Hands-on with ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’ and ‘Scribblenauts Unmasked’

One of the very first things I was scheduled to do at Comic-Con was pay a visit to the DC booth and play three video games. Sounded like a pretty easy and fun way to kick off the day before doing any interviews, but what I didn’t know was that the producers of these games would be looking over my shoulder as I played them.

Arkham Origins

Before I came to Comic-Con I practiced my freeflow combat. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty good at fighting thugs in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and I used to be pretty high up on the leader boards… at least on the Xbox 360. The lines leading to the two Arkham Origins TVs in the DC booth also lead to PS3s and I’m terrible with the PS3 controller. My training was for nothing. I walked up to the sole figure with an exhibitor badge next to the demo area and told them who I was and he ushered me to the front of the line and gave the guy I cut-off a pretty cool lithograph featuring Batman and a variety of the villains and goons that the Dark Knight will be fighting. As I pressed start and began to play I struck up a conversation with the exhibitor to my left. After all, with the constant roar of Comic-Con I definitely couldn’t hear the video game. As it would turn out, this man was Anthony DeLuca, one of the game’s producers. Here are some things I inquired about and some observations I made while playing the demo:

  • If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Even though I fumbled the PS3 controls time and time again due to my unfamiliarity with the console it was apparent that the combat, stealth, and gadget selection remain unchanged.
  • The city feels much, much larger and that has a lot to do with the buildings. The building rise very high. It’s not all the dilapidated old Gotham from Arkham City, I played in Gotham proper.
  • I asked where the regular citizens of Gotham were. It’s a combination of the blizzard that’s consuming Gotham and the fact that it’s Christmas eve. There will be some average citizens running about in the game though.
  • Those citizens will come into play during various street crime missions. Do you recall in Arkham City how there would occasionally be a political prisoner being assaulted by one of the scarier Arkham inmates? They’ve expanded on that idea greatly in this one and you’ll be stopping mugging, heists, and all sorts of crime that will occur throughout the city. You won’t see tons of NPCs living out their daily lives like in Grand Theft Auto but there will definitely be a greater presence of citizenry in the new Arkham game.
  • As of now, there are no plans whatsoever to release the PS3 exclusives to other consoles somewhere down the line. The Knightfall and Adam West skins will likely remain PS3 only bonuses much like how Joker was only playable on the Playstation in Arkham Asylum.
  • Since I couldn’t hear the game due to the loudness of the exhibit hall I relied on the usual Batsignal destination marker seen in Arkham City, the compass at the top of the screen that showed me where the next in-game goal was, and Anthony to direct me as to where to go. It was mostly Anthony who showed me where to go because honestly I was trying too hard to think of questions to ask him to really give the game my all.
  • One of the first things I had to do was fight a group of thugs. No big deal, the same fighting mechanics as before and that’s a good thing.
  • I asked how many new counter animations there would be in the new game and Anthony said that there were so many he couldn’t even count them all.
  • When asked if the game would feature co-op gameplay this time around, Anthony would neither confirm nor deny. This would be an ongoing trend in the responses I would get to my questions.
  • The villain Anarky played a big part in the demo. It’s a good year for this character because he’s also being treated as “Batman’s Moriarty” in the new Beware the Batman animated series. I know that it was rumored that Anarky would serve as a replacement for the Riddler, but the plot I saw here didn’t have a very Riddler vibe. Granted, I couldn’t hear what Anarky was saying but this felt like something new.
  • After defeating a small band of Anarky thugs attempting to plant a bomb I was confronted by a new kind of henchman. This new baddie is an armored thug, but his armor must be removed before you can defeat him. This was achieved by boxing him around for a bit and then tapping a button in order to pull the pieces away from his armor.
  • Once the would-be bombers were disposed of I needed to go into detective mode and trace some cables to find where two other bombs were. Each spot required me to beat up some more bad guys– nothing too surprising there– but on one rooftop I found yet another new bad guy.
  • Besides the heavily armored henchman there’s a new thug who can actually counter Batman’s moves! This made fighting quite a bit more challenging and fun. He’s a guy that the button-mashers won’t be able to beat.
  • After all the bombs were disabled via the cryptographic sequencer (same as before), Anarky was projected onto a building and I’m sure he said something menacing but I couldn’t make any of it out. This was most certainly a Riddler-esque moment even if the challenge was far more simplistic than the deathtraps witnessed in Arkham City.
