Why Batman feels irrelevant in Arkham Origin's new multiplayer mode

By Kat Bailey, Aug 02, 2013 9:00am PDT

Imagine, for a moment, that you're a thug in Joker's gang. Upon receiving word of a prison break at Arkham, you're dispatched to aid the rioters and pick up as many prisoners as possible. Just one problem: Batman is in the area too.



Batman. That one name ought to scare the hell out of any low-level supervillain mook. And sure enough, when you hear the familiar flutter of the cape behind you, your heart is pounding. But then... Batman misses. He hits the ground awkwardly, then turns around and starts running away. Hardly able to believe your luck, you raise your gun and promptly put a dozen bullets in the Dark Knight's back.



Obviously, that would never happen in the comics or the movies. One of the truisms among fans is that Batman can beat anyone--even Superman--as long as he has enough time to prepare. He's careful to the point that he once kept secret files on all of the members of the Justice League, and how to beat them if they ever went rogue. Unless he's out of his element, or maybe just tired, he doesn't screw up. He doesn't miss. And he certainly doesn't die at the hands of a miserable low-level thug.



In Arkham Origins's new online mode, however, Batman dies more than you might think. Called Invisible Predator Online, the new mode pits Batman against gangs lead by Joker and Bane, who are also fighting each other. Batman's goal is to intimidate the gang members by using all of his usual Arkham tactics--Batarangs, takedowns from above, and glide kicks--with the intimidation being represented by an actual meter. The gangs, meanwhile, can win by exterminating their rivals. Batman is mostly a minor irritation.



It feels weird to write that: a minor irritation. But that's what he is, really. As a gang member, I was focused on hunting down members of Bane's gang. If Batman showed up, it was kind of a bonus: "Hey! Extra points! Notoriety!" In the hands of an a really good player, I'm sure that Batman is dangerous; but I'm sad to say that my fellow journalists weren't much of a threat playing as either the Caped Crusader or Robin. More often than not, he would miss a glide kick and immediately be shot dead. On occasion, I would spot him sitting up on a gargoyle (because where else would Batman hang out?), and I would open fire. In the four games of Arkham Origins that I played, Batman and Robin never emerged as the winners. They never came close.



I'm not sure how I feel about this. Sure, there's some giddy fun in hunting Batman, mainly because I can't recall another game where he's been an opponent. As a kind of Revenge of the Thugs setpiece, Arkham Origins is rather satisfying. But then, like I said, since when has some low-level soldier ever gotten the drop on Batman? I almost don't know what to make of it.



This is actually kind of an important point. To a degree, all multiplayer battles try to be faithful to their respective settings. In Assassin's Creed, for instance, it's perfectly plausible that rival assassins might be lurking in the crowd, ready to knife you in the back. In Battlefield, the maps are built around combat operations. In the end, it may amount to mere window dressing, but it helps set the mood for the battle. In grafting a multiplayer mode on to Batman though, Arkham Origins runs across a bit of a problem. Bane, Joker, and their respective gangs battling one another while Batman lurks in the shadows is perfectly believable. Bane and Joker's soldiers actually shooting Batman dead, however, is not.



Like I said, that can potentially be chalked up to the fact that the people controlling Batman just weren't very good. In fact, I'll include myself in that grouping as well. The fact of the matter is that controlling Batman is actually pretty hard, and it only gets harder when facing human players who are used to playing third-person shooters, and are quite aware that they are being stalked from the rafters. The degree of difficulty is further compounded by the relatively enclosed nature of the stages. Thugs have plenty of places to hide; Batman, not so much. There were only so many places above the battlefield he could be hiding, and after a while, tracking him became rather trivial. Gang members even receive night vision goggles that specifically differentiate Batman from the rest of the group, further increasing their advantage.



All of these factors put me in the rather odd position of feeling more confident as a mook than as Batman and Robin--two of the greatest superheroes ever. Sure, it was fun to zip from gargoyle and get the occasional drop on another player, but such moments were relatively rare. Actually, I rather preferred playing as Joker and Bane, who become available to the team that manages to free them midway through the match. Joker gets two immensely powerful guns, while Bane is an unstoppable juggernaut who can toss foes around like ragdolls. Compared to those guys, Batman feels pretty flimsy.



And so we have the central problem of Invisible Predator Online: Batman isn't enough of a badass. In fact, he barely seems relevant. I'm sure that things will get better as Splash Damage, the studio handling the mode's development, makes balance tweaks. The challenges facing Splash Damage, however, are not insignificant. To make Invisible Predator Online really work, they have to tweak it enough that Batman is a real presence, but without making him overwhelming to the point that gang members feel like mere fish in a barrel. It's a pretty fine line, and Splash Damage will have to walk it without the help of original developer Rocksteady, which has moved on to other projects. 

Until then, Batman will feel like he's been tacked on to Invisible Predator Online, and serves no other purpose than to be really annoying. The idea of human-controlled thugs and supervillains battling a human-controlled Batman remains intriguing, but for now, it's a battle that is decidedly one-sided.

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