Yesterday (at least on this side of the world), we were treated to a deluge of previews for the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight, which marks the return of series creator Rocksteady Studios. The last game, Batman: Arkham Origins, was developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal.
Arkham Origins received pretty good reviews, but many critics considered it the weak link in the highly acclaimed series. Despite featuring prettier visuals and a larger virtual sandbox, Arkham Origins was decried for being derivative of Arkham City, its predecessor.
One of the common problems cited was that Arkham Origins’ version of Gotham City felt “empty” and “lifeless”. There are no bystanders or any moving traffic; the only people you encounter are criminals waiting for you to beat them up.
WB Montréal gave three reasons for the abandoned Gotham streets: a) a blizzard, b) a curfew, and c) it’s Christmas Eve. And yet, there were no signs of police cars patrolling the streets.
Interestingly, the Arkham City streets were also devoid of life and had an equally outrageous excuse: the entire game world is sealed in to keep criminals away from the city proper.
Since Batman: Arkham Knight is being developed for new console hardware, it’s reasonable to expect that the next iteration of Gotham would be more like a living, breathing city, right? Heck, having people and cars moving about should be a cinch for a developer like Rocksteady. After all, many last-gen titles like Grand Theft Auto V and Skyrim were able to achieve this.
Based on what we’ve seen with the previews, however, this might not be the case.
Here’s the background: during Halloween night, Scarecrow threatens Gotham with a new strain of his fear toxin and plants bombs throughout the city. This forces all civilians to evacuate, leaving only criminals, the remaining police, and Bats in the city.
Does this sound familiar to you? That’s because it is.
Perfect reason for abandonment
Granted, this setup in Arkham Knight perfectly justifies having an abandoned Gotham more than the previous games in the series. However, this might also mean that the lifeless streets we saw in Arkham City and Arkham Origins would be making a comeback.
There will surely be a few civilians left, placed by Rocksteady for you to rescue during missions, but without the majority of the population, the city might end up looking abandoned again.
Since Arkham Knight lets you drive the Batmobile, there might be a few cars on the streets, but they’re probably driven by criminals, which is probably how some of the driving missions would come about.
Okay, look, these are obviously speculations since I’ve never played or even seen the Arkham Knight demo. There’s actually a really good chance that I’m wrong in all of this since many of the details are still up in the air. It’s just hard not to make conjectures when the setup is eerily similar.
And if you’re still reading, wouldn’t you agree that I have a point?
In the April 2014 issue of Game Informer, Arkham Knight director Sefton Hill said that Rocksteady wants to “make sure that the world is rich and full of interesting things to do,” and added that they are trying to create a “really rich, vibrant, dense open world.”
I’m concerned, though–how can a virtual city be vibrant and dense if it’s a ghost town?
I want so bad to be wrong.