Despite holding a career-defining grudge against them, Batman has just gained a few bullets for the back of his game's box. Batman: Arkham Origins will ship with a competitive online multiplayer mode developed by Splash Damage, the studio behind Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and Brink. [Update: The multiplayer mode will not be coming to the Wii U.]
As entertaining as it would be to see 20 grimace-wielding Batmen swooping around, kicking each other and becoming hopelessly entangled in a flurry of overlong capes, Splash Damage has delivered a more structured and elaborate affair in Arkham Origins with a mode called "Invisible Predator Online."
It's an asymmetrical turf war between eight players divided into three groups: three ruffians in Joker's gang, which shoot at three members of Bane's gang, while Batman and Robin stalk and incapacitate criminals on either side. Yes, this means you can kill the bat and watch him respawn moments later, but at least the game is true to the comics in how they treat death.
Batman and Robin, who must achieve a certain level of intimidation to win, draw their abilities from the game's single-player campaign (developed separately by Warner Bros. Montreal), and rely on the environment to conceal their movements. As long as an opposing player does not have eyes on them, the hush-hush duo can perform predatory takedowns from overhead fixtures or from beneath floor vents. Returning gadgets like the batarang can distract or disorient victims-to-be, while the elucidating detective vision makes up for the fact that Batman and Robin expire quickly when pitted against machine guns.
Rifles, shotguns, grenades and remote-controlled aerial bombs are your closest allies when you count yourself among Bane or Joker's minions. As a gang member, you have several concerns hovering over your head: taking cover, picking off other combatants and diminishing their pool of lives, retrieving ammo, claiming control points and, of course, making sure there aren't masked vigilante hovering over your head. Batman's knockouts are a shock, and the fear of them introduces a unique and paranoid texture to the usual third-person goon warfare. (Bad guys also have an x-ray vision mode, but its use is limited and triggers a lengthy recharge.)
Beyond the wrinkles provided by loadout customization and experience-based unlocks, online matches in Batman: Arkham Origins can also be altered by the arrival of super villains. You can swap your avatar for Joker or Bane (depending on who you're loyal to), making use of their unique attacks and takedowns once you reach and unlock specially indicated doors. Should Batman and Robin successfully strike out either boss, however, they'll earn a large bonus to their intimidation level.
If Batman and Robin incite enough fear without reprisal, Bane and Joker call off their clashing heists and retreat until the next match. The game makes sure everyone switches roles between rounds, though I expect the heroes to be more coveted – they have far more mobility and are likely responsible for your interest in Batman: Arkham Origins to begin with.
If you like seeing the bad guy win on occasion, though, you now have another reason to keep an eye on Batman: Arkham Origins, coming to Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC on October 25.