Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
The Sandbox Killed Batman

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 8 Nov 2011 12:00
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That's why I'm fascinated by supervillains. They are the critical thinkers of super-society. Superheroes in movies have gotten kind of stale, and we're yet to see how the new Batman film will work out, but personally I'd be a lot more interested in a film in which the protagonist was one of Batman's villains, exploring their history, their motivations and everyday life. And before any of you bring up Catwoman, I mean an unambiguous villain, not an anti-hero who looks good in leather pyjamas. Maybe Batman can appear at the end if he promises to be good.

A very long time ago, in my review of Saint's Row 2, I first hypothesised a supervillain sandbox game, jokingly titled Mankind Has Yet To Recognise My Genius. Jokingly, but I would still totally buy it. Lately I've given some thought to how it would work. Saint's Row 2 would be a good starting point - you start the game being released from super prison back into some kind of Metropolis-like glittering future city, and then you have to establish a base of operations and start building your gang. I picture that working not dissimilarly to the assassin apprenticeship scheme from Assassin's Creed Brotherhood. You start off picking up someone with potential, perhaps in minigames inspired by the Joker's "tryouts" scene in The Dark Knight, and build up their abilities by sending them on assignments. Except rather than in Brotherhood where the assignments go on behind the scenes, these are actual physical events in the real world, and you can either leave them to it and hope for the best or join in the fray on the ground floor, which would risk your own life but make your reputation all the more fearsome.

Perhaps as your minions distinguished themselves they could acquire their own gimmicks, like one would lose a hand, replace it with a boat hook and start calling himself "Longshoreman X." But you'd want to keep an eye on any henchman who goes high-profile, because maybe he'll start thinking it's time Longshoreman set out on his own and formed his own gang of cabin boys.

But most importantly MHYTRMG would place you in a position diametrically opposed to the one Batman finds himself in in Arkham Asylum/City. So every now and again the local superhero is going to march square-jawed and straight-backed into your base of operations for one of those confrontations he seems to like. And at that point maybe you'll blow a big whistle that makes all your minions run into the room with baseball bats and lengths of bicycle chain. Or maybe you've committed enough crime and extortion to be able to research and develop a big cage to drop from the ceiling, or a machine you can strap him into that wipes his memory or turns him into a pig.

But you won't kill him. You'll never kill him and he'll never kill you, because the unspoken agreement in the superhero / supervillain relationship is that they both need to be held in check by the other. A supervillain unchecked will wreak havoc, and a superhero without a clear, unambiguously evil villain that they are uniquely qualified to combat might end up committing more and more ethically dubious vigilante activities. This is the central drama, the everlasting stalemate at the core of the story. I explained as much to the judge when I was caught trespassing at the nuclear power plant in a cape, but showing him my death ray plans only made matters worse, if anything.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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