Can another comic book video game top Batman: Arkham City? Sure it can. The big question is, will any comic book video game top Arkham City? The best comic book video games put the player in the shoes of the character and really make them feel like they are that superhero, all while delivering a fun game, but so few games have managed to pull off both the experience of the character and produce a great video game. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Video Game did it, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction did it, Spider-Man 2 (the movie) did it, but no game has done it quite like Batman: Arkham City. But how?
Batman: Arkham City is just a damn fun video game. Rocksteady has created a combat and stealth system as beautifully as Shakespeare writes a tragedy. It’s simple enough for anyone to pick up, but complex enough to challenge all players. But more than that, it captures the spirit of what it is to be the Dark Knight. Batman is all about fighting street level crime, and that’s exactly where Batman is in this game (even if it is the streets of Arkham City, and not so much Gotham City), and the sandbox environment is exactly the setting a Batman game needs. Yes, we’ve seen a long trend of developers creating open world environments for their games (Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption, and L.A. Noir just to name a few), and though this particular setting is fun, it’s not at all the trick for making a great comic book game.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World was exactly how a Scott Pilgrim game should have been made. It was fun, old school, and it was like the comic book had come to life right on the screen. X-Men Origins: Wolverine took place on a stage-by-stage format, and it worked perfectly. The only thing a great Wolverine game needs is snikts, bubs, and an endless amount of henchmen, Sentinels, and supervillains to tear apart. Then there are the Hulk and Spider-Man games that crave the sandbox so Hulk can smash for miles on end, and Spidey can have skyscrapers to websling between.
As for most rules, there are exceptions, and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows is the best example of a potentially great Spider-Man game gone wrong. Before 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, I would have argued that Spider-Man 2 was the best comic book video game ever. It had exactly what the perfect Spidey game needed: Sandbox environment, great webslinging experience, lots of classic villains to fight, and it was just plain fun; but that was in 2004. When I got my hands on Web of Shadows in 2008, sadly, where changes should have occurred, they didn’t, and where they did, they were for the worst. We saw the same dated beat-em-up missions, Black Cat chase segments, and bland empty New York City knock-off, but this time, Tobey Maguire was replaced by some squealing pubescent 13-year-old to voice Spider-Man.
Thankfully, Beenox, developer of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions and Spider-Man: Edge of Time, is steering the wheel of Activision’s game adaptation to the film The Amazing Spider-Man. Beenox has proved they can make a great Spider-Man game, and while those games suffer from nitpicks like repetition and lack of free roam, they’re still all very Spider-Man. Details on Amazing Spider-Man: The Game are still scarce, but the rumor is we’ll be seeing the full open world experience. If Beenox can deliver the same (pun intended) spectacular Spider-Man experience from their previous games mixed into a sandbox NYC, they could potentially pull off just as — if not better — superb a comic book video game as Arkham City. What worries me is if Activision has given Beenox the time and budget to pull it off, and Beenox has just before July 2012 to prove that they can.
The difference between Amazing Spider-Man and Arkham City will be what comes after the campaign, and the DLC. Spider-Man games have offered a Spider-Man fan’s dream closet of Spidey costumes in video games since 1999, and Arkham City will be releasing an equally stunning line up of Bat-suits in early December. Arkham City has hours worth of gameplay after the main story with tons of Riddler trophies left to capture, and downloadable challenge maps and characters on the way; starting with Nightwing and his challenge maps on November 1 (see Nightwing trailer here), Robin on November 22, as well as rumored downloadable episodes in the future. If Activision allows Beenox to give us something more after the credits roll on Spider-Man, not only could it match Arkham City, we could be seeing an all new trend: Good movie games (but then again, I am a dreamer).
X-Men Origins: Wolverine was awesome, and Captain America: Super Soldier was great (though probably only due to mirroring Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s style), but Activision and SEGA chose not to go all the way with these titles. It’s the bane of being a comic book video game lover. These developers choose to release a “good enough” game just to cash in on the name value of whatever movie it’s adapting. I applaud Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for realizing they have iconic household names at their disposal and are willing to dedicate time and money to release a brilliant video game featuring that character.
In its first week, Batman: Arkham City sold 4.6 million units. SEGA and Activision hold plenty of Marvel properties that can draw that kind of money, but only if they really dedicate to building a quality franchise.
In an LA Times interview with Warner Bros. video games head Martin Tremblay, Tremblay mentions many games scheduled for 2012 including a new Mortal Kombat, Hobbit, a sequel to Lego Batman, and “a game featuring a superhero from Warner’s DC Comics unit.” With a new Superman movie on the way, you would expect some kind of video game adaptation to be this mystery DC Comics video game, but I’m hoping that’s not the case. I mean, I’m a huge Superman fan, and I want a new Superman game, but only if it’s good. Superman Returns was an embarrassment to the character, to Warner Bros., and basically everything and everyone associated with its development. I firmly believe that a Superman video game franchise, done as well as Rocksteady’s Batman, could be the greatest action video game series ever in video games, but only if a creative development team and the full support of WBIE are behind it.
I remember when I first started writing The Comics Console in September of 2009, just after Batman: Arkham Asylum was released, and comic book video games were still considered a joke and among the worst video games on the market. Now, Batman: Arkham City stands side-by-side with Halo, Gears of War, Uncharted, and Call of Duty as one of the industry’s power house franchises. Ten years ago, the very idea would have been laughed at.
Can another comic book video game top Batman: Arkham City? I think it can. I hope it can. I hope Rocksteady can top themselves with a Batman 3. I hope Warner Bros. can top their great Batman games with great Superman games. I hope we see more power house comic book video game franchises. Rocksteady’s Batman proves that great comic book video games can exist and people will buy them, but it’s all up to the publishers and developers, and how badly they want it, to give the fans what they want.
What comic book character do you want to see in their own hit video game series?
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