Batman: Arkham Knight and the Future of Batman Games

Rocksteady's Arkham series ends this year with Batman: Arkham Knight. What's next for the Dark Knight in video games?

Batman arkham games

Editor’s Note: Make sure to check out our Batman: Arkham Knight review!

Whether a red herring or the endgame, the death of the Batman is at the forefront of Batman: Arkham Knight, the final chapter in Rocksteady Studios’ Arkham Trilogy.

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Although there have been leaks and reveals concerning this climactic moment in the series, nothing has been more telling the latest Arkham Knight trailer from E3 2015:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GprC62_bndw

This trailer, which actually shows the first few minutes of the game, features Commissioner Gordon telling us, “This is how it happened. This is how the Batman died.” Well, that is perhaps the biggest promotional spoiler in video game history. Of course, one should probably lean to believe that Batman isn’t actually dead. There have been many times throughout Batman history in which Bruce Wayne has reached a temporary moment of peace where he no longer needs Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, Batman: Superheavy, etc. 

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Still, there is a bit to dissect from the clues that have come before:

Earlier this year, millions of Batfans went crazy for a collector’s statue that potentially spoiled the ending to Batman: Arkham Knight. The blunder was discovered by London-based gaming site VideoGamer on Amazon UK. I should note that the original VideoGamer post is no longer available on their website. Amazon UK also quickly swapped out the promo image.

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The inscription on the plaque below the statue — which pretty closely resembles the memorial built in the Batman’s honor at the end of The Dark Knight Rises — reads, “From a grateful city in memory of the Gotham Knight.” See the image for yourself:

Batman games

The new image of the plaque just reads, “Gotham Knight,” but you can still find a bit of a spoiler in the item description lower down in the page: “An imposing Batman memorial statue commemorating Gotham’s protector, the Dark Knight.” 

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Yes, it would seem, unless this is a publicity stunt on Warner Bros.’s part, that Batman dies at the end of Arkham Knight. Rocksteady would take the Christopher Nolan approach to Batman in this case — a very definite end to their vision of the Batman story. Will they blow up the Dark Knight with a nuclear bomb, too? Considering that Rocksteady killed off the Joker in Arkham City, I guess having Batman go out with a bang wouldn’t be the most shocking conclusion at this point. 

My mind keeps going back to that first teaser trailer for Arkham Knight from last spring:

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A lot of this trailer can be interpreted as Bruce’s swansong. It opens with a voiceover of the last will and testament of Thomas Wayne, as Bruce stares down at the dark depths of the Batcave. Bruce then puts on his armor and rides off into battle. The odds are definitely stacked up against him. The city has been evacuated and the criminals have taken control of Gotham. Two-Face, Riddler, and Penguin all set their sights on capturing the abandoned city, and Scarecrow plans to unleash his fear gas on the city. Batman is vastly outnumbered. Plus a new mysterious villain known only as the Arkham Knight has a personal vendetta against the Caped Crusader. How will Bruce make it out of this alive?

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

I’m going to assume Batman dies at the end of Arkham Knight, and that Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment will be thinking about what to do next with the character in terms of video games. As I see it, there are a couple of scenarios that could come into fruition:

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1. Synchronicity

The Batman Arkham series is made up of pretty much the ONLY superhero action-adventure games that have been successful in at least the last decade. Sure, there’s been a Spider-Man game here and there, but I don’t think anyone doubts that Batman reigns as king in this very specific sub-genre. But if Rocksteady is really blowing up the character, what the hell is Warner Bros. Interactive supposed to do next?

At this point, outside of the DC Universe Online MMORPG, LEGO Batman, Injustice, and Infinite Crisis MOBA, the publisher isn’t even using any other DC character outside of big team-up video games. In fact, no DC character has received a solo game except Batman in more than a decade. Sure, after Rocksteady is done with Batman, the publisher could easily put another studio (WB Montreal?) on the character for another adventure, but would it be even more beneficial to attempt a sort of synchronicity with the larger WB plan? Batman’s end seems like a perfect time to do as the DC Shared Cinematic Universe does.

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Just to be 100 percent clear, I will never advocate for a direct film-to-game adaptation. Never in my entire life. And that’s not what I’m saying here.

The Batman Arkham universe is very insular, and doesn’t make much of an attempt to connect Batman’s world to the larger DCU. Are there even any other superheroes out there? In a world where Joker can die of a disease, the series is clearly interested in doing its own thing and taking a unique place in the Multiverse.

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But now that WB is all about introducing tons of new DC characters to mainstream audiences, whether it be on TV or in theaters, it may be time for WB Interactive to unleash some new characters on the video game world. Surely, it’s time for a new Superman game, or a Flash, or an outing with Oliver Queen. The publisher would do well to start building up its own DC video game universe with solo games or story-based team-up games that would shed light on some of the characters coming to the big screen. Like what Batman: Arkham Asylum did for The Dark Knight, these new DC games could build on the mythos while becoming something wholly their own. This would mean a new Batman game more in line with the rest of a future DC video game universe.

