You lurk in the shadows above, comfortable in your role as a predator, relishing the way your criminal prey is at your mercy. A thug makes the mistake of walking right under the outcropping you're perched upon, and before he can even react, you have swooped down silently and incapacitated him. In the darkness, you have the advantage. But you are not invulnerable or infallible. Slip up, get spotted, and your enemies' guns can make short work of you, even though you are the legend known as the Batman.
The empowering but dangerous thrill of using stealth and mobility to pick off enemies one by one has always been one of the cornerstones of the Arkham games, and in Arkham Origins, a mode called Invisible Predator Online aims to translate this heretofore single-player experience into the basis of multiplayer competition. Being developed by Splash Damage while WB Games Montreal works on the single-player game, Invisible Predator Online is an asymmetrical, three-vs.-three-vs.-two mode. The teams of three play as members of Bane's gang or members of the Joker's gang, who are jockeying for position and power in Gotham, battling over a piece of turf. (During the gameplay demo I participated in, the map was Blackgate Prison, a location which, of course, figures prominently in the upcoming 3DS and Vita game Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate.) The goal for these two gangs is to defeat the other, whittling down their available respawns via kills or taking control of command points scattered around the map.
But these gangs have bigger things to worry about than just each other. As Batman and Robin, two other players attempt to disrupt both gangs' efforts to assert dominance in Gotham. If they succeed in filling up an intimidation meter by using varied methods to eliminate criminals, the heroes win the day. The methods available to them will be familiar to anyone who has played an Arkham game. You can instantly take down hapless thugs who walk under your perch. You can swoop down out of the sky and do a glide kick on an enemy, then perform a ground takedown while he's laid out. You can sneak up on an enemy from behind and perform a stealth takedown. You can lurk in grates or on ledges and take out foes who make the mistake of wandering within striking distance. You can even spray explosive gel somewhere, wait for an enemy to stroll along, and then detonate the gel, taking the enemy out with the explosion.
When Batman and Robin are so powerful, why would anyone ever want to play as a run-of-the-mill Gotham criminal? Well, taking out a thug as Batman or Robin is one thing. Being the criminal who takes out Batman or Robin is something else. And although you can't grapple up into the shadows or perform stealthy takedowns, you're far from helpless. You have your own enhanced vision ability. It works just like the heroes' detective vision, but since the criminals don't have the limitless resources of WayneTech at their disposal, this version can only be used in short bursts before needing to recharge. And for all their abilities to use the environment to their advantage and strike from the shadows, the heroes are extremely vulnerable in an all-out fight. Get one of them in your sights and you can drop him quickly with a few shots from your weapon.
But staying on guard against Batman and Robin while also battling the rival gang is no easy task, and the need to divide your attention and successfully manage these dual threats has the potential to make playing as a criminal an exciting challenge. And once during each round, a supercriminal will come knocking on the gates; if a Bane player gets there first, that player gets to play as Bane. If a Joker player gets there first, he or she reenters the battlefield as the clown prince of crime. These characters are formidable opponents with some devastating abilities.
I had the opportunity to play as both a hero and a criminal, and each offered its own kind of satisfaction. Playing as a hero, I quickly learned that patience is key. I took a few impulsive risks, swooping down on groups of enemies I thought I could handle, only to be shot in the back by one as I tried to take down another. Deaths are costly for the heroes, diminishing your intimidation meter and preventing you from achieving victory. Coordination can also be very useful. At one point, playing as Robin, Batman and I approached two thugs. If we'd communicated beforehand, determining which of us was going to take out which opponent, we could have pulled off a sweet synchronized takedown. Unfortunately, without this kind of communication, we both approached the same enemy, and it didn't work out well for me.
The frustration of these failures was offset by the satisfaction of my successes, though. Glide kicking a stray enemy who'd wandered off from his teammates, knocking him out, and then zipping away unseen was a rush, and when the Joker himself made the mistake of wandering underneath my perch, incapacitating this supercriminal with an inverted takedown was a small but memorable victory. Playing as a criminal, taking out members of the rival gang felt a lot like taking out a member of the opposing team in any typical third-person multiplayer shooter, but spotting Robin and shooting the little bird as he made a move on a teammate of mine was a particularly delicious accomplishment. I never managed to get to the door first and step into the shoes of a supercriminal, but I did witness Bane obliterating some Joker thugs with a rocket launcher and performing his infamous backbreaker on the Boy Wonder, making it clear that he is not to be trifled with.
The asymmetrical structure of Invisible Predator Online made a strong impression; this isn't just a carbon copy of existing multiplayer modes. It's an attempt to do something new, converting what has previously been a uniquely single-player experience into a multiplayer one. I look forward to coming back to it. Perhaps, once I've learned some patience, skillfully stalking other players as Batman or Robin will prove to be too sweet a prospect to resist.'