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Arkham Origins – dissonance between gameplay, narrative

Sunday, 16 June 2013 14:11 GMT By Catherine Cai

Warner Bros Montreal has some big shoes to fill with Batman: Arkham Origins, thanks to the populartity of the Rocksteady titles in the series. So, how does it fare? We sent Catherine Cai to E3 to find out for us.

WB Montreal has done a fantastic job overhauling work from the previous two games and for the most part, melee combat still functions very much the same. What I found most impressive was the work that’s been done to touch-up detective mode.

Before I begin, I’m just going to make it clear that the hands-on Batman: Arkham Origins demo I played isn’t actually featured directly in the game itself. Instead, it’s a series of side missions, with elements that may be included in the finished game.

As a result, I wasn’t able to really get a good sense of what was going on, since you’re essentially dropped into the game and there were quests thrown at you in rather quick succession.

One of the first things Batman does as he swoops around Gotham City is beat down some Black Mask thugs, a great introduction to the game’s melee combat. Warner Bros. Montreal has done a fantastic job of overhauling Rocksteady’s work from the previous two games and for the most part, melee combat still functions very much the same.

However, it’s been touched up so that Batman handles a little more lithely and the AI feel like they’re definitely a little bit better equipped to fight back. Rather than functioning as little more than meat sacks with the brain capacity to every so often strike a blow at Batman, enemies are now able to counter Batman’s strikes and force him to counter mid-strike.

What I found most impressive was the work that’s been done to touch up detective mode. For most of the game, detective mode is still just the alternative view to mark out enemies and hint toward things like weakened walls, that otherwise wouldn’t be obvious. However, one of the side missions involved Batman having to solve a mysterious helicopter crash.

In that sequence, detective mode became more like a mini-game. I think the one flaw I did find with Rocksteady’s games is that while they nailed pretty much everything that a Batman comic is supposed to be, there was rather little investigative work to be done in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The puzzles, for the most part, were rather obvious after taking a gander around the world in detective mode.

When Batman locates the site of the helicopter crash, he switches to detective mode to figure out the crash trajectory. Detective mode now also involves time, and you can fast forward/rewind events virtually in order to help solve the crime.

Batman: Arkham Origins – Debut Trailer

Playing back the tape of the events, Batman is able to track where the helicopter was exactly when it lost control and crashed. He returns to the building where it stood, and in detective mode, he’s able to see that a bullet struck the tail rotor. He calculates the trajectory of the bullet and follows it up to another building. There lies the body of a cop holding a sniper rifle, but it doesn’t make sense for the cop to have shot down the helicopter.

Winding backwards and forwards through the tape, you’re able to see that someone else fired and killed the cop. The bullet then ricocheted and hit the helicopter, sending it spiraling down into the streets. Of course the shot was intentional and Batman concludes that the only individual capable of pulling off such a move would be Deadshot.

Warner Bros. Montreal has also introduced some new gadgets to add to Batman’s arsenal. The one that one of its developers took time to point out to me was the new Remote Batclaw. Essentially, this new toy allows Batman to tie any two things together, which is rather useful in combat. Enemies can now be tied to different parts of the environment or to each other, rendering them mobile for an easy takedown.

However much I enjoyed playing through Batman: Arkham Origins demo, I did walk away somewhat unsatisfied. Warner Bros. Montreal proved to me that it very much had a good handle on building off and improving the gameplay that Rocksteady had left the series with. That much is obvious. But my problem with Batman: Arkham Origins is that there’s a bit of dissonance between the narrative and the gameplay.

Batman: Arkham Origins is meant to be a prequel to the other two games in the series. In the timeline, it’s set just a few years after Frank Miller’s “Year One”, which features Bruce Wayne just stepping into the role of Batman. “Year One” showed Batman still trying to get his bearings on being a vigilante. The world’s greatest detective wasn’t just magically good at doing what he does. Even he had to be on training wheels and make a few mistakes. However, this inexperience, which supposedly is also a part of the narrative of Arkham Origins, isn’t translated across in the gameplay.

Games don’t necessarily need to have a good narrative in order to be fun. It’s an outdated philosophy because as interactive mediums, games have the potential to bring understanding about an experience in a narrative in a way that other forms of entertainment simply cannot. Unfortunately, it’s a philosophy that plenty of game designers still hold to.

As I mentioned previously, Batman still handles very much the same as he did in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. This doesn’t necessarily mean that Batman needs to feel “weak”, per se, but there should be something in the gameplay that shows that Batman hasn’t got it all figured out.

