This October, the "Batman: Arkham" games expand not once, but twice with "Batman: Arkham Origins" for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC; and "Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate" for PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. Although the game's October 25 release is still a good two months away, WB Games and DC Entertainment brought a live demo to Comic-Con International 2013 to give Batman fans a closer look at how WB Games Montreal takes the reins from Rocksteady Games and expands the critically acclaimed franchise.
According to "Arkham Origin's" creative director Eric Holmes, the team at WB Games Montreal have put a lot of effort into keeping the levels balanced. "Legends of the Dark Knight" was a huge inspiration for the game, and telling an origin story allows the game to delve into the relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon as the Dark Knight takes on eight of the deadliest assassins hired by the Black Mask -- many of which are younger and more inexperienced than they are by the time of "Arkham Asylum," such as Bane (fashioned after the "Vengeance of Bane" storyarc), Copperhead, Deathstroke and Deadshot.
Combat is roughly the same as both "Arkham Asylum" and "Arkham City," as Batman continues to use the Freeflow combat system that garnered so much praise in the first two games. The system seems largely unchanged, with players able to take down enemies using Batman's native martial arts skills and his gadgets. Travel is also roughly the same through the newly-designed Gotham City, as Batman uses his grappling hook and gliding ability to traverse the concrete jungle high above the streets.
WB Montreal has done a great job creating a new corner of Gotham to explore. The buildings loom large, providing an atmospheric polish that players have come to expect from the "Arkham" games. There are some slight camera problems, mainly when Batman climbs up onto a building, but these are expected to be fixed in the final build. The animations look effortless, especially when looking at Batman up-close.
Like the other installments of the "Arkham" series, "Origins" contains a number of new skins for Batman, including the classic "Batman '66" skin and versions of the Dark Knight from "Knightfall" and "One Million" with a Worst Nightmare Batman available for "absolute masters of the game." Fans that pre-order "Arkham Origins" will also receive a playable Deathstroke character.
While "Arkham Origins" expands the "Arkham" saga on consoles, Armature Studios brings the series to handheld platforms for the first time with "Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate." Although significant plot details haven't yet been released, Catwoman took center stage in the CCI demo as the Dark Knight pursues her across rooftops and through gangs of thugs.
"Blackgate" works in 2.5D -- it's still within a 3D environment, but the gameplay is much more akin to a platformer than the open-world experience of "Origins" with some cool 3D elements. The developers did an excellent job making it seem as though players are using Batman's tools in 3D by using the camera in creative ways, such as when he grapples onto ledges, sneaks up on an enemy to hurl him off a ledge or lurks in wait on top of a gargoyle.
Combat works very well in the 2D space, but takes some getting used to. Much like "Little Big Planet," "Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate" has a fore-, middle- and background that players can occupy and transition between freely. Enemies approach Batman on every plane, but the level of control allows players to focus on punching, countering and disorienting enemies.
Visually, the game makes the most of the handheld consoles' less powerful graphic capabilities. The lighting detail is impeccably good, especially when Bats passes under neon lights or across rooftops. Detective Mode is back for the handheld release, and it takes full advantage of the 3DS/Vita touchscreen capabilities. By double tapping on the screen, players can find clues or environmental items of significance -- like a grapple target or activation item.
No matter what the platform, the CCI 2013 demo definitely lives up to the previous games under Rocksteady's watch, suggesting that WB Games Montreal is a worthy successor to take on the "Arkham" legacy.
Releasing October 25, "Batman: Arkham Origins" will be available for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC. "Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate" hits stores for Nintendo 3DS and PS Vita for a simultaneous release.
Steve Sunu contributed to this article.