Video Games’ Superhero Problem
Riddle me this Batman!
Superhero games- with the exception of Rocksteady’s Batman- have the disposition to suck.
Licensed superhero games have been fighting a losing battle for decades, from terribly average Marvel games to gaming’s worst portrayal of a superhero ever – Superman 64.
Rocksteady has become synonymous with excellent game design and storytelling, and for a studio that, up until the Batman trilogy, had only released one game, they have done incredibly well for themselves.
The developers set up to make a game with one goal in mind – redefine Batman – both in a narrative and gameplay capacity. The game was developed simultaneously with the story carrying this ideology at its core, and perhaps Arkham Asylum received a helping hand, the game was expected to be just like every other superhero game until then, mediocre at best. Instead, gamers not only got the best superhero game of all time but also one of the greatest games of last generation.
One of the ways that Rocksteady achieved this was their approach to the development of Batman, instead of trying to replicate a comic book or film version of the character, Rocksteady drew inspiration from both mediums, creating their own unique – yet still very Batman-like – caped crusader.
Arkham Asylum and Arkham Knight share one thing in common that Rocksteady did incredibly well, they are an exploration of what drives Batman, or better yet, the games provide an insight into Batman’s persona and develop the character in a way that had not been seen before. Rocksteady made a game about a broken Batman, throughout the trilogy, the player experiences the decline of Batman’s sanity to the point – in Arkham Knight-where his subconscious is expressed through hallucinations of the joker. It’s a portrayal that, successfully, depicts the toll on the psyche of a superhero when fighting crime in such a dark and perverse society.
Rocksteady had a difficult task in translating larger than life characters into meaningful gameplay in such a way that the game would not be devoid of challenge but also in a way that didn’t completely redefine the character beyond recognition. This is where a majority of studios stumble, however, Rocksteady nailed it to the point where the combat system in the Arkham trilogy has become an industry standard for a majority of third-person action games.
The combat in the Batman games can be brutal, but it is fair. It is balanced in a way that you can execute so many combos to the point that you never really feel overwhelmed, but you can also never underestimate the enemies that surround you.
It is a system that requires timing and skill while offering player growth, that is the mark of a great combat system. Throughout the course of the game, as the player evolves so does the enemy, developing new weaknesses and strengths, forcing the player to adapt his playstyle to best suit the situation, failure to adapt will result in defeat.
Perhaps the most fundamental aspect to being Batman is his ability to lurk in the shadows and use stealth as a means to strike fear into criminals and use that fear as a fighting tool against them. Rocksteady’s nailed Batman’s stealth mechanics. They introduced stealth in a way that it makes it seem like they are puzzles, then they made sure that those stealth sections were fun to play, in addition, and probably the most important part of the stealth mechanic in the games is that the AI responds accordingly, in a way that makes sense – to the themes of Batman and how he uses fear as a tool. As you start taking out enemies, and they notice their numbers dropping, some of them will change their pattern as they are looking out for you and some will simply start firing randomly into the air as they catch a glimpse of ‘something’.
That Ideology carried by Rocksteady is the reason as to why the game worked, it allowed you to be Batman without taking away the challenge or arbitrarily weakening you as a means to create the illusion of difficulty in gameplay.
Rocksteady proved to the industry that licensed superhero games can work, and they set a new golden standard for what gamers should expect out of a superhero video game. Unlike their first Batman game, expectations have been raised and questions will be asked of the developers that fail to meet the standard of Rocksteady’s Dark Knight.
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