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

The central problem of Invisible Predator Online, Akrham Origin's new multiplayer mode: Batman isn't enough of a badass. In fact, he barely seems relevant.

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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.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 2, 2013 9:00 AM

    Kat Bailey posted a new article, Why Batman feels irrelevant in Arkham Origin's new multiplayer mode.

    The central problem of Invisible Predator Online, Akrham Origin's new multiplayer mode: Batman isn't enough of a badass. In fact, he barely seems relevant.

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      August 2, 2013 9:42 AM

      it sounds like there should be some kind of dynamic where the goddamn batman should be INVISIBLE to the players if he's not moving or gargoyle hopping.
      Human opponents are just too smart to be fooled, they need to have a handicap. leave the sounds, eliminate the visual.

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      August 2, 2013 9:44 AM

      Aside from balancing issues like health damage, stats and gear I can't really comment on, this ultimately sounds like a mode geared towards the most skilled to succeed. Much like Metal Gear Online's Sneaking Mission where one player is Snake (and another can be Otacon in the Mk 2) and there are two teams fighting it out, Snake can easily be found and killed but it all depends on the player with this kind of game type. I'm not saying everyone who played wasn't good and that tweaks shouldn't be made but ultimately it does come down to who can adapt the best to a stealthier play style in the midst of a battle.

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      August 2, 2013 9:50 AM

      Great article, Kat. You hit on a problem that's been nagging at me since I learned of WB's intention to include a multiplayer mode: what if Batman feels weak? Most players would probably assume he'd be overpowered. He's BATMAN, after all. But making him feel weak hurts more than a game mode. Playing as a weakened, trivialized Batman could damage his mystique among a demographic most familiar with him through the Arkahm license.

      As you said, Splash Damage's goal should be to make Batman feel relevant. They can do that by making him powerful, but not too powerful. Playing as Batman should be like playing as the Big Daddy in BioShock 2: You're the toughest guy in the room, but you're not unbeatable. It should take a concentrated effort to topple THE BATMAN.

      Off the top of my head, I think Splash Damage should play up the stealth mechanics inherent in the license. If Batman's not in a lighted area, then to the players controlling thugs and supervillians, he should not be there. If Batman is, say, crouched on a gargoyle up in the shadows, and I, as a thug, open fire on that gargoyle, I should not hit Batman. I can't see him. Once Batman swings down into the light, even a dimly lighted area, he's fair game.

      The goal of players in control of Batman, then, should be to get in and get out. Isolate thugs, pick them off, then dive back into the shadows. It would be cool to upside down from a gargoyle and snatch a thug as he runs by, pulling him up into the darkness and leaving him dangling like a fish on a hook. Another tactic might be to use a special batarang similar in design to the frozen batarang in Arkham City: immobile a thug, punch him in his ugly mug, then get while the gettin's good.

      I haven't played the game so I don't know if that's feasible. I've found that coordinating in strategies in multiplayer game rarely lives up to the pipe dreams developers share. Most players just run amuck, shooting, looting, and ratcheting up their gamer scores by completing multiplayer-centric achievements. So it might be that even though Batman has certain advantage over the bad guys, like being literally invisible in certain circumstances, he might not be equipped to deal with players in open areas.

      Although, that sounds like a simple case of keeping most of the gameplay indoors. A large, open, well-lit room full of stacks of pallets and the like that create checkerboards of light and shadow here and there would pose a challenge for players controlling the dynamic duo. If villains happen to leave that room and enter shadowy alley, well, that's their fault.

      I dunno. You did get me thinking, though. I'm a Batman fanatic. My wife designed my wedding band in the shape of Chris Nolan's Batman logo. So I care deeply (maybe a little too deeply!) for how Batman looks and, in the case of game, feels. Even after reading your preview, I want to try Bane, Joker, and Thug #387, but I would want to spend most of my time as the Caped Crusader.

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        August 2, 2013 11:01 AM

        I'm reminded of one of the Alien vs. Predator FPS's. I think they set the number of marines/aliens/predators to an amount that'd balance them out because the characters were not balanced. I think it was one predator to 4 aliens to 8 marines. Maybe this is all a fever dream though. I couldn't find any info about such a breakdown on the net.

