About a week ago, in a hotel room in New York City, I threw up my hands in triumph. I actually shouted out “hell yeah!” and stood up, victorious. I had just beaten the crap out of Deathstroke, and it was just so satisfying.
That’s the experience Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment is seeking to deliver with Batman: Arkham Origins, and why they let us play a boss fight.
“We want to make sure players earn their blackbelt in being Batman before the end of the game. We want you to get really good at the game by the time you’re at the heart of it,” said Michael McIntyre, gameplay director for Origins. The goal is to teach the player at the same rate that Batman learns, matching “his progressions system in lockstep with the player’s progression.” Ultimately, you should feel like Batman has improved to the point that he can take on just about anyone when you’re at the game’s climax and moving into the third act, rather than just for the final battle.
In Batman: Arkham Origins, the Black Mask puts out a massive bounty on the head of the new up-and-coming vigilante Batman, leading eight deadly assassins to come to Gotham City on one Christmas Eve night. Batman has to take down the assassins, find and stop Black Mask, and deal with some of his other more typical rogues gallery along the way. The assassins serve as the boss battles, and each will be the culmination of knowledge – of both Batman and the player – so far.
“If you’re fighting just to scrape by, you’re actually going to lose to the assassins,” McIntyre told Newsarama. “Assassin boss fights are the driving force behind the game,” added Senior Producer Ben Mattes. “It’s all about building skills – yours and Batman’s – to the point that you can apply them in boss fights with the eight core assassins.”
So, how will you know you’re ready for each match-up? Well, a new grading system in your average thug-beating skirmishes will help let you know if you’re prepared. You’ll get graded based on your efficiency, combos, use of gadgets, and how much of a beating you took while dishing it out. Even that is put into the game not just as a gameplay addition, but as a piece of the overall narrative.
“The narrative mapping of the grading system for fights is Batman recognizing and assessing himself. It’s Batman needing to up his game,” Mattes said. “This is the night Batman goes from the masked vigilante to the Dark Knight.”
The section of story we saw brought Batman up against one of the main side stories of the game, a high-level mob war brewing between The Penguin and the Falcone family. We see Batman take down some low-level henchmen using a mix of stealth and the freeflow combat system the previous games in the series have made popular, finally busting in on an interrogation between Penguin and the young Alberto Falcone. When Batman comes in, the interrogation switches over to Batman taking on Penguin – until Deathstroke pulls Batman out the window with a grapnel, bringing him to an arena-like ground area outside.
When handing over the controls so we could take a stab at this boss battle, which takes place about an hour and a half into the game for an average player, they explained, McIntyre told us “the Assassin battles are the master class,” and in this instance we were earning our degree in freeflow combat. Each assassin will likewise have a particular bit of combat, a part of being Batman, that is linked to the boss fight.
“Deathstroke is a great character to show how our skills came together,” as at this point the young Batman is learning to hone his aggressive nature into an efficient fighting machine, the WBIE duo said. “He fights a lot like Batman, particularly with the ability of his to counter the player’s attack.”
The boss fights will also often introduce something new to Batman’s arsenal – in this case, Deathstroke uses a remote batclaw gadget against Batman, which he then acquires at the end of the match. “This isn’t Megaman,” McIntyre cautioned, “when we introduce every gadget we want it to fit in narratively.” So while this particular instance sees Batman getting the gadget used against him, don’t expect to get a jetpack or flamethrower from Firefly after that battle. Everything serves the story, something the team said they learned from the prior games.
As for the battle against Deathstroke, it’s all about timing. Using your freeflow combos, using gadgets in battle, and timing your counters (and your counter-counters when Deathstroke initiates them), eventually you’re treated to a nice, satisfying beatdown of Slade in a three-tier fight sequence that includes him being unmasked and taking out his signature sword. It’s an exhilarating fight, and challenging one – if you’ve played the prior two games in the Arkham series, you should be able to handle him, but McIntyre and Mattes stressed that if you haven’t, you should be at the point in the game that you’re set.
Batman: Arkham Origins is about Batman becoming Batman, but WBIE is clearly making it almost as much about you becoming Batman. On October 25, 2013, we’ll certainly be ready to don the cape and cowl and take down Deathstroke (and the other assassins) once more.
Batman: Arkham Origins ships October 25, 2013 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. The game was demoed to us on the PlayStation 3.