A tale of two cities
The next Batman game will not be merely set in Gotham. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the game will need to scale things up again, but I seriously suspect that neither Rocksteady nor fans will want to lose Arkham City’s immaculately detailed, meaningful density of world for the sake of a sprawling GTA-style metropolis. Two smaller, more detailed hubs are a better option.
Secondly, there’s another location just down the road from Gotham that’s hinted at very heavily during Arkham City, and which is thematically perfect for the characters and themes I think Arkham 3 is going to make use of. But first up…
No more Arkham City. We’re talking about the real deal now. The wider city at large is explicitly referenced by Azrael as a target, but this makes sense regardless of that. One of the coolest things about Rocksteady’s world construction in their Arkham games is the way that they use geography to create a tangible sense of cohesion, both spatially and in terms of the chronological narrative progression of Batman’s story. In Arkham Asylum, it’s possible to look ahead from the island to the North Gotham coast, with the rest of the city - including the shimmering Wayne Tower - visible further off.
In Arkham City, set in North Gotham itself, we can both look back to the island and ahead to the rest of the city. Wayne Tower is again clearly visible, but despite its closer proximity it’s still unreachable. It’s a powerful but subtle method of narrative signposting, which strongly states that the greater Gotham is the next destination.
And if we’re talking about some kind of apocalyptic disaster, it will be really easy to use the destruction to plausibly cut down the available area of playable city, meaning another dense, intricate, compact design will be possible without the need for anything as unsubtle as invisible walls or roadblocks.
And that’s fine, because to make up the sense of increased scale, we’ll have…
Bludhaven is just down the coast from Gotham. If anything, its levels of crime, gangland influence and police corruption are even worse than Gotham’s. It’s also really important in terms of the characters and themes that I think the next game is going to deal with. And what’s more, it’s mentioned repeatedly in Arkham City.
Loads of the street goons reference it as you pass overhead, mentioning it as the place they want to go when they get out of Arkham City. They mention that there’s a lot going down over there, and even more state that after being thrown into Arkham City they’re now done with Gotham completely. Rocksteady could hardly be more blatant with the hints here. Similarly, the unlockable Arkham City Stories files reference Bludhaven repeatedly. The infamous but still-unseen Falcone mafia family have already escaped there, leaving the rival Maroni clan to their fate within the city prison’s walls.
Above: A map of Bludhaven. Game devs like large expanses of water, you know. Makes map and scenery design way easier
The mafia contingent of Gotham is an important part of the Bat-universe, but so far the games have concentrated on the super-villains. There are however, far too many physical references to both families in Arkham City’s Industrial District to expect this to remain the case for long. So what I reckon is going to happen is this: Bats will split his time between dealing with gangland troubles and police corruption in Bludhaven, while shutting down the more traditional (for him, anyway) carnival psychotics in Gotham. The organised crime contingent in ‘Haven will consist of the Falcones, the Penguin and perhaps Black Mask. ‘Mask has worked with the Penguin before, and it makes sense that they might team up again, given the Penguin’s ongoing feud with Two-Face as of Arkham City.
Need any more evidence that Bludhaven is going to happen? A few years ago it suffered a devastating disaster itself, as part of a comic book cross-over event which saw it essentially nuked and irradiated by way of a chemical monster named Chemo. I’m not expecting the same thing to happen here, but Rocksteady know their comics, and they do like remixing existing Bat-themes into new, reworked storylines. As for who will be exploring these two settings, I reckon there could be...
Up to five playable characters
A quick look at themes at play here, the comic storylines they tie into, and the current evolution of the Arkham series’ gameplay implies that we might have a bit more of an ensemble piece on the go next time around.
First and most simply, with Catwoman Rocksteady have now established that switching between multiple characters and interweaving plotlines is both acceptable and something they can pull off rather smoothly in a Batman game. If we’re looking at a story playing out over two different cities this time, character switching to run parallel plot-lines will be easy to fit in. See the Catwoman stuff in Arkham City as a dry-run teaser of what they’re planning. Rocksteady have also dropped in more characters from the extended Batman Family, namely Tim Drake’s Robin and Dick Grayson’s Nightwing. Robin turns up (briefly) in the main story, Nightwing just pops up as a DLC character in the challenge maps. But both are fully formed, playable characters with their own move-sets and gameplay styles. That’s a lot of work for Rocksteady to put in for such relatively brief appearances. This won’t be the last we see of them. Overall, aside from Batman, I reckon we’re potentially looking at a roster taking in:
Bludhaven is Nightwing’s adopted city. When Dick Grayson graduated from being a sidekick to a hero in his own right, he moved to Gotham’s neighbour and began waging a one-man war on crime and corruption, taking a job as a cop to cut out the rot from inside. He and ‘Haven are synonymous, so we’re going to be seeing a lot more of him in the main story. In fact the campaign could even be split 50/50 with he and Batman taking a city each.
Robin (Tim Drake)
That brief cameo in Arkham City’s main story was a definite tease, and it implied two things for the future. Firstly, it told us that yes, Robin is active in this version of the Batman story and he’s keeping a protective eye on Bats’ activities. Secondly, it hinted very strongly at a frictional dynamic between the two, Batman almost seeing Robin’s attempt to help as an interference or irritation. There’s serious dramatic ground to be explored there, especially if Robin has to help out Batman at some point. Which I think, all things considered, it’s now pretty clear that he will.
Don’t balk. I’m talking about a different Batgirl to the one you might be thinking of. With a definite period of Bat-history established here by having original Batgirl Barbara Gordon appear in her post-Joker-inflicted-paralysis role as Oracle (not to mention the presence of Nightwing and Tim Drake), things are very much ready for the appearance of the second Batgirl, Cassandra Cain. Trained from birth as an assassin, all understanding of human communication drummed out of her in order to boost her understanding of physical movement as a ‘language’, she’s utterly deadly (sometimes literally), and certainly classifiable as a dangerous loose cannon. Her personal traits perfectly fit the brutal tone of Rocksteady’s version of Batman, as well as the themes of personal crisis and redundancy that may come along in part three. Also, she’s spent a long time operating out of Bludhaven assisting Nightwing. Pencil her in.
Azrael has been everything from villain to hero to anti-hero, so there’s an equally good chance he’ll be an ally as an antagonist. With the Jean-Paul Valley Azrael having replaced Batman in the past (albeit in a way that got out of control), the chances of him being a replacement playable character - even as just a brief nod to that plot-line - must be very high. We're probably looking at a whole bunch of villain/anti-hero back and forth flipping from him, but I'm damnably sure he'll be playable at some point.
Anyway, that's the heroes. Who are the bad guys, and what will they be up to? Well...