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Bat to Basics: What to Expect From BATMAN: ARKHAM ORIGINS

In case the launch trailer for Batman: Arkham Origins didn’t send a quiver up your loins, then you should consult a doctor first of all to see if you’re paralyzed from the loins down. Your trepidation is understood. After all, Rocksteady isn’t developing this one; rather, it’s been handed over to Warner Bros. Games Montréal. Change is hard to accept, you guys, but when you think about the sheer number of Robins we’ve had over the years, you’d think that Bat-fans would be used to it. In any event, I got to experience Arkham Origins first hand when creative director Eric Holmes swung by the Nerdist offices to show me just how committed they were to making a truly kickass Batman game. Being an avid player of the previous titles and a pretty big Batman fan myself, I can assure you that you have nothing to fear. So, turn and face the strange and find out what you can expect from Arkham Origins.

In the gameplay demo he showed me, we explore the Batcave, which is still rough hewn and in development, rather than the pristine crime fighting palace that we know and love from his latter day adventures. Replete with Easter eggs and training options, it really gives the sense of a home base from which the player can operate, something that seemed lacking in prior outings.

After that, we proceed into the belly of Gotham’s most corrupt institution: the Gotham City Police Department. After swinging around the city, gliding over the snowy streets below and grappling from rooftop to rooftop, we touch down on the roof of the police station. Slowly and stealthily, Bats creeps around the rooftop that is positively crawling with assault rifle-wielding guards, choking them out, stunning them with Batarangs, and generally pummeling them into submission before an alarm can be raised. After making good our escape into the building itself, we get a sense of just how corrupt this place is. Guards openly talk about hunting down Batman and framing criminals. They’re not all bad guys, just the ones we happen to encounter. What follows is a mixture of the stealth action and puzzle-solving that have come to characterize the series, forcing us to use our wits and wiles to break our way through a secure police precinct.

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After ruining a vending machine or two and laying the beatdown on some SWAT team members in the break room, Batman stumbles upon a gang of corrupt cops roughing up the local homeless population. In the words of The Dude, “This aggression will not stand, man.” Leaping into the fray, Batman fights off dozens of armed guards with well-timed parries, strikes, and multi-hit combos to stun, disorient, and dispose of the renegade officers. It’s fast-paced, frenetic, and fluid – three things that I look for in my hand-to-hand combat systems – and looks beautiful on the screen. While the graphics look similar to Arkham City, the frame rate never falters, and the game is a joy to watch. Now, if only it were October 25, so I could play it, too.

After the demonstration, Holmes was kind enough to answer some of my questions about the game, so here are a few things about what you can expect from your latest trip to Gotham City.

The map is twice the size of Arkham City‘s.

For all those worried that the scope of the game would be smaller, fear not. Holmes told me that the game world is “twice the size” of previous iterations, necessitating the inclusion of a fast travel function to offer impatient gamers a way to streamline their experience. While it may not be as sprawling as something like, say, Grand Theft Auto V, gliding from one end of the city to the other will still take plenty of highly enjoyable time.

Yes, it’s an origin story. Yes, they know that. Don’t worry — it’s going to be exciting.

With a franchise like Batman and the Arkham series comes a lot of fan expectations. Batman is such a precious character to so many people. As evidenced by the recent Ben Affleck announcement, people take their Batman very seriously. We know how it ends, so what’s the challenge in taking what we know happens getting from point A to point b and keeping it fresh? Holmes understands the difficulties of origin stories, noting that, “The challenge for us to make sure there were surprises in terms of story.” He isn’t the Goddamn Batman yet; he’s an untested rookie. “There was something fundamental at the core to be transformed by his character,” Holmes explains. “You can’t start the game and be the same character at the end of the game, and that’s the opportunity people have in Arkham Origins.”

Even though you’ll be playing around with new gadgets, this is your chance to tackle the Dark Knight during his formative years. “The later you are in the career for Batman, the more fixed he becomes, the more he is classic Batman and, in a way, you can deviate him a bit,” Holmes says. “He didn’t come out of the womb as a character; he had the seeds to become Batman. He wasn’t fully there yet, so for us it was to take a character and still make him very appealing and make him someone people want to aspire to be but also make him someone with growth opportunities for dramatic events to take place, and I think we have that.”

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Combat is even more fluid and layered than before.