I spoke to the game’s art director Jeremy Price. He explained that the decision to not change up much of the gameplay for Batman is intentional.

“Gameplay comes first, right?” said Price. “You want to empower the player. You want the player to be Batman. It was a conscious decision that was made.

“Narratively-wise, yes, it’s a prequel. It’s the formative years of Batman, but at the same time, we still want the player to have a very enjoyable experience.”

I find that rather unsatisfactory.

I understand that Warner Bros. Montreal has some big shoes to fill with the legacy that Rocksteady’s left behind, and that’s a rather bad position to be in from a creative standpoint. Since it’s making another Arkham game, it better handle similarly to its predecessors and be satisfactory to its fans, lest the studio be damned and accused of ruining the franchise or something else equally heinous. But I don’t think this means that it can’t make adjustments to the gameplay in a way that would be true to the narrative without disrupting of how the game handles.

That’s chiefly one of my problems with games today. Games don’t necessarily need to have a good narrative in order to be fun. I think it’s an outdated philosophy to have, because games, as interactive mediums, have the potential to bring understanding about an experience in a narrative in a way that other forms of entertainment simply cannot. Unfortunately, it’s a philosophy that plenty of game designers still hold to.

Ultimately, so far, that’s my only disappointment with Batman: Arkham Origins. In all other aspects, it’s shaping up to be the Batman game that Arkham Asylum and Arkham City fans have been waiting for. Still, I have absolutely no idea what the game’s story will really be about, as the only details that I was given have been pretty much the same ones that have been given out in recent months.

Any inquiries I have about the main storyline had been deflected with responses of “you’ll have to wait and see” and “we won’t talk about it until the game’s released.”

I guess our hands are tied.

Batman: Arkham Origins launches worldwide on October 25 on PC, PS3, Wii U, and Xbox 360.

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42 Comments

  1. tatsujin

    0 comments?

    Edit — Guess someone deleted all comments on this.

    #1 2 years ago
  2. Lengendaryboss

    @1
    Could it have something to do with it being the weekend, peoples free days off? Spending it in luxury?

    #2 2 years ago
  3. DSB

    It’s good to see a bit of skepticism in a preview. Nice one.

    #3 2 years ago
  4. MasterMiller

    what about the graphics ??
    cus’ I was a little disappointed about the graphics based on the trailer they showed at sony conf.

    #4 2 years ago
  5. KAP

    @2
    Everyone’s playing The Last Of Us..

    #5 2 years ago
  6. Bomba Luigi

    The Two Batman Games are some of my Favorites of these Gen, but this 3 Titel just don’t get my Attention. I just saw nothing that made my want this Game, its strange… don’t know why it is so.

    Anyway, I have to go, need to play more The Last of Us :P

    #6 2 years ago
  7. Lengendaryboss

    @KAP
    Hit the nail on the head :)

    #7 2 years ago
  8. catherinecai

    @4
    The graphics didn’t blow me away. The game looked akin to Arkham City.

    #8 2 years ago
  9. Edo

    I have to say that I am actually glad that they are not revealing a lot of things that are related to the main plot as I was disappointed that Rocksteady did exactly the opposite.They revealed pretty much every villain that was in the game and don’t even let me start about that ending “game” they played with the Arkham City previews.

    #9 2 years ago
  10. Pytox

    this game just seems more of the same on a different location with new characters

    #10 2 years ago
  11. YoungZer0

    @10: So it’s to Arkham City what Arkham City was to Arkham Asylum?

    #11 2 years ago
  12. SameeR_Fisher

    @catherinecai: really nice preview, and I totally share your concerns regarding overpowering Batman, but personally I don’t think it is the narrative problem, but the developers not wanting to take risks, it is a line they are afraid to cross.

    For example The Grapnel Boost from Arkham City, it was a prototype there, but suddenly Batman has it in Origins as well which takes place years before the events of Arkham City, it doesn’t make any sense from a narrative point of view, but the developers are afraid of removing it, it was one hell of a mechanic in AC, removing it would leave sour taste for some players, but they should have made something different that function somehow similar.

    Also I have to disagree regarding the narrative, the narrative needs to be strong in any game, games without good stories or strong narrative feels bland to me, Dishonored comes to mind, it was an amazing game from gameplay perspective, story was interesting too, but the narrative was so shallow due to Corvo being a silent character, it really affected the game for me in a bad way.

