Three ways Rocksteady can refresh the Batman franchise

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With the final chapter of the trilogy come and gone, leaving only cash-grabbing DLCs and a somewhat "meh" taste in our mouths, the need of fresh ideas and new approaches, rises yet again. Arkham Knight, while being an OK game overall, certainly failed to impress, mostly because we were forced to play as the Batmobile instead of the main guy, for like 80% of the game.

This already notorious new entry in Batman's arsenal was undoubtedly Rocksteady's attempt at spicing things up, but one that overstayed it's welcome by a lot. 

That being said, the developers do deserve some credit for at least trying to reach an even higher ground than what they've achieved with the, simply put, flawless previous title. Arkham City is still fresh in our memories, and it's spot as the pinnacle of the super-hero video game genre remains undisputed. 

However, Batman is eternal, and so are his abilities to reinvent himself when needed and, simply, he always keeps on striving for perfection. In his 70-something years of history, this particular comic-book hero has not just rightfully earned the enormous spot-light popularity he receives, but also succeeded in something else. He's proven time and time again to deserve our patience and undivided attention, even more so, because some of the very best comic book writers ever elevated him to the hero we know and love today. 

So, as his comic book adventures did "level up" throughout the years, it's only natural to expect the same from his video game career. The same which exists almost solely thanks to Rocksteady's efforts, and their masterful realization of Batman's potential to star in this form of media. 

And now, after they managed to establish themselves as a synonym for quality in video games, we can safely resort to speculating as how can they further improve this gaming franchise. Last we forget, the element of surprise was on Rocksteady's side with Arkham Asylum, but it would take something more substantial to sweep us off our feet again. 

Here are three ways, three concepts, as to how "the perfect Batman game" can become reality. 

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Concept I: An action-RPG, with dynamic day/night cycle, beginning with a young Bruce Wayne

Every more devoted fan of the Caped Crusader knows what his only "super-power" is: obsessive planning. His inability to give up, forget, or rest, is what makes him so successful in the fight against crime. There are a ton of components as to the "what it takes to be Batman" formula, and with this game, players would be put closer to that idea than ever before. 

It should all start with him witnessing the murder of his parents, the event that puts impossible anger in the very essence of him. Unable to cope with the pain, and mostly disgusted by his lack of power to provoke any sort of change in Gotham, young Bruce Wayne will embark on a journey around the darkest corners of the earth, in order to overcome fear, emotions, and himself. 

His first tutor should be, obviously, Alfred, who in this game will have an extensive combat knowledge and an intriguing military history. Alfred is more than a substitute father figure to Bruce, he understands young Bruce completely. He will then propose several places where Bruce can continue his training, and the player will choose the order in which he'll visit them. 

The possibility of an unforgettable adventure is evident, as the transformation from Bruce Wayne to Batman must be, at least, epic. Throughout this voyage, players will derive skills like stealth, engineering, climbing, chemistry, medicine, history, and of course, hand-to-hand combat. At some point, he will even attend university lectures in order to get a wider understanding of the world. By completing various assignments and tasks, XP points will be earned, together with improved abilities and options available. Certainly, there will be a level requirement before the "pre-Batman" part of the game ends, as the players should become very familiar with the game's divert mechanics.

Also, Bruce will meet a lot of familiar and unfamiliar characters during his training, many of which will be at a same stadium as he. So, it will be up to the player to befriend, help, or antagonize any of them. Most importantly, those early decisions will have a great impact on the state of Gotham when the core game begins. Obviously, his relations with other heroes or villains will vary, increasing the game's replay value. And, with completing the last task of this early part (constructing the Bat-suit), the second part of the game will begin, where the real fun awaits.

I mentioned a day/night cycle in the subtitle, and however strange that may seem in a Batman game, I do find it super important for this concept to work. Being Batman is a 24/7 job, and Bruce will have to manage his rest time, prep time and alter ego time, every day, in order to keep his sanity and overall well-being. 

Preparation time (or Prep-time) is something that has been criminally overlooked in Rocksteady's games.

Being more than prepared for every fight,aside from possessing cutting-edge of technology equipment, is what makes Batman competitive, even against supernatural foes. This will be the most exciting part of this game, as Bruce will have to research various events and even invent new contraptions in order to make a winning situation out of every encounter. Remember, Batman doesn't play fair, he always tends to shift the odds heavily in his favor, long before any battle even begins!

One thing I don't want changed is the amazing three-button brawl system, as it fits with the Caped Crusader's persona perfectly. But, a larger attention to the detective moments is imperative, and by that I don't mean over usage of the "detective mode" button. That particular ability won't be available right away, and it might become later in the game, if the players devote enough amount of time into it.

Also, Batman's extensive knowledge in chemistry should play a bigger role in those moments, as investigation is never as simple as shown in the Arkham series, so far.

With combining the perfect ingredients in the right amount, I believe that this could be a very exciting action-RPG, starring Batman. 

Concept II: The Dark Knight teams up with the Man of Steel, and the two of them fight against the invading alien force


In this concept, the story revolves around the idea of an alien race invading earth. And by an alien race, I mean physically powerful beings, also with potent weapons and an overall imposing level of advanced technology. The whole Justice League could be included in this situation, but I believe that will only make the game lose its focus. Only these two, the most popular of heroes, should star in this one.

So, Batman will find even himself unable to overcome this challenge, and just before is killed (after being ambushed by 10-12 of these beings), Superman arrives. However, they almost overpower him too, and the two heroes barely escape the scene when Batman manages to call on his Bat-wing, attracting their attention and allowing Superman to fly away with Bruce's unconscious body. As havoc rages all over the planet, the team discusses their plans in the Bat-cave, after Batman regains his strength.

