Preview: Batman: Arkham Origins goes multiplayer
Batman: Arkham Origins may be set for release in just a few months, but that doesn't mean developer Warner Bros. Games Montreal has finished unveiling all that the game has to offer. Over the last few months, fans of the comic book-based series have been treated to one reveal after another; from characters like Deathstroke and Copperhead to new gameplay mechanics and bat-toys. Until today, however, Warner Bros. was saving their best secret: Arkham Origins is bringing multiplayer to Gotham City.
While the core of the Batman: Arkham series has always been single-player gameplay that revolved around action and stealth, the development team found themselves exploring how that could be transferred to a multiplayer experience. To this end, they examined what they call the "invisible predator" aspect of the series' gameplay, wherein Batman appropriately stalks his prey without being seen. The developers began to wonder what some of these gameplay scenarios would be like from the perspective of the hunted. How would it feel to be a nameless gangster patrolling a dark, silent, seemingly empty factory only to find yourself suddenly lifted into the air by a man dressed like a bat? The answer just so happens to be the answer to the "how" of Batman multiplayer gameplay.
I immediately thought, "Is this one of those new seamless multi/single-player messes all the youngins are talkin' about?" and was thankfully given a very clear "no" for an answer. This new mode is entirely separate from the single-player storyline, which focuses on Batman's less-experienced early years. Instead, players find a modern Batman and Robin trying to quell a gang war between Bane and Joker.
Multiplayer matches can be customized to the player's liking, but the demo I played was set up for the maximum number possible of players, creating a 3v3v2 (three Bane gangsters, three Joker gangsters, one Batman, and one Robin) match.
Gangster gameplay is your standard third-person shooter affair, though notably slower than what you'd find in, say, Call of Duty. I actually liked the pace here, as it allowed me time to think about what I was doing and plan my moves. The D-pad allows access to various weapons and special abilities that are unique to your team. For example, Bane's minions have access to a pulse-emitting device that can be used to scramble other players' technology temporarily. Also, so as not to be complete sitting ducks when Batman comes to town, villains have a slightly less effective version of his Detective Vision called Enhanced Vision that allows them to better see their surroundings. Even with this ability, Batman is not so easy to spot, with swarms of bats and billowing fabrics sure to trick even the most eagle-eyed players.
In order to win a match, gangsters on either side must claim territory and take out the opposition while avoiding interference by Batman and the Boy Wonder. Players share lives via a pool of reinforcements, meaning that if someone on your team (Read: me) spends the whole match getting killed, you won't have as many lives to call on when you get taken out too. This adds pressure for teammates to work together and, well, try hard not to suck.
Bane and Joker provide intel to players via intercom, but they can be unlocked as playable characters mid-match by players randomly chosen as team Captains. These players will need to safely make their way to a predetermined location on the map where they will be replaced by the big bads themselves.
These are more than just skin swaps though, with both characters having unique gameplay mechanics. Bane specializes in melee attacks, lumbering through enemy fire to perform a back breaker on a single enemy rather than shoot his way through a crowd. He does carry a rocket launcher that he can use while remaining stationary for players who'd rather just blow things up. Joker, on the other hand, has specialized guns that control differently than standard firearms and do notably more damage.
During my playtime I was only able to control Bane, which was immensely satisfying, though the players who got time with Joker seemed to enjoy themselves just as much. There is a gratifying sense of accomplishment when you can literally walk through gunfire to simply beat down an enemy with your own hands.
That said, I must admit that I've never been a shooter person. No matter how hard I try, most shooting-centric games elude my ability altogether. This is why my time with Bane was exponentially more enjoyable than my time as one of his constantly respawning followers. This is also why I adored my time playing as Robin the Boy Wonder.
Batman and his young ward play just as they do in the main game, relying on stealth, high perches, and even underground tunnels to eliminate enemies. Winning a match as the dynamic duo requires filling an intimidation meter shaped like the bat logo. By knocking out enemies and impeding their progress, your intimidation rises, however you must be truly dynamic, as the game will dock you for using the same method repeatedly. Batman is not a spam fan. Nor is Robin, who plays similarly to his mentor, though with plenty of his own specialties. For example, Robin has a retractable shield that actually allows him to do engage in direct confrontation more easily, as well as a reverse hook shot that pulls him towards an enemy rather than the other way around.
In general, though, direct confrontation in this mode is unlikely to bring you anything more than a heroic death that's rebooted quicker than the comics. Instead, players should remain high above (or deep below) the battlefield, setting traps, and waiting for the perfect time to dive and strike. As someone who is terrible at shooters but adores stealth games like Tenchu and Metal Gear Solid, I was really in my element here. Anyone who prefers strategy to simply blowing things up willy nilly will no doubt feel the same. It's also quite refreshing to know that I'll be able to play at least one multiplayer game online and actually stand a chance at winning.
While the game was thrilling, it did take me a match or two to relearn the controls of the past games and figure out how they fit into a multiplayer experience. Rather organically, turns out, but I had to put aside my expectations of how these sorts of modes usually play out before I could really enjoy myself.
In between matches, players can use experience earned to customize their multiplayer avatars. Your Joker follower, Bane minion, Batman, and Robin can all be customized for both gameplay and aesthetic. You can swap out different weapons and tools for your character so that when you go into matches you've got your favorite toys ready to go. You can adjust your villain's appearance to your heart's content, as well as unlock plenty of premade skins for the heroes. Overall, the customization options were surprisingly expansive for a mere multiplayer mode.
One oversight that really bothered me was the lack of female customization options, something that can hopefully be addressed in future updates or DLC. After all, some of the deadliest villains in Gotham are ladies, and Joker's most deranged and powerful follower is none other than Harley Quinn. And come on. It's 2013. Playable female character options should be standard by now.
I was already looking forward to Batman: Arkham Origins, and multiplayer is just the cherry on top. My own hang-ups about shooters aside, I truly enjoyed my time in this mode, and I rarely enjoy multiplayer experiences that aren't Super Smash Bros. or Mario Kart. So that's saying something.
Batman: Arkham Origins drops October 25, 2013 for Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U.