This year has been something of a rollercoaster of emotions for fans of Batman’s Arkham series. Rocksteady, the studio that gave birth to the excellent Arkham Asylum in 2009 and the even more excellent Arkham City two years later finally revealed their final entry in the series, Arkham Knight this past March for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. An October release date was exchanged for an unspecified date in 2015, with the development team citing a need for more time as the cause of the delay, but Rocksteady soothed that by blowing a large part of our minds with a rather excellent gameplay demo at E3, replete with a super-speedy Batmobile and some rather fancy flying.
Arkham Knight has a hell of a lot to live up to, that’s for sure. Even Arkham Origins, developed by Warner Brothers Montreal still offered plenty of Bat-goodness, despite receiving an average score of 7.5 from reviews. It’s been touted as the best superhero gaming series of all time, let alone the peak of the Caped Crusader’s digital adventures, and it’s simple to see why; Rocksteady have married freeflow combat, impressive gadgetry, empowering stealth and a comic-book inspired style into one beautiful vision that makes you feel unmistakably like….well, Batman. It nails the character, presents a suitably dark but not overly bleak world and acts as one of the best realisations of the character and his broken city.
But what of Rocksteady’s final entry in the series? The story goes that after the events of Arkham City, Scarecrow has planted bombs in Gotham filled with a new fear toxin that forces the city’s inhabitants to flee. Batman’s enemies have united and taken control of the streets, and as ol’ Bruce isn’t particularly good at leaving these things alone, you’re job is to strike back. It makes for an exciting, charged conclusion, but there are just a few things that we want to have straightened out first…
Make Gotham feel alive
One pattern has been distinct throughout the Arkham series, and that’s the ever-expanding size of the sandbox that you’re graced with poking around in. Not that Arkham Asylum ever felt small; it’s just particularly inferior in comparison with Origins’ playpen. Of course, a big map doesn’t necessarily equate to or guarantee a better experience, but having things to do outside of the main quest is, more often than not, welcome. But the latest entry in the series managed to inadvertedly exacerbate an issue that Arkham City raised; these open worlds feel sparser the bigger they get.
Part of that is down to Rocksteady’s vision; they never intended to make these environments feel like populated, bustling urban areas (a la every other open world game), so the general public have always been absent. But with Arkham Knight destined to be the biggest entry in the series in terms of its scale, it needs to find intelligent ways to fill in the gaps. Origins, for all the good that it did, still felt disappointingly empty when flying over its rooftops, and it was only the fancy decorations that marked each villain’s territory in City that made sure it escaped a similar fate. Whether that means creating areas that haven’t been evacuated yet, with citizens needing to escape the warzone or bringing in more thugs and ne’er-do-wells to takedown, who knows. What is clear is that if Rocksteady are willing to open up Gotham to fast traversal in the Batmobile, they need to make sure that its streets look a little livelier than they have done in the last few years.
Bring in the Bat-family!
This is undoubtedly a sentiment that will resonate more with fans whose appreciation for the character extends beyond the Arkham series, but regardless, the lack of screen time for Batman’s extended family has been criminal up to this point. Sure, Alfred and Oracle/Barbara Gordon have kept in radio contact throughout the series, but in terms of physical back-up, all we’ve seen is one short appearance for Robin in Arkham City’s main campaign, sprinkles of Catwoman in the same game and the Boy Wonder in the Harley’s Revenge DLC. Simply put, that ain’t good enough.
If we’re going to get serious about our comic timelines here (don’t make that face), then in this universe, Dick Grayson is still Nightwing, Tim Drake is Robin, Jason Todd is either Red Hood or taking an extended nap in a Lazarus Pit and Barbara Gordon is Oracle. That’s a lot of untapped potential right there. There’s no direct need to assume control of these characters as we did in Harley’s Revenge, but excluding them from proceedings or barely featuring them in the main campaign, especially in something as grand in scale as Gotham’s demise, just seems wrong. They could very easily serve as hubs for missions dotted around the map as the Bat-family co-ordinates the effort to take back control of the city. Ultimately, it’d be a shame to relegate such a big aspect of the Batman mythos to the sidelines for the series’ last entry, so here’s hoping his sidekicks and supporting staff are involved on a greater scale this time.
Don’t bring back Joker
This isn’t a direct criticism of the series’ insistence on using The Clown Prince of Crime as the main villain in all three games. It made total sense in Asylum, being the series’ introduction; he shared the spotlight with several others in City and the way WB Montreal delved in to Joker’s relationship with the Dark Knight made for one of Origins’ bright spots. But, snapping back to reality, if Arkham City’s ending is to be believed, then Harley’s puddin’ is dead, and if Arkham Knight is going to stand on its own feet, he needs to stay that way.
At this point, it would shock no one if Joker made an appearance in Rocksteady’s swansong, purely because he is by far the most popular villain in Batman’s rogues gallery, and comic book characters have an incredible habit of not staying dead. But if the decision was made to kill him, then in this instance, it must be stuck to because Joker’s held the spotlight for too long. Hearteningly, Rocksteady seem exceptionally keen on pushing Scarecrow and the titular character to the fore as foils on this occasion, and Two-Face is certainly due some more screen time after a criminally short cameo in Arkham City. Plus there’s the small matter of Hush assuming Bruce Wayne’s identity at that game’s conclusion. Now, these villains might not match up to Joker on their own, but together, they can certainly create a formidable obstacle for Batman to overcome. Not only that, but Rocksteady would be making a far greater statement about their own abilities by not relying on a villain that, whilst wildly entertaining, popular and an absorbing presence, could do with a little less focus.
Create a proper threat
….which leads nicely into this. The stakes have never felt particularly high in the Arkham series, truth be told. Sure, Bats was lumbering around with a case of fatal poisoning for a huge chunk of City, but we all knew how that was going to end up. Asylum was a pleasantly dark jaunt around Joker’s mind, and Origins, as a prequel, ultimately had to end well. Arkham Knight is different; this is the end of Rocksteady’s involvement in the series, and they can go out with as big a bang as they please. Continuity can do one, quite frankly; anything and everything can be on the line, and Batman can be pushed further to the brink than ever. So much could conceivably be on the line on Arkham Knight that it could make for a tremendously intense send-off, and the instant thought is that if Rocksteady want to do this final entry justice, then they should pull out all of the stops in this department. Even if that means pushing Batman himself over the edge.