2. Enter the Justice League

This scenario is perhaps an extension of the first, but it could also mean a sequel to the Arkham games — if Rocksteady decides to acknowledge the larger DCU. The ending of Arkham Knight could lead directly into a Justice League game if, let’s say, Clark Kent showed up at Bruce Wayne’s funeral or something small like that. It wouldn’t take much. Just a nod.

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I doubt that Rocksteady would ever have Superman swoop in and fight alongside Batman during Arkham Knight, as that would undoubtedly be a major departure from the intimate approach the studio has nurtured for the series. As soon as Supes shows up with laser vision and super strength, this is a whole other kind of epic not in tune with the rest of the series.

But we’ve seen the series progress into more epic territory throughout its lifespan, from a more intimate story in Arkham Asylum to the open-world villain fest of Arkham City and finally the Batman vs. The World feel of Arkham Origins. Rocksteady is pushing it to the limit in Arkham Knight with that new Batmobile, which is basically indestructible. Ya’ll remember how quickly the Batmobile in Arkham Asylum blew up, right?

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So the Justice League would be a logical next step for DC superhero game line-up. Like I said in scenario #1, DC and WB will most likely be interested in introducing as many DCU heroes and villains as it can fit on a screen. Infinite Crisis, their underrated MOBA, introduces a lot of the big names as well as many lesser known players, such as Starro, an alien starfish who loves conquering planets. The newest LEGO Batman boasts more than 150 DC characters, plus Conan O’Brien. And so on and so forth with the rest of the DC games, just in time for the DC cinematic overhaul that will introduce more characters to the big screen in four years than you probably prefer. 

Like Man of Steel for the cinematic universe, maybe the Arkham series is the jumping off point for the big team-up action-adventure games. If not a Justice League game, it could be an episodic The Brave and the Bold series that features a new team-up every episode/season or perhaps just a Batman/Superman game that has nothing to do with the upcoming film except the characters. Either way, I think it’s safe to say that we’ll see Batman and Superman on the same screen in an upcoming action-adventure game any day now. 

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Where does Batman fit in here if Justice League is a continuation of the Arkham series? The first Justice League would absolutely have to deal with the death of the Caped Crusader and some plan to get him back. Maybe we’ll even get a few levels of Batman fighting his way back from the dead. 

3. Separate But Equal: The COD Model

Activision’s Call of Duty franchise has famously adopted an interesting development model to keep up with the “yearly demand.” Three different developers are working on three separate installments in the series. Treyarch works on the Black Ops games, Infinity Ward made Modern Warfare, and Sledgehammer is responsible for 2014’s Advanced Warfare. This system gives each studio three years to develop their next COD game. Hopefully, that means quantity doesn’t sacrifice quality. For the most part, the system has worked, although now consoles are just saturated with the shooter.

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The same could happen to Batman. With this model, each studio working on a Batman game would develop their own series of games within the franchise.

It’s easy to see why video game publishers would make more of the same when they have a franchise as popular as Batman Arkham on their hands. Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment really arrived to the console market after the release of Batman: Arkham Asylumand the publisher hasn’t looked back since. Using what they learned from their Batman games, they even put Middle-earth on the map with Shadow of Mordor, which was a strong game of the year contender in 2014. Who would’ve thought that we’d ever see a truly amazing game from either franchise? Kudos to WB.

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So why not play it safe and keep giving fans what they want? WB Interactive already tried giving Batman Arkham to another developer, WB Montreal, and whether you think Arkham Origins was successful or not is up to you. Many will argue that Arkham Origins was a placeholder while Rocksteady continued work on Arkham Knight. Is that the danger of this model? That every other game is just “the game in between?”

If WB took this route, they would almost have to branch out of the Arkham storyline and move on to a new storyline or several. Luckily, there a lot of different storylines to plunder, not to mention that they have great storytellers at their disposal. Paul Dini wrote the first two games, and Geoff Johns and Jim Lee helped design the Arkham Knight. 

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There are enough studios under WB’s umbrella to pull this off, too. Rocksteady will ABSOLUTELY continue to work on DC properties as will WB Games Montreal. The third is a bit more interesting. Monolith Productions would be a very easy pick for third if they weren’t busy turning The Lord of the Rings franchise into an award-winning video game series. WB Games San Francisco opened in 2013 with a focus on mobile games, so they’re probably not it, either. I assume NetherRealm will make Injustice 2 after Mortal Kombat X, so you’ll see Batman in that for sure. But there isn’t a third big studio for Batman-focused projects.

Either WB will stick to two or they’ll go get a new studio. Maybe more. It’s hard to believe we’ll ever live in a world again where WB won’t put all the money they can into Batman. The movies, video games, and comics are doing extraordinarily well these days. Long live the Batman!

