the story of the two preceding games as well. Each, however, resulted in a narrative that felt more like fan fiction rather than a true Batman story, proving familiarity with the character and his past is an absolute must for creating a game that feels organic.

At moments like these, you may be wondering if we’re not being too hard on WB Montréal, especially given that they are still a relatively young company. Maybe we are, but at the same time, we must not forget that Asylum was only the second video game that Rocksteady ever produced, their other being a Call of Duty-esque online shooter. And since we didn’t see them litter their wards with randomly placed Nigma extortion packets, is it too much to ask for no more cash-grabbing, no more piggyback riding off of the success of another studio’s franchise, and expect only projects of genuine passion from here on? Let’s hope it isn’t.

About the Author:

Tim Brinkhof is a freelancer, whose work has been published in PopMatters, Film Inquiry, History Today and The New York Observer among others. Feel free to check out his portfolio here: https://muckrack.com/timb_14.

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