It used to be that licensed video games for Batman were “meh” at best. I remember being so excited to play Batman on the NES as a kid, to experience the 1989 movie in a new way, but it was just another side-scroller that happened to have Batman in it. As the years passed and game companies tried to create the definitive Batman video game experience, we got games like Batman Vengeance and Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu, which were definitely moving in the right direction. Then Rocksteady Studios hit it out of the park with Arkham Asylum and again with Arkham City, giving Batman fans the games they’ve always wanted.
I’m pretty confident in saying, however, that the best Batman game ever is Gotham By Gaslight.
Gotham By Gaslight takes its name from an alternate reality story, the first to usher in the Elseworlds brand of DC Comics that takes established heroes and gives them alternate histories and settings, where Bruce Wayne takes up his fight against Gotham City’s criminals in 1889. The original tale featured Batman versus Jack the Ripper as written by Brian Augustyn (The Flash, Impulse) with artist Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Augustyn wrote a sequel called Master of the Future with art by the late Eduardo Barreto. The setting was brought into standard comic continuity through Countdown Presents: The Search for Ray Palmer, and that world’s version of Batman appeared again in Countdown: Arena. It says something for the quality of that original story, first published back in 1989, that DC Comics has revisited it so often and made it a part of the 52 alternate Earths within standard continuity.
All that said, Gotham By Gaslight has never been envisioned as a video game… until now.
Thanks to concept artist Julie Farrell, we have our first look at this revolutionary game that takes the Caped Crusader everyone knows and loves and gives him a thoroughly steampunk twist. “I had a blast creating the menus for this game, as steampunk is really quite unique, interesting and something I love to design,” Farrell writes. “I created the bat logo from scratch and used a variety of different clockwork pieces and other metal pieces to construct it.” Her detail work is incredible and hints at the wealth of potential contained in the project. For instance, the main menu contains our first look at this version of the Dark Knight, along with a letter addressed to “Inspektir Gordon” from Jack the Ripper, tying it immediately to the original story. The item selection menu shows us some of the weapons our steampunk Batman utilizes in his war on crime, including an archaic batarang and grappling hook launcher, and another menu displays a gadget that looks very much like a steam-powered jet pack. Other images include a title screen that looks like a leatherbound casebook and a “bat-gauge” that looks like it could be used to track Batman’s health level. Each design is beautifully crafted and evokes a hauntingly dark Victorian atmosphere for us to explore through the world’s greatest detective.
Sadly, you’ll never get to play this game because it only exists as concept art. Farrell explains, “This was a game I was really looking forward to working on. Unfortunately it was just a pitch.” Apparently, the concept wasn’t steamy enough for Day 1 Studios and Warner Bros., who passed on the project without realizing what a creative gold mine they were giving up. Steampunk as a genre has been building tremendous steam (pun fully intended) in recent years through books, music and fashion, and a project like this would play perfectly into that growing market. I know I would love to have a game that plays like a steampunk Arkham City, and I can’t be the only one. And while the aforementioned companies have asked Farrell to take down the art from her online portfolio, despite giving her the OK to display them publicly, nothing ever disappears from the internet. Her artwork, and the concept behind it, will live on in this article.
What do you think, readers? Would you play Gotham By Gaslight? Why, or why not? Leave your comments below, or take it to the Comic Booked forums!