    #12 2 years ago
  13. catherinecai

    @12: I don’t disagree with you about narrative. However, games can lack a narrative and still be fun. It just doesn’t work out when you have a game like Dishonored and Arkham Origins that DO has a semblance of a narrative. I think if you’re going to commit to having a story in your game, you should commit all the way. AAA games these days suffer from lazy storytelling because a lot of developers operate off the idea that gameplay comes first and narrative comes second. I think that’s a rather foolish notion to have.

    Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. :)

    #13 2 years ago
  14. Max Payne

    Problem with Arkham Origins seams that only story is ”Origins” and not gameplay. Which is fine, every game did it, from God of war,Gears of War, Halo Reach… Imagine you play prequel and you have worse weapons and less gadgets ? That would be just stupid.

    #14 2 years ago
  15. DSB

    @14 Not really, it would be perfectly logical.

    If you don’t care to regress, then don’t do a prequel.

    You don’t have to have less gadgets or worse weapons, you just have to have weapons and gadgets that make sense in preceding the ones you had in the “sequels”.

    #15 2 years ago
  16. Max Payne

    @15 Yea but just imagine people bitching up how their precious game has change how game is not up to Rocksteady standards, how WB is milking…
    Also I don’t they had many options really , obviously Rocksteady is working on some kind of next gen sequel so obviously they don’t want to intervene

    #16 2 years ago
  17. DSB

    @16 If they truly care about that, then an origin story is a bad idea.

    I don’t think doing the most obvious thing is the best way for a new studio like Warner Brothers Montreal to prove themselves.

    They could take any of those gadgets, weapons and mechanics and put their own spin on them. And obviously, since they’re working a moment in time that hasn’t been described, they’d be so much more within their rights to do so.

    Personally I’d hate to have a series as good as the Arkham games turn into CoD, BF or Assassins Creed.

    #17 2 years ago
  18. zinc

    @17, I see where your coming from & agree. Way i see it, Batman will become a cash-cow & this is Warner Brothers Montreals test-run.

    A multimillion dollar test-run, but test-run, nontheless.

    If this recieves a good reception, expect more experimentation in their biannual releases.

    #18 2 years ago
  19. YoungZer0

    @14: Why worse? Why not different? A low-budget version of the detective mode that highlights different objects. A rawer version of his Arkham Asylum gadgets. Completely different gadgets that are kind of like his newer gadgets but have a different effect.

    This is a younger Batman, so I’d imagine that he should be faster and rely less on his gadgets, as he doesn’t have as many.

    From what I’ve seen they kind of ruined it already, his Origins gadgets are better than his Arkham City gadgets and he can do things he could only do in Arkham City.

    Tbh though, it’s not enough to make me care. I’ll keep my eye on the game. For once I’d actually be happy with just getting more of the same.

    #19 2 years ago
  20. SameeR_Fisher

    @catherinecai: Totally agree, developers these days don’t really invest in good stories, I personally play video games for stories above, I feel heartbroken when there is a game with great gameplay but the story is lacking or 7hrs long.

    I also agree about lacking narrative and being fun, almost every NES title was like that, Crash Bandicoot was something similar, and other tons of games.

    I hope to see more writing from you :)

    #20 2 years ago
  21. SameeR_Fisher

    @14: you got a point, but you also not taking developers creativity into considerations, for example in Batman’s case, take out some of his gadgets and introduce other raw gadgets, or abilities that are as helpful.

    The Explosive Gel for example, take it away, and instead introduce some sort of Flash Bang Grenade, of course Batman will put a twist on it, make it smaller or something, it will have a similar function but it is very raw.

    Take away the Grapnel Boost, but make Batman more athletic and can jump better or faster between building, something like that.

    you see removing stuff from characters may sound bad, but actually playing as a yet to mature character is a great thing, like Lara Croft in TR, Origins should have made you experience Batman becoming the ultimate crusader he is, rather than already being one.

    #21 2 years ago
  22. YoungZer0

    @20: If you look past most AAA titles then you’ll find a lot of good games with an interesting story. Hell, even AAA titles have a better story than a lot of older games. We got Last of Us this month for christs sake.

    So I can’t say I agree with the typical “Everything was better back then” view so many overly nostalgic people seem to have.

    @21: Instead of the explosive gel he simply could have C4 shaped like a bat or something. The gel takes way too much time to place anyway.

    #22 2 years ago
  23. Jerykk

    The devs are right. You shouldn’t compromise gameplay for the sake of narrative. People enjoyed the player’s abilities and tools in Arkham City so removing them would just make Origins less fun. The new Tomb Raider game is a perfect example of this. They severely reduced Lara’s move set, which in turn limited the gameplay. Yes, they introduced some new mechanics but these mechanics were primarily used for gating the player rather than making Lara more interesting to play. It felt like a step down from Underworld where Lara had the most moves of any TR game.