  • Anthony asked if I had seen the Copperhead trailer from the day before, but I admitted that I hadn’t but people were tweeting and texting me about it all day. I asked if any other characters from the Bat-mythology would get as drastic a re-imagininig as Copperhead in Arkham Origins and he thought for a moment and said, no. No other villains would be getting as drastic a makeover.
  • A police helicopter tried to attack the Batman on one of the rooftops, but before the chase could actually begin catastrophe struck and the chopper went down.
  • I asked if Commissioner Gordon would have a bigger part in Arkham Origins than he did in Arkham City. Anthony replied that Gordon is a captain at this point in time in the game since this takes place near the beginning of Batman’s career and that Jimbo would indeed have a big part to play in the story.
  • “Is Harvey Bullock in the game?” I asked, and Anthony merely smiled and said, “Maybe.”
  • The crashing helicopter lead to a demo of the brand new detective mode which was the most noticeable change to the Arkham franchise’s gameplay by far, but luckily it’s in a good way. Rather than hold a button on an obvious clue or follow a stream of clue-alert-icons to a mission’s destination, the new detective mode is highly interactive and requires you to act like a detective yourself. It does this by showing you the event that requires your scrutiny and giving you the option to rotate the camera, fast-forward, and rewind the scene of the crime. I noticed that the tail of the plane flew off in an odd fashion (I’m Batman, just go with it) and followed that piece of debris to another location. From there I would fast-forward or rewind to another interesting piece of information that ultimately pointed to sniper-fire from a distant building. A bit of grappling and gliding later and I found a dead sniper and yet another line of fire to the assassin who killed the gunman that brought down the chopper! I really, really, wanted to pursue this investigation further, but Anthony pointed out that that was all that was available in the demo. This was part of the greater Deadshot campaign and when you own the full game you can drop everything and pursue Deadshot alone if you so choose.
  • The final thing for me to do in the game was infiltrate a building for some reason (I really couldn’t hear any of the actual story over the rumbling convention center) and perform a predator challenge. Now, with gameplay not really changing that much this was actually more of a showcase of what sort of new gadgets were available much like how the earlier combat moments were a showcase of the new and improved henchmen.
  • The thing that Anthony urged me to try was the “remote claw” but since I’m terrible with Playstation’s controller I kept screwing up. The henchmen still went down, but I wasn’t pulling off the cool move that Anthony wanted me to see. I was surprised at how easily the bad guys went unconscious with the new gadget though. The remote hook attaches itself to a bad guy and then if you targeted a specific item or location and opposing grapple would shoot out, clip to that, and the two ends would be pulled back together. A neat gadget, but when I kept forgetting to target another object and the baddie would fly to whatever was closest he went down instantly. Why even bother trying to target something if it was an instant K.O.? I wasn’t quite sure if the new weapon made stealth missions too easy or if I was simply playing on too easy of a difficulty. I always play the Arkham games on the highest difficulty setting.
  • Another neat function of the remote claw was that it can be used to create a tightrope. I’m unsure if it’s more versatile than the line-launcher.
  • With all the bad guys in a Batman-induced coma (the worst kind) I proceeded to the next area where a cutscene played. What I saw looked awesome and I really wish I could’ve heard it. I believe it’s available online actually. It’s the scene in which Bane smacks Batman around in a hallway and throws Batman into a room where he meets the Joker.
  • Bane is voiced by JB Blanc, the same actor who does the voice for Alfred in Beware the Batman.
  • The new design of Bane is an enormous improvement on his look in the previous two games.
  • I asked if Joker was also an assassin hired by Black Mask and Anthony simply said that they have not yet said what part Joker plays in Arkham Origins.
  • And that was the end of the demo. It looks great, I bet it plays even better when I’m using a controller I’m familiar with, and I’m really looking forward to it. The demo impressed me and I couldn’t even hear what the characters were saying! I just wish the folks involved had given me a lithograph too. That thing looked really cool.

Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure

My onsite contact Craig finally caught up to me and escorted me to the other end of the DC booth where I found a pair of smaller TVs with playable demos for Scribblenauts Unmasked, the Wii U/PC game that’s made for all ages. The exhibitor who would be walking me through the game was Caleb Arseneaux, a producer and developer on the Scribblenauts franchise. But first things first, I had to get my hands on the controller and that required pulling a little kid away from his game. He didn’t get a lithograph or anything, when I took his place either. I don’t feel great about it, but, ya know, life’s hard and the kid needs to learn that at some point so why not Comic-Con? Did you get to go to Comic-Con when you were five? Of course not. The kid needed a reality check. I’m a hero when you think about it, really.