        Still though, if this batman game features one bat versus a large number of thugs/villains and they're all controlled by the players, the bat should be terrifyingly powerful.

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          August 2, 2013 11:34 AM

          I think it may have been 2 predators, but maybe that was only in a Team DM. I'm SURE I was a cloaked Predator and watched another predator plucking some dudes at range; but I did NOT attack that predator (and I could've too!). Also, I think the aliens outnumbered the marines.

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      August 2, 2013 9:56 AM

      Also, they use Tim Drake for Robin. Fuck that. Go Dick or Damian. Preferably the later.

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        August 2, 2013 10:27 AM

        Whoa. I always liked Tim. He seemed the most independent of the Robins, perhaps because of how be separated himself from Azrael during the KnightQuest arc.

        What don't you like about Tim?

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          August 2, 2013 10:32 AM

          And didn't Bruce once say he could see Tim, out of all his Robins, succeeding him as Batman?

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            August 2, 2013 10:40 AM

            That wouldn't surprise me, but the character just feels wasted. Moreso now with the current continuity.

            There's nothing outright wrong with Drake, but Damian was my favorite (mostly due to the Dick/Damian dynamic, followed by Tomasi's better work w/ the character) and Grayson's just classic and actually has some decent (but occasional) development.

            They haven't outright destroyed him like Todd, but it's more just not doing much with him relative to Grayson & Damian.

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              August 2, 2013 10:50 AM

              Yeah, I can see that. Dick's my favorite, too, but as said, I do like Drake. In thinking about it, that might be because he was Robin when I started reading Batman books - right at the start of Knightfall. I appreciated how he handled himself after so much shit hit the fan: Bane breaking his idol, his father being kidnapped, and a new, homicidal Batman that would just as soon skewer him on his fancy claws (I liked Shadow of the Bat's longer, talon-like claws the best) than he would let him into the cave.

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                August 2, 2013 10:55 AM

                Oh, and I also hate the whole "Red Robin"-thing and think that original costume looked dumb.

                Okay, sure, it doesn't make sense to have two Robins floating around and Grayson chose Damian to keep him in check, but... pick another name. Don't just throw a color in front of it and dawn a stupid looking black bald cap. bleh

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      August 2, 2013 10:48 AM

      When did we get another freelancer?

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        August 2, 2013 11:47 AM

        I WISH! Nah man, Star Citizen isn't until next year.

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          August 2, 2013 11:52 AM

          December for the Dog-fighting alpha (think: arena play)

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          August 2, 2013 11:58 AM

          Goddammit this is the first thing I thought too lol

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        August 2, 2013 11:48 AM

        Kat's been posting (rarely) for quite some time now.

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          August 2, 2013 11:01 PM

          Yup. I recognized the name from an episode of Retronauts...back when I listened to a lot of podcasts...I'm not sure if archvile listens to Retronauts...but if he does I imagine he could give us a list of episodes Kat was on because he has a weirdly podcast specific form of a photographic memory where he remembers every detail of every podcast he's ever listened to. Ever.

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      August 2, 2013 12:29 PM

      Maybe they should make it so when you're playing as the thugs the game uses a first person camera?

      I haven't played much spies vs mercs on splinter cell but i reckon thats one of the things that makes it a bit more balanced, the thugs will have much more of an advantage being able to look around using a 3rd person camera as opposed to a first.

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      August 2, 2013 1:11 PM

      To me this just sounds like a great reason to not bring multiplayer to a singleplayer based game.

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      August 2, 2013 4:45 PM

      This mode actually sounds good. If you've ever played The Hidden: Source you'll know why.

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      August 2, 2013 11:04 PM

      I almost feel like the best Batman multiplayer would be something like The Hidden or perhaps Splinter Cell 2's multiplayer (was it 2 that had the spy vs merc mode?). One player could be The Batman...and everyone else would be henchmen as Batman slowly picks them off from the shadows with all of his abilities and gadgets and stealth and they're just schlubs trying to stop the batman through sheer numbers.

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