Batman: Arkham Origins – Preview

Title   Batman: Arkham Origins
Developer  Warner Bros. Games Montréal
Publisher  Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform  Windows PC, PS3 (previewed), Wii U, Xbox 360.
Genre  Action-Adventure
Release Date  25th October 2013
Official Site

Considering that he doesn’t actually have any powers beyond a near-unlimited spending budget, there’s a lot of buzz around Batman of late. After a lacklustre finale to the Dark Knight trilogy, the Caped Crusader has recently had to cope with a lot of change: Ben Affleck was confirmed to don the cowl in the next Superman movie, Warner are trying to push a Justice League movie, and Rocksteady aren’t working on the next in the Arkham franchise. While fans are absolutely livid at Affleck, gamers have been quietly hesitant about Arkham Origins – the prequel to two of the biggest hits of the generation and the first main entry in the series not being handled by the British developers. Instead, the development work has gone to Warner Bros Montreal, whose only previous credit has been the Wii U port of Rocksteady’s Arkham City, making Origins their first fully-fledged title.

Taking place five years before the events of Arkham Asylum, and written by the team behind the Prince of Persia and Assassin’s Creed series, Origins sees Bruce in only his second year of crime-fighting when the Black Mask places a bounty on his head, causing eight of the world’s deadliest assassins to hunt down the Dark Knight on Christmas Eve. The final release will also come with a pre-order bonus allowing players to take on the role of Deathstroke in the challenge maps, as well as multiplayer from the creators of BRINK that allows three versus three versus two matches pitching the Joker’s Gang against Bane’s while Batman and Robin clean house, but before I could get my hands on with the former, I was shown a demo of what Warner Montreal are planning to do with the critically-acclaimed series.

Taking place in a rather linear section where Batman was made to disarm bombs set up by a villain known as Firefly – one of the assassins Black Mask has hired, and one that’d cause a reaction of “who?” to casual Bat-fans. While his biography shows up in Arkham Asylum, he still seems like a bit of an obscure choice, and considering that his shtick seems to be that he can fly and has a flame-thrower, he’s not the most enticing of villains to show off. After diffusing a few bombs with the Cryptographic Sequencer, there’s a brief, forgettable patter between Batman and Alfred before moving on, and we’re told that at this stage in Bruce’s career he’s still considered by the police to be a dangerous vigilante, meaning that he’ll be taking fire from all sides as he sets out to prove to the police and Commissioner Gordon that he’s one of the good guys, despite his Spandex fetish.

To this end, Batman has to disarm the aforementioned bombs that have been scattered across the Pioneer Bridge connecting Old Gotham with New Gotham before the Police SWAT team arrive and are blown up by Firefly, who’s threatened to blow the bridge apart if anyone other than the Dark Knight shows up. Shortly after, we’re introduced to the now-familiar combat, with one of Master Wayne’s weapons being gloves that are charged by the kinetic energy from fights, allowing him to eventually electrify the gloves and pummel his foes into submission with ease.

Worryingly, this is touted as being an all-new feature for the series, despite it being displayed prominently on the cover of the Wii U port of Arkham City and the reason it was referred to as the “Armoured Edition”. After the developer’s odd choice of words, I noticed that something didn’t seem quite right with the combat, and while I couldn’t quite place what it was, it seemed to be lacking a certain je ne sais quoi that I wouldn’t uncover until later.

Before then, the caped crusader snuck up on some foes, and this was an opportunity for the devs to show off the new remote hook, which could be used to create tightropes from one wall to another, or – if you were so inclined – to target two foes (or a foe and an object) and watch as the hook then pulled them into a collision. It’s an admittedly-nifty new gadget, but one that we wouldn’t see more of as Batman’s exploits saw him caught by the foes he was trying to avoid and, as he threw down a smoke pellet, the action left a perplexed look on my face as the guards didn’t fire into the smoke or investigate it, but just stood there as Bruce effortlessly knocked them out, jumped into the ventilation system below and then jumped out for another instant take-down.

