Batman: Arkham Knight is released today and Batman fans everywhere are donning their capes and fastening their utility belts in preparation for one last adventure. Rocksteady’s Arkham games have been arguably the best superhero games ever made and Batman fans have greatly enjoyed seeing the caped crusader be so successful in the medium of video games.
It may seem hard to imagine now, but before the Arkham games, the best Batman game you could get your hands on was probably the Lego Batman video game. Don’t get me wrong, the Lego games are a lot of fun, but people who like Batman for his dark grittiness won’t find much of that in the Lego game.
However, it seems that sometime in the 2000’s, a development studio called Day 1 Studios (now known as Wargaming Chicago-Baltimore) were indeed working on a Batman game that certainly looks like it could have had the potential to be a Batman game as great as the Arkham series.
Called Gotham by Gaslight, the game was based on the 1989 Batman comic of the same name which tells the story of what Batman would be like were he to be guarding Gotham in 1889 rather than the present day. Unfortunately, the game was canceled before it got the green light from the now out of business THQ who didn’t get the rights from Warner Bros. because they either were unable to do so or didn’t think the game was worthwhile.
The world would never have known about this game were it not for a few concept art images posted online by an artist named Julie Farrell to her blog (which has since been deleted). The images give us a great look at what direction the artistic look of the game would have taken and certainly gives us a great Gothic vibe, which would suit Batman perfectly.
Before her blog closed, Farrell wrote of the project:
This was a game I was really looking forward to working on. Unfortunately it was just a pitch. I had a blast creating the menus for this game, as steampunk is really quite unique, interesting and something I love to design. I created the bat logo from scratch and used a variety of different clockwork pieces and other metal pieces to construct it.
As you can see from the last image, Gotham by Gaslight would feature a dedicated slow motion button which would perhaps have allowed players to slow down the action in order to get the advantage over a group of enemies in a fight. It seems the game would also feature many of Batman’s gadgets, as there is a cycle weapon button and a throw grenade command. It’s also interesting to note that Batman has an option to turn on a flash light. Most people in the late 1800’s would still have been using oil lamps but electricity was beginning to make an appearance at this point, though more as a marvel of the future rather than in the way we use it today. It would be interesting to see a game where a rich man like Bruce Wayne is able to get his hands on “cutting edge” electrical gadgets like flash lights to get the advantage over his enemies.
Even more interesting is a video of the game running on a very early demo version. This was no doubt created as a pitch and is designed to give people a taste of what the game could eventually become. We’ve got say though, those cape physics are seriously impressive!
Gotham by Gaslight was going to be heavily based on the comic of the same name which features Bruce Wayne going up against Jack the Ripper, who has come to Gotham to find new victims. Batman is at one point believed to be Jack the Ripper by the people of Gotham and Inspector Gorden also tells Bats the story of a case he worked on where a man killed his wife and then tried to kill himself by drinking a strange poison which has left him with a permanent smile…
It seems a damn shame that such a promising and unique game was never given the go-ahead, but from the ashes has risen the brilliant Arkham series. Watching the gameplay video, you can clearly see that the way Batman moves is very similar to how he behaves in the Arkham games. The game also seemed like players would need to rely on many of the gadgets that Batman has at his disposal in order to overcome obstacles and out maneuver enemies. Tapping the Y button to enter slow motion mode is also reminiscent of the detective mode players can enter in the Arkham games in order to spot enemies and look for clues. The art style is also very similar to the Arkham games. Sure, there’s no steam punk in Rocksteady’s series, but that Gothic vibe is certainly there with the towering buildings and gargoyle statues. As much as we love the Arkham games, we can’t help but feel a pang of regret for what this game could have been. Perhaps it’s not too late. Maybe one day, after the dust of the Arkham series has settled, someone will remember this game and decide to give it another shot. I’d certainly play it. Kickstarter anyone?
If you’re interested in this sort of Batman story, then be sure to check out the comic, Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, with inks by P. Craig Russell.