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4. Legends of the Dark Knight

Okay, let’s say go big or go home isn’t on the table for WB Interactive just yet (yeah, right). Maybe Rocksteady really wants to continue working on Batman games after Arkham Knight. Where do they go next? They’ve called their upcoming game the end of the Arkham Trilogy. All that could mean is that they’re ready to start over. 

So far, I think I’ve made pretty educated guesses as to what WB and Rocksteady might do with the character post-Arkham, but now I’m going to have a bit more fun and name some stories I’d love to see Rocksteady adapt into video games…

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Something that worked so well in Arkham Asylum was the way Rocksteady adapted it from the comics, with plenty of nods to the original source material — Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth — while also making it work within the framework of a video game. The story was intimate, took place in one location, and was self-contained. Sure, it was much more linear than its sequels. But I appreciated the much tighter experience, and would love to see that return to the Batman games. 

I think that when it comes to any project involving Batman, we’re all tempted to namedrop the Millerverse right away. Hell, I did in a past article about Batman games. While I’d love to see The Dark Knight Returns on a console, I think that whole concept is going to get done to death in the movies in the next few years and anything like that in the video games might bring it too close to film-to-game adaptation. So I’ll abstain. Just know that I DID think about it. 

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Nah, I’m ready for more Morrison, the logical first choice. His Batman run is famous for introducing Bruce Wayne’s son, Damian, to the Robin costume as well as killing the Dark Knight in the DC Universe-spanning Final Crisis. There was also the whole thing with The Black Glove, a secret organization bent on destroying the Batman once and for all, and the Club of Heroes, a group of Batman-inspired superheroes who would later become part of the international crime-fighting organization known as Batman Incorporated. Yes, a lot happened in Morrison’s run. 

The pros of more Morrison? His stuff really works for video games because the pages involve plenty of action, adventure, and detective work, with a bit of horror thrown in for good measure. Not to mention that his source material inspired the most successful Batman games ever made. The cons: many people call Morrison’s run unreadable, full of digressions into Batman’s long history. Some of the references date back to the 60s and beyond. Might not be very gamer friendly. Of course, Rocksteady would undoubtedly work in source material like this very lightly. The Arkham Asylum book is no walk in the park, either. 

A good place to start with this new series would be “The Island of Dr. Mayhew” story arc that ran from Batman Vol. 1 #667-669 and saw Batman and the Club Heroes become the prey of The Black Glove in a deadly murder mystery. A killer in the ranks, a creepy mansion to explore, and a mystery to solve. Sounds like the makings of a fantastic Batman game to me. If this turned into a series, this story could expand into the larger Black Glove arc that takes place in Gotham City, as well as a Batman Incorporated game. Ravings of a mad man or possible future? You decide.

It would also be very easy to add Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s current Batman run into the mix. Their run keeps things pretty dark throughout the 30+ issues and counting. There’s also a bit of horror to enjoy, especially in the first two arcs. “The Court of Owls” tells the story of Batman’s fight against Gotham’s oldest criminal organization whose members wear creepy owl masks. They trap Batman in a big death maze and torture the crap out of him. I want to play through that maze level and come out on the other end a bruised, but victorious bat.

Also, for one of the scariest Joker stories ever told, look no further than “Death of the Family” in which the Joker cuts off his own face (Detective Comics Vol. 2 #1) and wears it like a mask. Funny enough, Batman must venture into Joker-controlled Arkham Aslyum to save his family. This would actually make for a pretty great Arkham sequel about the Joker’s rebirth. This could also easily continue into “Endgame,” which will see the final showdown between hero and villain. I wrote a bit about that, as well. 

Other likely story arcs that I won’t get into too much detail about include “Knightfall,” “No Man’s Land,” “Hush,” and The Long Halloween. Remember that these would probably just be jumping off points for the actual games. 

5. Batman R.I.P.? Nope.

Batman fakes his death at the end of Batman: Arkham Knight. That’s the final scenario. A very possible one. It’s much easier to continue a money-making franchise than start a brand new one, right? I don’t know for sure because I didn’t go to business school, but I bet that’s how it works. 

Would it be the most ludicrous thing to have Bruce retire from the Batcave at the end of the game? We already know he’s thinking about it now that his deadly dance with the Joker is over. Perhaps the cowl will go to a reformed Arkham Knight in the end? It would be the first time someone other than Bruce Wayne would be the Batman in video game history. But now I’m getting too fan fiction-ey for my own good…

(There are also those Miller books I talked to you about a few paragraphs ago that I said I wouldn’t talk about further. What if Batman came back from the dead 15 years later as an old dude because Gotham was seriously in trouble? That would be cool.)

This would obviously be more of a sequel to the Arkham series than a restart. “Batman: Arkham Lives” or something like that. Nah, I don’t dig the title, either. But this could be the misdirection Rocksteady is banking on. Just ask this guy:

Enjoy retirement, Bruce. 

John Saavedra wore a Batman onesie way past the appropriate age. Talk to him about it on Twitter.