I remember the enemies in Arkham City would shout, move, and sometimes even shoot through the smoke in the hopes of catching you (as I died repeatedly from that), so to see them just stand still and await their punishment was more than a little confusing. So too was the apparently ‘new’ scoring system that provides Batman experience based on his biggest combo in the fight, as well as how many gadgets he used. If it sounds familiar, it’s because that’s exactly how Batman gained experience from fights in the previous two entries in the series, with the biggest difference being that you’re now given a letter grading as well based on the score.

As the main presentation wrapped up, I was offered the opportunity to try out the pre-order Deathstroke content, and after coming out of the presentation unsure as to what I thought, it was one that I accepted in an attempt to allay my fears. Taking the form of a 1-Vs-100 mode, the DLC sees you attempting to wipe out a hundred different enemies as quickly as possible, with the enemies growing gradually tougher as the fight progresses. Using Deathstroke isn’t unlike Robin in the Harley Quinn’s Revenge DLC for City; he’s more agile than Batman and relies on a baton for his combat, although Deathstroke comes with a neural gas bomb that allows you to stun your enemies.

Although I was told that my score of forty-something was pretty good for a first attempt, it also allowed me to figure out what didn’t feel right about the combat earlier in the preview – the combat doesn’t feel rhythmic any more. The whole appeal and the reason for the success of the Arkham series was that the combat didn’t just feel like a bunch of enemies ganging up on you and taking random pot-shots; everything had a rhythm to it that allowed the combat to flow, with the acrobatics becoming more intense the longer you kept the combo up without being hit, and enemies always attacking whenever there was a chance to intercept, like an intricate ballet where half the cast ended up with their limbs broken.

Somehow, there never really seemed to be any rhyme or reason to the combat in Origins, or at least none that I could decipher. Hits didn’t really have tangible feedback, enemies would often attack while you were in the middle of other manoeuvres and therefore unable to counter properly, the gadgets didn’t really seem to make much of an impact, and it never felt as if there was any flow to the combat. While it may just have been the choice of Deathstroke, it felt like someone attempted to re-create the combat of the Arkham series without quite understanding what made it so popular and well-loved, and it made for an awkward time playing as I was left playing something that felt almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Rocksteady’s Arkham.

It’s not even a case of the action being re-interpreted for a new audience because, from the presentation I saw, they’re playing most of the action so safe that Batman somehow has every item he had from City and more, despite Origins chronologically taking place half a decade beforehand. It’s also worrying when a AAA-release is presented by the devs as having “new” features that aren’t so, and the bulk of the action isn’t really daring to take any risks from what I saw. Although I could be proven wrong, there feels like there’s something fundamental missing in translation from Batman: Arkham Origins; the combat’s not quite there, and it currently feels more like a lacklustre expansion pack to Arkham City than it does a new title in its own right.

Riddle me this, riddle me that, what have they done to the big black bat?

Last five articles by Edward



  1. Mark Mark S says:

    Ed mate you have described my biggest fear with this new Batman game. Can these new guys get the combat right. I’d have been happy if they just copied the combat straight out of Arkham City, but from the sounds of it they’ve taken their own slant and maybe made it a little clunkier.

    I’m still going to get it, but I’m now worried I won’t enjoy it. Firefly is a bit of a minor character in Batman I think, but at this stage in the game they’ve had nearly every major villain in the comics. I guess they are scraping the barrel for enemies that they can throw at him while still have the audience think it’s cool to see that character in a video game. Copperhead is another one I don’t think is incredibly well known. Victor would know more about it.

    I’m still really looking forward to it, but for the story more than anything else. OH and how they manage to fit 8 assassins and a major over all plot into charismas eve and Christmas morning.

  2. Alvin W says:

    The combat feels really weird. and it gets very annoying at times. The plot seems good…but the combat…argh.

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