    #23 2 years ago
  24. Clupula

    The fact that Rocksteady is not working on this is a big deal to me. And honestly, I don’t like the idea of giving him stuff he doesn’t supposedly get until later.

    You know what one of my favorite things in the God of War games is? The Icarus Wings. And yet, that mechanic is not in any of the prequel games, nor should it be, because, canon-wise, Kratos doesn’t get it until GOW2.

    It wouldn’t have killed them to come up with a different solution for certain mechanics in Origins, if they’re so determined to have them in here.

    When you are so focused on narrative, you HAVE to make the gameplay reflect that narrative, as well, or you’re just going to throw the player off. Arkham City is, in my opinion, one of the greatest games ever made, and the connection between the story and the gameplay is a big part of that. They’re stripping the game of something that made it special in the first place, and it’s a bad move.

    My favorite game of all time is Metal Gear Solid 3, yet it’s missing the remote controlled rocket launcher from MGS1 & MGS2 that was my absolute favorite weapon in the game. The rest of MGS3 is so good, I didn’t miss it. Maybe the members of Origins should think about that.

    #24 2 years ago
  25. SameeR_Fisher

    @22: seems you misunderstood me ?, I didn’t say every developer sucks at telling stories, nor did I say old times where better.

    I said that some developers don’t invest in good stories, again like Dishonored, it got a somewhat good story, rich history, but Corvo being silent ruined it, and the narrative to me turned out weak, heck actually the whole Good ending was very weak, while the bad ending held the better narrative design.

    Another example is Castlevania Lords of Shadow, I freakin loved that game, and it had an amazing story for me, full of twists, lore, history, and great characters.

    When I say bad stories, it is when developer don’t take the time to actually think about their stories.

    & your suggestion for a C4 in the shape of a Bat, totally love it, very good idea indeed, why can’t devs implant something like that !!

    #25 2 years ago
  26. Max Payne

    @21 Yea I can agree with that, its just I think developers are playing way to safe.
    Who knows maybe there are still lot of stuff that we don’t know ?
    I am wondering does anybody know more about story than just” 9 assassin’s want to kill batman” ?

    #26 2 years ago
  27. YoungZer0

    @25: Okay, I can agree on that. I just don’t think that developers back then focused more on story than they do now.

    I too was mad about Arkane’s decision to make Corvo a silent character. That is the laziest decision they could’ve made. I heard the new DLC makes things better though, as you play a different character who actually speaks with others.

    It also hurt the narrative of Metro 2033/Last Light, but the game still had a fantastic story.

    Dishonored’s story was mediocre, but it had a rich history and amazing atmosphere. That was enough for me to enjoy it.

    I wish the ending would’ve mattered though. The only thing I cared about when I finished the game was that I completed it without killing anyone.

    @26: They are very secretive about the story. I don’t think the story is as simple as it seems. Remember, we thought Arkham City would be about the Joker taking control over the City. Yet the game was far from being that simple.

    One example: Bane in Origins seems to be one of assassins Black Mask hired. Yet – for some reason – he works for Joker.

    #27 2 years ago
  28. SameeR_Fisher

    @26: indeed, they are playing it way safer than they should, they won’t be taking risks I am afraid, and there are 8 Assassins, I think as YoungZero said they will be so secretive when it comes to the story, personally I don’t mind that.

    @27: very true, old games had next to no stories, actually when I got PSOne my friends/neighbors who were gamers use to skip every single cutscene, I hate that, they didn’t care about stories at all, and I kinda found it insane.

    I am yet to try Dishonored’s DLCs, but your words for it got me excited.

    Did you go for the High Chaos Ending ?!, it features a way better narrative and a better ending in my opinion.

    As for WBMontreal, I am so happy they got Bane right, and reduced him from being a Titan to actually being just a Muscular Guy, he looked more awesome and intimidating this way, I hated his Titanic representation.

    #28 2 years ago
  29. Clupula

    @28 – I remember how happy I was when I played the Ninja Gaiden games on NES and they had the earliest example I can remember of cutscenes, to move the story forward. Thought it was awesome.

    Same reason why I always preferred SNK fighters to Capcom ones.

    #29 2 years ago
  30. YoungZer0

    @28: Nope, not killing anyone doesn’t grant you the High Chaos Ending, but I saw it on Youtube and I agree with you. Still both endings are far from satisfying.

