It’s no secret that popular video games often run parallel to successful movie franchises. The Lord of the Rings trilogy spawned a whole series of video games spread across RTS, RPG, and action-adventure games.
Another great example is Batman, or to be precise, The Dark Knight series by the film director, Christopher Nolan. Heath Ledger’s tragic swansong as the Joker drove the movie to heights a superhero movie has not managed to quite reach.
And this spike in the popularity of Batman also coincided with the release of the Arkham series of action-adventure games. Starting with Arkham Asylum in 2009, Warner Bros Interactive started a six-year period peppered with three sequels and countless mobile and VR games.
As they say, “when it rains, it pours.” And so it has proved with the Batman video games in this last decade. In the first half, we were treated to a deluge of excellent games featuring the “world’s greatest (caped) detective.”
But as we look forward to 2020s, there are no signs of any upcoming AAA games starring the Dark Knight.
Why WB and Rocksteady opted for Suicide Squad instead of Batman
Rumours had been circulating for several years about a possible follow up to Arkham Knight. But in 2020, WB and Rockstead dashed our hopes for a Batman game at the DC FanDome with the announcement for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. So basically, in 2022 we will be getting a “Harley Quinn and friends” game.
Not that we are complaining. Yes, reviews of the first Suicide Squad movie report that it was a shambles, with Jared Leto’s looking like an actual joke instead of the scary Joker. But Margot Robbie was the saving grace of that movie, lighting up the screen as Harley Quinn.
She was so good, the suits decided to scrap the rest of the squad and create a movie with Robbie’s Quinn front and centre. With Robbie around, there is still hope for the Suicide Squad movies.
As for the video game, Harley Quinn’s popularity clearly played at least a minor role in the choice. But it was also about refreshing the template – you can only endure the cloudy, gloomy Gotham atmosphere for so long.
With Suicide Squad, Rocksteady is taking the story to bright and sunny Metropolis. And in their defence, adding a multiple players/squad component is another way to refresh the gameplay while sticking with the roots of the satisfying melee combat system in Arkham.
A lull was inevitable after the Arkham Series
No video game developer can keep up churning out consistently great games at the frequency of one every two years. While the response to Arkham games has been generally positive, towards the end, they were running out of ways to refresh things.
In fact, for many gamers, the series hit its peak with the second game – Arkham City (2011). Released from the confines of the Arkham Mental Asylum, players finally got to roam around vast sections of Gotham, playing Batman to their heart’s content.
The third game, Origins, suffered from a lack of noticeable improvements to the formula. Even more noticeable was the change in the developer. All other Arkham games had been created by Rocksteady while Origins was developed by WB Montreal. And it suffered in the eyes of players as a result.
The last game Arkham Knight tried to refresh things, particularly the vehicular combat and travel using the Batmobile, but with mixed results. It was still the best looking game of the series in terms of graphics and refined gameplay, though the latter felt highly familiar in combat and exploration.
There have been glimpses of the Bat since 2015
But it is not as though we gamers were completely starved of Batman content in video games after Arkham Knight. Batman: The Telltale Series was perhaps the best of the lot, as it featured the Bat in a central role.
And you also got to explore a meaty story, with the trademark narrative-driven Telltale formula and branching choices with huge repercussions. The studio managed to release two games in their Batman series before going under in 2018.
Other video game appearances by Batman between 2015 and 2020 are largely secondary as part of an ensemble cast. The Injustice series of fighting video games from WB Games had Batman along with all the other DC heroes and villains as playable characters.
Apart from an inevitable re-release of the Arkham Collection in 2018, we have not had any further luck with Batman in video games. Unless that is, you include WB licensing their classic DC superheroes to online slot developers Playtech. Superheroes and a popular theme for online video slots, many of which Australians can play at top-notch casinos.
2021’s The Batman will hold the key
We already have a lot of information about the upcoming reboot of The Batman movie series. The casting has certainly divided opinion – Twilight’s Robert Pattinson seems a bit too lean to play the Batman. But in his defence, not all versions of the cartoon/comics show the Batman as a hulking figure – the futuristic Batman Beyond is an excellent example.
Besides, the brooding intensity he brings to the role seems to fit the bill, especially for a younger, angrier version of the Bat. The “I’m vengeance” scene from the FanDome trailer shows it all too well.
There is obviously a lot riding on this new Batman. Superhero reboots don’t always go according to plan – since Tobey Maguire’s Spiderman, there has been two reboot attempts in the same decade, featuring Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland.
In that time, Sony has released one amazing Spiderman game for PS4, with the Miles Morales sequl coming as a launch title for the PS5. With next-gen gaming with us in 2020, WB and Rocksteady will take a patient approach to the next Batman game.
They will probably look at the performance of the upcoming The Batman and the Suicide Squad game before considering the next Batman appearance in the Arkham Series. We don’t expect anything at least until 2022, if not later. Until then, even the Bat-Signal can’t conjure up a new Batman video game for any of us!