On the eve of the release of Batman: Arkham City I thought I would touch on something that seems to be a problem in the gaming industry; licensed property. While all signs point to Arkham City being a wonderful experience(based on reviews that have been released already), games based on licensed properties are still a tricky obstacle to tackle. The inherent problem with licensed properties is that a high percentage of them are used simply to cash in on something else. To put it bluntly, you get a blockbuster movie that's being released in theaters like say, Avatar, and more than likely the company will option the rights to a publisher to create a game based on the property. What ends up happening more often than not is a sloppy game that's put together in time for the release date to coincide with the release date of the film.
I bring this up because this is something that never seems to get resolved. In recent years Hollywood has seen an increasing amount of comic book franchises launched in theaters. Not only have there been at least 4 comic book related movies released this year, there are many others in the pipeline for years to come. And while these characters and franchises range from the pages of DC Comics, to Dark Horse, to Marvel; most of them have one thing in common. They'll have a terrible movie tie in game attached to their theatrical release. This doesn't have to be the case though and we know this to be true. Surprisingly there are good games out there based on existing franchises. Some of them even date back to the 80s.
For instance, does anyone remember those kick ass arcade games Konami made in the 80s? Several of them were based on hot properties at the time but didn't tie into anything specific. Instead the games were made with a stand alone story for the game itself and out of it came greatness. I can't even remember how many quarters I dumped into that X-Men Arcade machine all those years ago. Same with the similarly designed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Simpsons games. These games were designed with fun gameplay in mind. They weren't simply there to make a quick buck off the property and saturate the market with merchandise for a high profile marketing campaign.
These days though we end up with terrible, almost unplayable games like Sega's Iron Man tie in game or the awful Superman Returns game. But in the sea of mediocrity there was a shining beacon of hope in 2009 when Rocksteady Games released Batman: Arkham Asylum. Together with writers from DC Comics they crafted the most authentic Batman experience ever put forth in a video game. They perfectly captured the spirit of the character; not to mention they used the most recognizable voice of the Dark Knight by employing Kevin Conroy. For those of you who don't know, Kevin Conroy voiced Batman for all those years in the 90s in Batman: The Animated Series. And of course he is joined by another recognizable name in Mark Hamill who reprises his role as the Joker.
And so Rocksteady crafted quite possibly one of the best superhero games ever made. The goal was to make the player feel as lethal in the game as Batman appears in the comics and movies and they captured it perfectly. Sure there were some missteps with some of the boss fights but they certainly got more right than they did wrong. And now here we are two years later and Rocksteady is about to release Batman: Arkham City. This sequel promises to unleash players in an open world where they will encounter various members of Batman's rogues' gallery from the clever Riddler to the duality obsessed Two-Face. What makes these two games so promising is that they're not being tied down by some strict release window or being used as promotional material for a coming attraction. These two games have the ability to stand on their own merit.
And that is the main problem with licensed property games. On average 90% of them cannot stand on their own. I'm not calling for more licensed property games to be developed here either. There's more than enough on the horizon already. But I would hope that developers take the same approach as Rocksteady and really try to pull off something a little more special. Up the ante and deliver something fresh; fans will thank you for it in the end.