With rumours and suggestions floating around the internet that Rocksteady’s next title will be revealed next month, I began speculating and hoping about what it could possibly be.
Recently Rocksteady invited members of the press to see their latest title behind closed doors and were sworn to secrecy for a month, indicating we may get a reveal in the near future, but lets dial it back to the initial rumours and theories surrounding Rocksteady’s next project. It was first rumoured not too long after the release of Batman Arkham City, Rocksteady’s sequel to the critically acclaimed Batman Arkham Asylum, that their next game would not be related to the caped crusader in any way. However, then it was thought that they were working on a Silver Age prequel centred around Batman’s first encounter with his crazed nemesis the Joker and the forming of the Justice League. This was thought to be a way of getting people excited about a Justice League movie Warner Bros. and DC had in the works, and still does it seems, but this was not to be when WB Montreal announced Batman Arkham Origins. With this game being primarily focused around Batman’s first encounters with his vast rogues gallery, it was assumed this was the rumoured Silver Age prequel which left people again questioning, what are Rocksteady working on?
This became slightly more clear leading up to the release of Batman Arkham Origins when Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman in the first two Arkham titles and most famously Batman the animated series, slipped up during a Q&A at Comic-Con in Dallas last year. He stated that he would be apart of the next Arkham game, in which Batman Arkham Origins had just been announced, so we assumed he was referring to that. Later that day however, he took to twitter and said “Confusion in Dallas. I am in new Arkham game coming soon, not Arkham Origins coming this fall.” The tweet was soon deleted after it was published but not before the internet could screen-grab the tweet. So, it appears that Conroy referred to another Arkham in the works in which he is likely voicing Batman, is this Rocksteady’s next project, the much anticipated sequel to Arkham City?
Much was quiet after that until a job listing for a London based games studio arose looking for “an extremely talented Junior/Graduate Asset and/or Lighting Artist to work on one of the biggest AAA titles of 2014.” The listing also notes that the game is a “high profile 3rd Person, action/adventure title”, sound like an Arkham game right? Since the release of Arkham City back in late 2011, Rocksteady have had the better part of two years to be working on a title and with multiple sources claiming 2014 release, we could be seeing this project very soon.
So lets assume it is an Arkham title, which I feel it will be, where can they take the franchise? With the rather jaw dropping conclusion to Arkham City and many of the side quests, it is safe to say Rocksteady have left themselves with an interesting story to tell to say the least. In terms of gameplay improvements, the free flow combat system is virtually flawless as it stands and the invisible predator mechanic is also well established. Maybe incorporating new gadgetry and enemy types into each system would bring something new to the table, maybe a small EMP device to blow out the lights or an attack that hits in quick succession. An aspect I liked about Arkham Origins was the introduction of the martial artists into combat scenarios, an enemy that had the ability to counter your attacks. This mixed up the combat encounters and brought a new challenge for players to tackle and it would be nice to see Rocksteady incorporate something similar into the next instalment. Where many people want to see the next Arkham title go in terms of locale is Gotham City in its entirety, with the ability to carve through the streets of Gotham in the Batmobile and leap to the top of Wayne Tower. The problem they face there is having a large city in terms of scale but it feeling lifeless and empty, which is the problem Arkham Origins had. Populating a city with multiple activities to embark upon may be achievable in say a representation of Los Angeles during daylight, but when it is Gotham City in the thick of night it becomes slightly more difficult. Seeing batman drop to street level and start walking down the street alongside civilians just would not look right. Rocksteady would need to find a way to have something exciting occurring around almost every corner that suited the premise of the narrative, difficult to accomplish on a large scale and centred around a vigilante that operates at night.
I would tackle it like this, Arkham City becomes Gotham City. A vast amount of criminals have broke out of Blackgate Prison and are flooding the streets with violence and aggravation. Martial law is declared and Gotham becomes a no-man’s-land. Similar to The Dark Knight Rises and the comic Batman No Man’s Land, I agree, but that would be a potential way to solve the issue with having a large open space that feels inhabited whilst playing as the dark knight. Civilians could come under attack that need your assistance, the most wanted system could return from Origins and tasks you to round up the deadliest escapees. This approach would allow players to traverse Gotham City whilst feeling appropriate and not having the Batmobile crash head first into a taxi or Batman sturdily walk down the street intimidating civilians. What Rocksteady achieved so well in Arkham City was populating the city itself with minuscule details like conversations between thugs that really brought the city to life, I would hate for that to be lost on a grander scale. With next-generation hardware at their disposal that level of detail could be achieved on a larger scale, it would then be a matter of ensuring it accompanied the gameplay and effectively added that sense of immersion.
What Rocksteady can take from Arkham Origins is how WB Montreal approached boss fights, the highlight of the game for many people. They drew influences themselves from the Mr. Freeze encounter in Arkham City and went on to produce boss fights that required players to use a variety of skills they had learnt throughout the course of the game. Each boss fight felt different and unique to that individual character, requiring you to quickly learn their techniques and negate them. The brawls felt a lot more direct and challenging, a good comparison would be between the fight with Bane in Arkham Asylum and in Arkham Origins. The encounter with Bane in Asylum was simply how well can you dodge his attacks. You would avoid Bane’s powerful charge to see him crash into a wall, giving you the chance to remove one of his canisters and therefore a chunk of his life bar. The fight felt more like an avoidance than a physical brawl. When you come to encounter a canister-less Bane in Origins, yes there is dodging involved but you were countering Bane’s blows and squaring of against him toe-to-toe trying to directly take him down. If Rocksteady can implement boss fights like those seen in Origins then it will surely be a welcomed portion of the next Arkham title.
Incorporating more of the bat-family into the next Arkham game could be an interesting route to go down. Having already established both Robin and Nightwing in the Arkham universe through a brief appearance in Arkham City and DLC, the basis is already in place. Including them into the game could arise certain gameplay opportunities for the player or players if some sort of co-operative element was implemented. Lets allocate this possibility to my above mentioned idea. With the entirety of Gotham in disarray, Batman will have great difficulty monitoring and aiding the whole city, as he will most certainly be tackling the main narrative threat. Therefore, allocating a portion of the city to Nightwing or Robin will not only introduce variety in the gameplay but offer a change of pace as both characters could have their own minor stories included into the game, like taking down minor villains or helping the GCPD with the recovery effort. It could even be similar to the character switching in GTA 5, granting players to alternate between playing as Batman, Robin and Nightwing on the fly, each with their own missions to encounter that progress the narrative.
Whatever Rocksteady’s next project turns out to be, they have a team of creative and talented individuals that will certainly produce a game of a high calibre. Whether that will be another instalment into the Arkham franchise or a sequel to Urban Chaos: Riot Response remains to be seen. Check back in the coming weeks for the potential reveal of Rocksteady’s next game and let us know in the comments below what you hope it to be.