Warning: Spoiler alert for the Batman Arkham series.
“Be patient, fans. I know we’re not talking right now… but when we do, people are going to lose their minds.”
Those were the words of Rocksteady Studios Marketing Game Manager Gaz Deaves, after years of secrecy from the company best known for bringing superhero games into the 21st century. The Batman Arkham-verse (produced by Rocksteady) has been heralded as one of the greatest trilogies in modern video games releasing to both critical and financial success. Yet, three years later and nothing but silence. Sure, a VR title devoted to the world was launched in 2016, though nothing on the grand scale we’ve come to expect.
Batman himself on the other hand has never left the limelight – for better or worse – playing a large role in the DCEU. In fact, since 2016 Bruce Wayne has appeared in four blockbusters: Batman v Superman, Suicide Squad, Lego Batman, and Justice League – which collectively accumulated over 2.5 billion dollars at the box office. This, among various animated, comic book, and video game appearances (namely Injustice 2) proves that Batman continues to be hugely relevant as he continues to dominate numerous trends for most popular superhero and all-around characters in fiction.
As a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (74.9% ownership), you would imagine Rocksteady had their pick of the lot from the impressive line-up of IP bestow to them. So after several comments from staff members confirming their time with the Arkham series being complete, what is the next step? For the past few years everything from Superman, TMNT, Suicide Squad to the Justice League has been rumored; despite that, how many of these properties actually warrant merit?
Starting with the pizza loving turtles, it’s hard to imagine Rocksteady shifting over from something outside of the DC bracket. Delving into the rumors, you can quickly verify that these “sources” have been making the rounds since early 2012 – pitting Activision as partners – when the company had barely finished shipping Arkham City. Why stray from the comfort zone that is DC superheroes? Saying that, Justice League talk has purely sprung from a Tweet on Rocksteady’s official account showing a group of mocap artists with one member striking a pose similar to Cyborg’s in promotional material for the film adaption. Amidst Rocksteady’s information being water tight, it’s understandable for fans to grasp at straws.
Taking into account the time when development began pre-production, i.e. 2015-2016, we need to consider at what state Warner Bros. and their Metahumans were. On the horizon, the DCEU began to take shape, as Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad poised for 2016 releases with Wonder Woman and a Justice League double-bill planned for the future. High hopes were rightly given for the Amazon goddess, however nobody could have foreseen by what margin she was to succeed, therefore a game surrounding her antics can sadly be dismissed. Interestingly, though Justice League rumors are thin, to some extent it makes sense. Warner Bros. would have undoubtedly banked on their biggest characters debuting together on screen for the first time, meaning a video game hitting stores close to one another is plausible – remember that The Dark Knight and Arkham Asylum only released one year apart. Now having the benefit of hindsight we can clearly see that no announcement has been made, preempting one of two scenarios.
- Rocksteady needed more time to work on the game; or
- Due to cold feet surrounding how well Justice League would hit critically, they now want both as separate as humanly possible – if we go by this theory.
Suicide Squad is another one that Warner Bros. may have had more confidence in due to their villains notoriously being more favorable – Harley Quinn making her feature film debut too. Although at the time, like Wonder Woman, this seems like a big risk and unlike Wonder Woman, critics were not kind to this flick.
Moving onto what most would call a logical transition is the Man of Steel. More so than Batman, Superman has been plagued with terrible tie-ins and dreadful attempts (Who could forget the infamous Superman 64?) to bring the character into the genre. Developers have commonly struggled to base gameplay around a man with unlimited power; so what company is better equipped to take on the last son of Krypton than Rocksteady? The brand itself is still immensely popular and would make for another easy trilogy, if success beckons.
In December of 2016, Game Director and co-founder of Rocksteady Studios Sefton Hill took part in a Reddit AMA where he confirmed the company is “very hard at work” on their next project but “won’t be releasing the details for a while.” In the same AMA, Hill also spoke of how Rocksteady got their opportunity to work on the Batman franchise, as well as one feature that they didn’t have enough time to implement along with his favorite hero and villain. No prizes for guessing who he picked for his favorite hero but his villain choice is worth considering: “I’ve always liked the desperation of [The] Riddler and we’ve had great fun writing his dialogue.” If venturing back into the world of Gotham (which from a fan and market standpoint is wise), could we see The Riddler in a more prominent role?
As mentioned, Sefton Hill noted a feature that was not implemented in time for Arkham Knight: “We had planned to activate the Xbox/PlayStation camera and record everyone’s reaction to being Man-Batted, so you could share this with your friends.” Though giving no indication of what their next release is, it will be fascinating to see if Rocksteady end up implementing something akin down the line.
Rolling with the comments made in the AMA, combined with how the Arkham series concluded (once the “Knightfall Protocol” was activated), Batman Beyond could be next. Gameplay would undeniably need to be sped up alongside a change of gadgets, settings, and more. The one exclusion to this – that would translate adequately- is the game engine itself. Seeing Terry McGinnis take up the mantle with Bruce Wayne tutoring the young knight would serve as a new, refreshing take. Once more, a futuristic Gotham with classic villains returning as either older interpretations or their offspring ruling the roost could prove a canny choice.
Obtainable statistics give us a glimpse at what enormous sales the series garnered. Arkham Asylum originally stormed the charts in 2009 by selling two million copies in three weeks alone, though its successor – Arkham City – eclipsed that number in its first week. Arkham Knight released in June 2015 and by October time, five million sales had been made. There are naysayers who believe sticking “Arkham” on the box will create sales regardless of critical reception, but this has ultimately proved untrue. Arkham Origins (developed by WB Montréal), which didn’t bomb by any stretch of the imagination, still suffered. Entering the market two years after Arkham City, Origins only amassed half the first week sales. Rocksteady is a name that is trusted, a name that promises quality, a name that is now synonymous with Batman, and in this world, money talks.
Alternative scenarios to consider are other members of the Justice League (which are anyone’s guess) or a brand new IP. Once again coming off the back of the statements made by Gaz Deaves – that people will “lose their minds” – and it’s fair to say excitement will be dampened if an already established IP doesn’t surface. Not that that there is anything wrong with new IP, and Rocksteady definitely has the market leverage to pull it off, but the hysteria is never going to be the same as a Superman reveal. At this moment in time, we are unsure how far into development the company actually is. The suspected timeline is three years, though with a whole host of job vacancies made available last November, plans could be further apart than originally suspected. Regardless, if plans are certainly afoot, they will start to take shape in the coming months. In the most likely of scenarios an E3 2018 reveal is inevitable, where comic book fans globally will supposedly “lose their minds.”
For the once Urban Chaos creators, it’s quite remarkable that in the public’s eye Rocksteady are considered for all these options. Nonetheless, to say their deserved success only came to fruition due to Eidos Interactive (now known as Square Enix Europe) acquiring the rights to produce a Batman game (as part of a deal with WB) and there being little belief in the value itself, is nothing short of extraordinary. As Sefton Hill exclaimed, “Eidos asked us whether we’d be interested and we couldn’t believe it. We thought it was the best thing ever. I remember announcing it at the team meeting and the whole team went crazy! We get to make a frickin’ Batman Game? Are you kidding me? How cool is that?!” What stemmed from that conversation was a revolutionary shift in the superhero video game genre that will indeed be looked upon as the catalyst for the whole industry.