    I’m also happy they seem to do a different Bane this time. Remember how Batman defeats Bane in Arkham City? He closes the elevator door.

    -_-”

    I like the different art-direction here. Hate that so many of the Arkham characters look like muscles glued together. Bane and Batman being among them.

    “actually when I got PSOne my friends/neighbors who were gamers use to skip every single cutscene, I hate that, they didn’t care about stories at all, and I kinda found it insane.”

    Agree. I loved watching cutscenes. It was one of the reasons why I got myself a PS1. I still remember starting a few games just to watch the cutscene at the beginning.

    One of the reasons why I got Oddworld and Heart of Darkness were the cutscenes. The gameplay was the icing on the cake.

    #30 2 years ago
  31. SameeR_Fisher

    @29: Ninja Gaiden was one of my fav. on NES, I think it was NGIII that I was playing, always spent hrs to reach the final boss yet never able to kill him, LOL — good times.

    @30: Bane encouter in AC was …… underwhelming, the whole Elevator scene was meeeh indeed, and I agree regarding the art style, you see WBMontreal got Bane right, but they turned around and screwed Batman, he is a lump of muscles now, his thighs are so huge, I hate it.

    My starting days on PSOne were Resident Evil -which had puzzles confusing as hell for a kid who doesn’t know English that good-, Spider Man, and Syphon Filter -where I mistakenly thought the Green screens of Night Vision Goggles to be screens of some sort of survival horror- LOL

    #31 2 years ago
  32. YoungZer0

    @31: Wait, no … I thought that was just armor?

    #32 2 years ago
  33. SameeR_Fisher

    @32: naaah, I think it is his thighs that are so big.

    #33 2 years ago
  34. YoungZer0

    @33:

    Looks like armor to me:

    http://www.technobuffalo.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Batman-Arkham-Origins-13-1280×1976.jpg

    He seems to be completely covered in armor this time around.

    Also another example of the IMO better character-design:

    Black Mask in Origins:

    http://www.batman-game.de/sites/www.batman-game.de/files/batman-arkham-origin-blackmask.jpg

    Black Mask in City:

    http://images2.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20111123105310/batman/images/8/87/Black_Mask-character.png

    #34 2 years ago
  35. SameeR_Fisher

    @34: isn’t above the knee a bit too bulky ?!, even in comparison to his arms, his Bi-ceps are acceptable, his hands are covered in armour, it isn’t the same for his thighs.

    and totally agree on Black Mask, he is more fearsome in Origins.

    #35 2 years ago
  36. ps3fanboy

    i tell you guys this will be my first batman game on the ps3… i know other have praised earlier batman games to the death on the ps3 but i felt it wasn’t for me, it just felt to nerdy in a kind of way and batman was a joke. but it looks like it will change now, Arkham Origins looks and feels like a real batman game. so i am looking forward to it :D

    #36 2 years ago
  37. YoungZer0

    @35: I think he’s too bulky anywhere you look, but that’s mostly thanks to his armor. We simply do not know how thick the layers are.

    @36: “Arkham Origins looks and feels like a real batman game”

    How would you know?

    #37 2 years ago
  38. Clupula

    37 – I think it’s time we stopped entertaining his rambles.

    #38 2 years ago
  39. Tvz

    I think WB Montreal should have done some kind of spin-off, like a game with only Catwoman or Robin or Nightwing… It would have allowed them to use the already existing world/mythos of Arkham City without messing around with Batman and annoying fans.

    #39 2 years ago
  40. YoungZer0

    @38: Yeah, I guess you’re right.

    @39: Ohh, I’d love to play a game that is completely focused on Robin. Why not go a step further and add Coop?

    Wait, scratch that. I don’t like forced Coop.

    Just a game about Robin.

    #40 2 years ago
  41. BellAlan

    #41 2 years ago
  42. tnyhughes

    Initially, I have been expecting Arkham Origins, and when I see the gameplay, it looks pretty amazing. But the narrative is a prequel, yet the grapnel boost appears when it is not supposed to have existed yet, or the upgraded detective mode and the new gadget called the remote claw make Batman’s techniques used in Arkham City unnecessary. Then, there’s an explanation about Batman not bringing all his gadgets everyday. Well, the new gadgets mentioned seems to be useful when applied in Arkham City, so it does not really give a reason for the always-prepared-Batman to not bring them. Even though the game has not been released yet, Arkham Origins has jumped out of the story.

    #42 1 year ago

Comments are now closed on this article.

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