There are few games I loved more in the 2010s than Batman: Arkham Asylum. It stands out as one of the best superhero games ever made, and launched a series of games that has never quite managed to reach the same heights – a trend that appears to be repeated in the upcoming Gotham Knights.
The last game in the series, Batman: Arkham Knight was certainly not terrible, but it felt and played similarly to many of the other open world games at the time. Big open map, lots of map markers and a dizzying amount of collectibles. It was a far cry from the tight, confined gameplay design that made Arkham Asylum feel unique.
Arkham’s spiritual successor Gotham Nights is definitely more Arkham Knight than Arkham Asylum. In Gotham Knights’ universe, Batman's supposed death causes a crime wave in Gotham. As a result, four heroes – Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin, and Red Hood – team up to bring the city back under control. Each character has a distinct fighting and gameplay style. For example, Robin will have the ability to transport using the Justice League satellite.
Warner Bros. Games has also confirmed that Gotham Knights will be an open-world game. I’d arguably say the game should go in the opposite direction though. Create a smaller, more condensed world for the four heroes. Even if Gotham Knights does have one of the biggest game worlds to date in the DC universe, I think it’s best chances at success lies with the series’ roots.
Why was Arkham Asylum was so special?
What made Arkham Asylum so special was its commitment to the premise. Rather than following a lot of the releases at the time, Arkham Asylum plonked players on a small, confined island and forced them to navigate the winding, claustrophobic walls of Arkham Asylum. It was the perfect playground for Batman’s mix of athleticism, stealth and combat abilities. Arkham Asylum made you feel like Batman in a way no other game had.
In some ways, Arkham Asylum also took away Batman’s most powerful aids. There was no Batcar, no city skyline to traverse, and no companion heroes to fight alongside you. It was just you and an island full of criminals hell-bent on killing you. It retained the power fantasy of being a superhero, while reminding you that Batman isn’t a god-like being and can be hurt.
Most importantly, the Asylum was tense. There was a constant air of threat around each corner, and the atmosphere on the island was palpable. The subsequent games in the series didn’t achieve this, as the large-open world of Gotham just felt like every other large-open world at the time.
How Gotham Knights can channel Asylum
Considering Gotham Knights has already been confirmed as an open-world game, it’s fair to say we aren’t going to get something as dense, and confined as the Asylum. However, this doesn’t mean the current development team can instill some of the gameplay elements within Gotham Knights.
Instead of having an Asylum, there could be a number of important buildings across the city that act as mini versions of the first game. This provides a space for that close-knit, stealth gameplay that is seeming with tension. With multiple versions of enclosed areas, the developers could further build on the initial Arkham Asylum premise, while building spaces that benefit each one of the individual characters.
As fun as it is to mindlessly beat up characters using the game’s iconic melee system, confined, purpose-designed areas force players to use their minds as well. By creating situations that require more than combat, it would show that each one of the new four heroes can also use the training Batman bestowed upon them in other ways.
Focus on one primary villain
Arkham Asylum was also great because it distilled the hero and villain story into something incredibly enjoyable. Unlike Arkham Knight's numerous main villains, Asylum’s primary storyline focused on the dynamic between Batman and The Joker. Creating something really simple, but engaging would get players instantly engaged with the Gotham Knights universe. There’s no reason why the developers couldn’t bring The Joker back once again. If anyone killed Batman, there’s a good chance it could have been The Joker.
A simple villain narrative worked exceptionally well in Arkham Asylum, and it could work well in Gotham Knights. Instead of trying to fit as much stuff into the game as possible, keep it simple with intelligent choices.
However the Gotham Knights game turns out, I sincerely hope we see flashes of Arkham Asylum in there. It’s not only one of the best Batman games, but it'sone of the best superhero games even released.