May 6, 2013 at 1:26 PM ET
Of all the major superheroes, Batman has always stood out for having little in the way of actual "superpowers." Except for his mountains of wealth, the Batcave-primed mansion he inherited from his parents, and the gobs of handy gadgets he uses to fight crime, Bruce Wayne has had to rely on his wits (and fists) alone to wrest control of Gotham City from its many, many evildoers.
This tactful and violent superhero is on full display in the latest batch of screenshots from "Batman: Arkham Origins," the prequel to Rocksteady Studios' acclaimed "Arkham Asylum" and "Arkham City" games.
"Origins" raised some concerns when it was first revealed because development of the popular superhero series (which was uncommonly good for a video game adaptation of a popular comic book franchise) had changed hands from Rocksteady to the original "Arkham" games' publisher Warner Bros. The comic book industry, and DC Comics (Batman's longtime owner) in particular, is no stranger to sacrificing narrative cohesion or quality just to cash in on another merchandising opportunity, after all. And the "Arkham" series was so acclaimed in the first place precisely because it resisted the urge to riff off of Christopher Nolan's popular "Dark Knight" series that was appearing in theaters around the same time in favor of a far more cartoonish and comically oversized take on Batman.
But if the new "Origins" images are any indication of Warner Bros. Montreal's work on the new "Arkham" game, it seems like the new developer is sticking to series conventions. The screenshots all show off the gritty, somewhat silly world of "Arkham" that fans know and love. Batman is shown tossing henchmen left and right, evincing the melee combat style that won over many gamers to Rocksteady's ambitious work in the first place.
The screens also clue fans into the main villain of "Origins," Black Mask. Given how murky "Batman" lore is at this point, it's hard to pinpoint Black Mask's exact story until the game actually comes out. But it goes something like this: Black Mask was originally a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne by the name of Roman Sionis. His parents were fellow Gotham City socialites and therefore rivals of Wayne's impressive fortune. After driving his family's business into bankruptcy, Sionis was forced to accept a buyout from Bruce Wayne. Humiliated and enraged by his frenemy's superior business acumen, Sionis did the logical thing: he donned the supervillain alias "Black Mask" and joined Gotham's seedy underworld in the hopes of exacting revenge on Batman.
While Black Mask may not be the most prominent of Batman's supervillains, his relatively obscurity may actually prove an asset for "Arkham Origins." The "Arkham" series has long made excellent use of lesser Batman villains like Killer Croc, Mr. Freeze (of Arnold Schwarzenegger fame), and Poison Ivy. And given his history with Bruce Wayne before they both put on their respective masks, Black Mask makes sense as an antagonist for an origins story like the one "Arkham Origins" is promising. Warner Bros. already announced that it was dropping Batman's original voiceover actor in favor of a younger alternative, after all.
"Batman: Arkham Origins" will be available Oct. 25 for the Xbox 360, Windows PC, PlayStation 3 and Wii U. NBC News will take a look at the new Batman game at E3 in June.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email firstname.lastname@example.org.