Warner Bros.

Batman solves crimes by moving through time and space in Arkham Origins

Batman solves crimes by moving through time and space in Arkham Origins

Batman: Arkham Origins tells the story of Batman after he’s worn the cowl for two years or so. He’s a myth of the night, and only a few people believe that’s he real. Bruce Wayne is still an unrefined brawler, and we’re going to see that nasty learning process as he grows into the Batman we know and love. For now, he’s more aggressive and athletic.

The combat system will remain very similar to previous games, I was told that they were building on the work Rocksteady had done in that area. The bigger change in the game is the new detective system, and it’s a doozy. Instead of walking around the environments and scanning evidence, now you’ll be able to re-created crimes virtually, and explore them in both space and time. It’s a trippy, visually arresting way to show the world’s greatest detective, but in a hands-on demo it worked wonderfully.

Moving in space and time

This is how it works: You find the first bit of evidence and scan it in. This allows the cameras in your cowl and the super-computer back in the Batcave to recreate part of the event in virtual reality. During my demo I was shown a helicopter crashing, and after scanning the pilot’s body I was able to scrub time backwards to watch a 3D model of the helicopter crash. I was able to find more clues by moving the scene back and forth in time, pausing it at the right moment, and then walking around inside the virtual recreation of that moment.

The more clues you scan, the more of the crime you can recreate, until finally you know everything that happened.

“It’s interesting when you try to make something new, you fail and make things that don’t work,” Eric Holmes, the creative director of Arkham Origins, told me. “One example of that is that we tried to put more evidence in these scenes. One of the magic things we tried to figure out was how long do people want to be in these scenes? Ultimately, we didn’t want long, slow, confusing blockers where people go online to Youtube to find how out how to solve it.”

This scrubbing mechanic is a brilliant way to solve that problem. You can rewind the scene, and it’s shown in a sort of blue outline, much like the world in Detective Mode in general. You can pause at any point, walk around to see things from another perspective, and learn more about what happened. Do you see a gunshot? Scan it as evidence, and then rewind time and follow the bullet to find the shooter. Did a key piece of evidence leave the scene due to the explosion? Move the timeline ahead slowly and follow it to see where it landed, and then scan it. Watch what happened from any angle as Batman to try to figure out what took place.

This system creates a sort of 3D, time-based representation of events that happened in the past, and by slowly moving time back and forth you can explore them for as long as you’d like to find out more information. 

My one complaint? The sound effect used when you move time backwards or forwards is godawful; it sounds like a middle ground between fingernails on a chalkboard and two ancient cats having particularly violent sex. 

Still, solving one of these case files proved to be fun in my brief hands-on with the game. It lasted the right amount of time, and I never felt stuck. That’s by design.

“What we wanted was engaging, visual, very rewarding sequences that are more fun than hard, concrete walls that you run into,” Holmes explained. The rest was trial and error, figuring out how to show this information to the player, looking at how many clues the player wanted to scan before they had an answer to the investigation. “That took quite a lot of iteration to find that. We found that two to three minutes is pretty good. We didn’t want the player pixel hunting. That wasn’t fun at all.”

I’m curious about how this will work in the long term. It should only take you a few minutes to figure out what happened in each crime scene, and the investigation should provide insight to the scene. Don’t expect long, drawn-out investigations;  they’re designed to make you feel like a badass, not to frustrate the player.

“We want them to be quick and easy and rewarding, we don’t want them to be head-scratchers… it’s more of a movie trailer moment,” Holmes confirmed.

The system works great. Analyzing each scene by rewinding time and then watching it playing out over and over, pausing at key moments to walk around and explore the crime… it's brilliant. It's a way to show Batman working the situation out in his head, while showing the information in a way that's visual and interesting in the game's world. My only concern is that the crime scenes may be a bit too easy, but we'll have to wait to play more to know for sure.

Batman: Arkham Origins will be available on Oct. 25 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and Windows PC.