Now, not much should be changed from the Arkham series considering Batman's character or abilities, aside from the fact that he will be unable to tackle more than two members of the alien menace at one time, alone. So, his brawling skills will step aside for his detective and stealth skills.

Bruce will study the very alien race that is overtaking Earth.

He will use various gadgets to obtain enough data in order to discover weaknesses, and come up with a suitable tactic to subdue them. Apparently, his "no-kill" rule won't apply to extraterrestrials, but (of course) the weapons present on the planet simply won't pack the impact needed to harm these entities (thus preventing the game from becoming a third person shooter). At first, his thoughts will be primarily aimed at developing a power-suit (something like Azrael did in the "Knightfall" comics) that would allow him to tackle a larger waves of enemies at once.

But, as not even Superman can be at two places simultaneously, Batman will have no choice but to engage them whenever necessary, alas with the above-mentioned rule of being unable to win larger battles (until the Bat-suit is ready, that is). Therefore, Batman's sections of the early game will involve mostly stealth and picking up the enemies one by one, as he'll manage to re-capture strategic points for earth's resistance force. And after the suit is successfully envisioned and built, those giant steel fists will surely make the aliens regret ever considering earth as their new homeland. 

About Rocksteady's Superman

Obviously, the idea of Rocksteady developing a Superman game has always remained exciting, considering how well of a job they did with Batman. And now they will be able to implement The Man of Steel in their already renowned series (or a new one?), developing his gameplay from scratch. It will be a fist-pumping experience to navigate this mankind-friendly super-alien through the ruins of the great cities, and also witnessing the breathtaking environments of Earth, from way up high.

Yes, at first players will have most of the fun almost exclusively with Superman, as exploiting his vast powers (flight, super speed, freezing breath, eye-laser, super strength, etc.) will be spectacular. Rocksteady will have to successfully complete the task of developing his combat style, one that will differ enough from Batman's, so we don't feel like playing as two skins of the same character. Players will have to be diverted from feeling overpowered by the simple requirement of precaution - as the beings can also swarm even Kal-El.

While flying, players will be able to spot enemies before they suspect anything, and then will must correctly evaluate each confrontation. There will be many types of enemies, and certain combinations of them (like three rangers plus two heavies will be a lose situation at first; but two heavies and two infantry will be winnable, etc.) will bring different difficulty. 

In this early game period, Bruce will mostly stay in the Bat-cave, researching and spying the invaders, thus providing useful info for Superman and directing his attention. Obviously, there will be hard decisions to make, as to choose which areas to defend, and for which there will be simply no time for. Something like in the XCOM: Enemy Unknown game, just with less dire consequences. 

In the latter part of the game, when Batman has his robot-suit, players will have the opportunity of controlling both of the iconic heroes, switching between them on the fly. Their combined powers will be enough to drive away the aliens, and they will save the day.

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Concept III: The Riddler - Arkham Genius 


You're probably wondering where I'm going with this one, but trust me, there's a game waiting to happen here. Mister E. Nigma's role in the series so far has been a mere side-distraction, given his only motive being to simply - prove that he is smarter the The World's Greatest Detective. Not a very deep motive, but one that assured his place in the series, and the certain (low) percentage of his involvement in the overall story. 

But, there's a potential in this character for more than such a simple premise, if only he would set his aim on higher achievements. It's questionable why he hasn't done so yet, considering his extremely high IQ and also insanity. So, what could be his new goal?

Why, how about ruling Gotham? Or becoming Batman's only obsession (like Batman is his), by murdering all of the other super-villains in Gotham? Or, why just not be more offensive in trapping and killing the Batman?

In all of this scenarios, our anti-hero will do a lot of immoral surveillance, eaves-dropping, spying, tracking, all of which are generally fun activities. But, most of all he'll spent his time developing lethal contraptions and deviously evil plans. Also, he'll resort to kidnapping or persuading thugs to work for him in setting up giant puzzles. 

So, imagine being in his shoes, trying to outsmart The Dark Knight. Watching him every day through expertly set hidden cameras throughout the streets of Gotham and of course, throughout various strongholds of other, more loud, baddies. Yes, the players will have to infiltrate the hiding places of Gotham's other notorious residents, in order to place micro-cameras and microphones, attempting to be one step ahead of the Batman.

And what happens when Batman tries to make a move against some villain you've already followed? You'll set traps for him, also. The core gameplay will be centered around cornering/trapping Riddler's greatest foe in some unfriendly environment, from which his chances of survival will be small.

But, getting to him will be quite the undertaking, as to why the former (and longer) part of the game will be devoted to creating the 100% percent losing situation for Batman. This will be achieved by slowly breaking his resolve, mental stability and patience, thus forcing him to make a fatal error.

During his misconceptions, the Riddler will undoubtedly be forced to tackle characters like The Penguin, Bane, Poison Ivy, Mr. freeze,  and of course, The Joker. Any comic book fan knows that they are seldom in the same mind, and frequently do confront each other. Facing these familiar opponents from a different perspective will be a dazzling experience. 

The Riddler's MO has a lot in common with Batman's, as both of them rely on much prep time and carefully planning and detailing every move they are about to make. Therefore, the war between them will be waged from the shadows and from above, not unlike a high-quality game of chess. 

Also, there is a lot of potential here for online multiplayer too. One player will control Batman, trying to overcome challenges put together by another player, as the Riddler. There could be many types of online game modes, like "find all of the Riddler trophies in time," or "save every hostage," or simply "find the exit before being suffocated to death."

I believe that playing as this particular baddie could be a great exercise in being evil for the players, even though he'll probably won't succeed in subduing the hero, in the end. Yet, sometimes, the voyage to the destination is more important than the destination itself. 

Published Jul. 27th 2015

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