Where Does Rocksteady Go From Here?

Where Does Rocksteady Go From Here?

Rocksteady has had an interesting life as a developer. Its first title back in 2006, Riot Response , was a painfully average FPS that barely made a blip on the gaming world’s radar. Then somehow in 2008, Rocksteady burst onto the scene with Batman: Arkham Asylum . The game was a revelation – it was not only an amazing superhero game, but it was also a true 3D Metroidvania adventure with a combat system so influential that other developers still copy it to this day. Well, the company recently wrapped up its Arkham trilogy with Arkham Knight , so it’s time to take a look back at the developers and the games that made them who they are today.

Arkham Asylum was everything that people who fell within the Venn diagram of gamers and Batman fans could possibly want out of a title. It featured most of the voice cast from the animated series, was written by Paul Dini (a veteran writer from the animated series), took the subject matter seriously, was fun and addictive to play, and fed into that “gotta catch ’em all” collect and explore loop that the best Metroidvanias bring out in gamers. It’s not hyperbole to say Asylum was a game-changer in the industry; a true modern classic filled with elements that other developers and studios draw from to this day.

Arkham City took the core concept of Asylum and literally blew it up in terms of size and scope. While the concept of a chunk of Gotham being converted into one massive prison was a tough pill to swallow when it came to suspension of disbelief, the end result was an undeniably huge and addictive game filled to the brim with secrets and missions. The ending was a true shock to players and fans alike, and no one thought the ramifications of it would stick as Rocksteady headed into the third game. Following City , WB Montreal handled duties on Arkham Origins . The game had a solid narrative and excellent performances, but ultimately felt like a hold-over until the true final game in the series was ready to make it’s debut.

Which brings us to Arkham Knight . Expectations were high – maybe unfairly so – as information started to leak out about the title. It seemed like an impossible bar for Rocksteady to measure up to, but in my opinion they pulled it off. Without going into too many details, the game takes all of these various plotlines that have been developing to their natural conclusions, no matter how extreme or definitive. Much like The Dark Knight Rises , Arkham Knight is truly the third chapter and final act in a huge, sprawling epic. That they managed to stick the landing makes the game’s rough edges easier to overlook in the grand scheme of things. It’s a solid experience, and it’s worth your time if you’ve come this far, or even if you’re new to the franchise. Play it.

So how do the three games compare and contrast to each other? Well, they’re all very different stories, despite the fact they all star Batman and focus on one narrative. Asylum is a prison tale. City is a psycological exploration. Knight is a pure and simple war story. That makes ranking them kind of difficult, but if I had to, I’d say that Asylum is clearly the best, followed by Knight , and then City last. I think what takes away from City is the scope wasn’t quite what they were hoping to achieve, and the story itself, even for a comic book story, was a bit too much to give yourself over to. Still, all three are great experiences.

Throughout production of the Arkham trilogy, there had been rumors a-plenty when it came to what Rocksteady would do with themselves when they walked away from The Bat. Perhaps the biggest and most-notorious was a Ninja Turtles game built in a similar fashion to the Arkham Series . Fans had a field day picturing the combat and exploration that could be possible with such a game. Looking at the co-op combat in Knight , it’s all the more painful that this rumor never turned out to be true. However, given that a Turtles game would be more of the same, perhaps it was all for the best.

More recently, given all the Superman nods in Knight , people have began speculating that maybe a Superman game by Rocksteady is on the horizon. While that has the potential to be amazing, history has shown us all that it’s very difficult to do a good Superman game. It would be a challenge I think they could be up for, but there would have to be huge narrative excuses that limited Superman’s strength and invulnerability. A magic dome over Metropolis? Kryptonite poisoning? I’m not sure what approach they could go with, but it sure would be a game I’d love to get my hands on.

Where Does Rocksteady Go From Here?

But what if they went another direction entirely? Knight surprisingly contained several FPS segments, and they seemed to indicate a desire on Rocksteady’s part to perhaps get back to its roots. The segments, which have been divisive, seemed far more refined than anything seen in their first game, and came off like something you would see in Riddick and The Darkness , two cult classic FPS titles that had a heavy focus on narrative elements. It could be fun to see them either tackle another comic property or come up with something original. Either way, I have a feeling that would prove to be an influential FPS game. They seem hungry for it, and that usually fuels creativity and innovation.

There’s no debating that the next game from Rocksteady needs to make money, and this is where creating a new IP may prove to be a challenge for them. I’m not sure they can bank on the general populace knowing them and their track record, even with three large games under their belt. They may need to play it safe for just a little bit longer, and go with another licensed property. I’d prefer them to come right out the gate with something new, but I’ve also seen how poorly that’s worked for other publishers who thought they’d banked enough clout based on their previous work. I’d hate to see a studio this talented shoot itself in the foot, financially speaking.

So what does the future hold for Rocksteady? It’s too early to say. They’re still wrapping up Arkham Knight DLC, and then I’m sure some of them are going to want some well-deserved time off. But sooner or later, Rocksteady is going to have to pick a road and walk down it. I hope it’s not more Batman, honestly – they’ve told their story, and they don’t really seem eager or willing to go back to that well. Whatever it is, I have no doubt it will at the very least end up being an interesting experience with excellent game play mechanics.

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