We're drawing closer to the release of Batman: Arkham Origins for the Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, and Nintendo Wii U, and while I remain interested in the single-player story mode, I'm less enthused about the multiplayer modes (note that the Wii U version will not include the multiplayer modes, another telling indicator about that console's current status in the industry; but I digress...). A variety of gaming journalism outlets were invited to sample one of the game's online multiplayer scenarios last week and many are publishing their impressions today. Jeremy Parish at USGamer entered the room without having played any of the other two Arkham games and I believe that's gifted him with the least convoluted, most honest take on the multiplayer demo. Here's how he explains it:
See, Origins' multiplayer works like this: It's an asymmetrical competition with two more-or-less evenly matched teams of criminal goons (the Joker gang and the Bane gang) working to take control of a map by holding checkpoints or wiping out the other team. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin stick to the shadows, taking out (not killing!) bad guys in order to raise the gangs' terror meter and drive them away in fear. Arkham Origins takes about zero percent of its inspiration from Batman Year One from what I've seen, but the idea of skulking around and driving criminals away in fear seems right in line with the wraith-like image Frank Miller created in that definitive work.
The problem is that to be effective at terrorizing cowardly and superstitious lots, you really need a good handle on the controls. Granted, Origins will probably take some getting used to for even a seasoned player, since Batman controls a little differently than in the earlier games -- at least for multiplayer, that is. Because you're battling other people in a multiplayer setting rather than artificial intelligence in a single-player framework, Arkham's trademark melee dodge-and-counter combat system has been totally discarded for this mode. You can't very well have the game running in slo-mo every time Batman gets into a fistfight, right? So basically, Batman's imperative is to use up-close combat only as a measure of last resort.
The more I read about the multiplayer option, the more I conclude that it's another multiplayer mode that I'll never play shoehorned into what has traditionally been a single-player series. Franchises like Assassins's Creed, God of War, and Tomb Raider have all sprouted multiplayer modes that revolve around essentially playing for points in an endless series of matches. I just can't get myself into playing those kinds of offerings. They're distractions from the story and the central gameplay. On the other hand, games like Saints Row: The Third's online co-op mode, Portal 2's co-op mode, and Red Dead Redemption's free roam options are all my ideal kinds of multiplayer. Borderlands is built on this kind of mechanic. I want to join up with friends and take on challenges that are part of (or based on) the single-player story. Endless combat in limited battle arenas doesn't interest me, but I'll gladly co-op a story mode (or variation thereof) any day. Seeing games like Batman take on multiplayer modes just for the sake of adding an additional bullet point to the back of the game case and trying to stave off sales back to GameStop is such a disappointment. If I could patrol Gotham City with a friend as part of the main campaign, however, I'd have a much different opinion on Arkham's multiplayer offering. As it stands and considering the other games I want to buy between now and the end of the year, I'll most likely rent the game, finish the story mode, and return it. Had co-op been a part of the package, it would be a preordered purchase. Losing a sale? Now that is a lost opportunity.