  • I had never played Scribblenauts before but it was very easy to pick up and play.
  • The gameplay of Scribblenauts Unmasked has apparently not changed much since the previous installment. What has changed is that now there are over 2,000 DC characters and items available to choose from.
  • Most people who played the demo at Comic-Con spent all their alloted time just trying to stump the Scribblenauts library. Caleb said that the only ones who did were those who tried to name an obscure character that was overly sexual or gory.
  • Essentially the game is a side-scrolling action/adventure/puzzle game and in it you can type in the name of anything and it’ll manifest itself in the game. With “Unmasked” you can type in the name of any hero, villain, or item from the DC mythology and it will appear on screen.
  • Even with the game being made with kids in mind, the facelss New 52 Joker from Snyder and Capullo’s Batman is included in the game. But in order to get past the censors the New 52 Batman was given a really sparse bio that only said something like “This is the new look of the Joker introduced in the New 52” with no mention of the fact that he’s wearing a severed face attached only by hooks and a leather belt.
  • I asked if this meant that the Joker wouldn’t have a knife but he most certainly does.
  • All the characters and items have a full biography. Even if you didn’t feel like playing the game, owning it would be a great interactive resource for comic fans who just like some good trivia.
  • Almost every character has multiple incarnations to choose from representing different stories or eras of the character’s history.
  • Movie versions were not available because of different licensing agreements and so forth. I thought that I saw Heath Ledger’s Joker but it was actually the remarkably similar Knight of Vengeance Joker created by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso.
  • Batman has more playable costumes than any other character with 33 different Batmans to choose from. I was shocked to see that even the Year 100 Batman was included.
  • The level of customization is astounding. The possibilities really felt endless in Scribblenauts Unmasked. You can create your very own superhero using parts from all of those 2,000 characters and you can pick and choose what superpowers you want to give them. Heck, you can create a hero who has EVERY superpower.
  • We spent so much time looking into the customization of the game and how deep the character gallery is that I really didn’t get to actually play the game!
  • Even though I didn’t do a mission or solve a puzzle or anything, the level of detail put into the character catalog and customization makes me think that a lot of care was put into making it and it really did feel like it was going to be a lot of fun. I’ll definitely be checking it out when it’s available this fall.

Arkham Origins: Blackgate

My onsite contact almost forgot to take me by the Blackgate demo where I was introduced to yet another producer, Jason. Although Arkham Origins: Blackgate is a handheld game, it was displayed from the Playstation Vita onto a widescreen television in the booth so it would be easier to show off all the game’s detail to those walking by on the showroom floor.

  • Arkham Origins: Blackgate is availble for the Playstation Vita and the Nintendo 3DS
  • It clocks in at around 4 hours of gameplay
  • The graphics looked great for a handheld game. Granted I never play handheld games, but it certainly looked better than I had anticipated.
  • It’s a side-scrolling adventure with 3D details and all of the elements that make up a traditional Arkham game.
  • Mutlipliers, combos, stealth predator missions, gadgets, it’s all there.
  • The game takes place a few months after the events of Arkham Origins, but there aren’t any spoilers in the game so you can play this before its console counterpart worry-free.
  • Cutscenes are animated like a motion comic, not a the fully rendered CG footage you find in Arkham Origins.
  • The story has something to do with Joker, Penguin, and others taking over parts of Blackgate prison. I’m not sure how any of that makes sense though.
  • These cutscenes feature the same voice actors heard in Arkham Origins.
  • Detective mode is managed by pressing your fingers against the Vita’s touchscreen.
  • Gameplay itself wasn’t all that exciting. Most of the demo was made up of me chasing Catwoman across rooftops and then grappling up to another level where I chased her some more. From time to time I had to do some combat but as long as you time the counter button right I really didn’t see any way you could take any damage.
  • The predator portion was an entirely different matter. At this point in the demo I died a couple of times in a row and needed Jason to do that part for me. There wasn’t all that much freedom in how to bring down the bad guys. There were three perches and the bad guys walked in a pretty tight pattern so basically you just had to wait until they were far enough away, drop down, sneak up and execute.
  • The game crashed twice during my demo, but it’s a game still in development so I’m not sure if that’s something to really cause concern. I didn’t even finish the demo because it crashed right at the very end. But between the crashes, the easy death and restrictive gameplay of the predator missions, and the repetitive combat, I wasn’t all that impressed with Arkham Origins Blackgate.
  • I thought it looked good and did a fine job of using all of the elements from the Arkham franchise, but I just didn’t have all that much fun playing this demo.

Arkham Origins is available for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and Microsoft Windows on October 25th.

Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure is available for Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, and Microsoft Windows on September 24th.

Arkham Origins: Blackgate is available for Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita on October 25th, the same day as Arkham Origins.