Many were concerned that WB Montréal couldn’t recapture the fluidity of combat in the previous Arkham titles, but what I saw looked better than ever. Batman seamlessly moved from enemy to enemy, deploying all manner of martial arts and gadgetry to dispatch corrupt cops in the bowels of Gotham’s Police Department. For Holmes, making combat feel good was paramount: “Batman’s combat is as enduring and stable for such a long time because of the combo mechanics. There are lots of games out there that have the ability for a character to take on a lot of enemies and the thing that keeps it fresh and surprising is, when you’re just getting into it, you’re just getting into your rhythm, it seems like magically someone is taking a swing at you and their timing is unpredictable. You don’t know which guy in the group is going to be unpredictable, so it keeps you on your toes and keeps you engaged.”

To help with this unpredictability, they have added martial artist enemies that have heightened hand-to-hand combat skills. “The martial artist is a character that we truly wanted to add to help up the stakes, a character who’s a bit more like Batman,” Holmes explains. “You can take a swing at them and you both can counter each other’s attacks so you get a little more Agent Smith versus Neo rather than Jackie Chan versus a bunch of foot soldiers running in screaming.”

There is plenty of replay value.

The fun doesn’t stop once you beat the game, Holmes promises. “There’s not only going to be the New Game Plus, there’s going to be something else too,” he said. Just what that “something else” is remains to be seen, but Holmes assures us it will be worth the wait. “We really like New Game Plus because the mechanics are deep in Arkham, so you get this experience where you play through the captain and it takes this long, in Arkham it’s this long. So you’re placed in this game and you add the challenge maps and you’re playing this New Game Plus like, ‘Wow I’m still growing,’ so we wanted to add something else that brings you further into the game world.”

And for you completionists out there, Holmes says, “There are a lot of narrative things that are easy to miss in the first time through lots of little hidden easter eggs, and sometimes there are dialogue variations too. I think that progression and sheer depth of mechanics of Arkham City have been expanded on. There are just so many hours of play to get through, for people to keep enjoying.”

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The campaign will be comparable in length to Arkham City, but to get the most out the experience, you should explore.

Holmes wouldn’t give me a hard figure for how long Arkham City’s storyline will run, but he did say, “Maybe a little longer than Arkham City, because we’re a little bit more unpredictable, but it’s hard to measure these games, because you don’t just — think of Skyrim, you don’t just start there and go towards the end, you start there and look at all these different options, because you don’t want to go straight through the end.”

He understands that there’s plenty of completionists out there though and has incentivized it accordingly.  “We made sure there is not only a true structure to the upgrades in game, but also an incentive to go and challenge every enemy that he can and every XP opportunity that [the player] can.” In addition to the standard challenge missions, there’s also a Most Wanted mode, in which Batman can hunt down assassins and characters he encounters throughout the game. Holmes tells us, “Once you’ve found them, you can go and follow their story and take them down and close the story, and at the end of every one of the most wanted campaigns, there’s a unique upgrade just nested at the end of those. You can’t get those upgrades in any other way than going through these missions.”

Deathstroke is being offered as a preorder bonus, and he’ll have his own unique move set.

Eager to gallivant around Gotham as Slade Wilson? If you preorder, you’ll get your chance, Holmes confirms. “He has his own moves and he also has unique moves for things. There are various moves which can do when you have either five consecutive hits or seven consecutive hits – you know these mechanics from the previous games – depending on the upgrades in the Batman game. For example, after five hits, you can do a takedown or a weapon destroy or a move called special combo multi ground takedown that will knock a bunch of guys out. So there’s a bunch of advanced techniques nestled in those moves. He has a new gadget set, and he has his own new vision as well.”

Unfortunately, for those of you expecting a Catwoman-like Deathstroke mini-campaign, you’re in for a bit of a disappointment. “Deathstroke comes with two challenge groups including one with a survival mode with it called ‘101,’ where you fight 101 enemies, but you can only get it when you preorder,” Holmes explains. But fans won’t be disappointed, Holmes promises. “He’s smart, he’s predatory, he’s got gadgets, he’s always prepared, he’s experienced, and I’ve seen him be compared to the anti-Batman, so having those two characters go up against each other and him in the boss game we’ve built around Deathstroke feels very true to that, and hopefully we’ve built something new.”

Judging by what I’ve seen so far, I’d say they’re on the right track. The rest of us will find out for ourselves tomorrow when the game releases.

Batman: Arkham Origins comes to Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U and PC on October 25th. Are you going to pick up the game? Let us know in the comments below or tell me in your best Goddamn Batman voice on Twitter.

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