Batman: Arkham Origins – Review
Batman means a lot to me. As a superhero he was my first. Okay that sounded a bit creepy, but back in the early ’90s I saw Tim Burton’s Batman and was enthralled. I still remember sitting there as a kid watching it with my little brother . The exploding bomb pods from the Batmobile, the Joker bouncing around the art gallery – funny yet terrifying. I had all the toys; I read the comics and I even had a cape at one point. So when Arkham Asylum came along it was a big deal for me and it quickly became my game of the year.
Finally we had a game that captured the combat, the grit, and the fear that we expected from a Batman title. Rocksteady delivered combat that truly flowed, with the bigger brawls becoming choreographed dances of bone-breaking destruction and in the hands of a master it made what amounted to a street fight look like ballet. Kevin Conroy delivered the perfect threatening growl in every line of dialogue while Mark Hamill achieved what he has time and again, as the definitive Joker of our generation.
Arkham Asylum was the perfect game for a Bat fan and was only mildly improved upon with Arkham City. We were given the space to explore and a few new gadgets and combat moves, but not much else changed; not that this was necessarily a bad thing. In any case, Asylum and City were two games I played through a considerable number of times and, as anyone who knows me will tell you, that rarely happens.
Batman: Arkham Origins is the third game in the Arkham franchise and, this time around, is brought to us by new developers, Warner Bros Montreal. Set a few years before the events of Arkham Asylum, we see a younger, fresher-faced Dark Knight hit the streets around Gotham. On Christmas Eve, the mob boss, Black Mask, puts out a hit – fifty million dollars to the one who kills the Bat. This creates chaos on the streets of Gotham, and assassins attempt to draw Batman out while he himself investigates a break-out at the infamous Blackgate Prison.
I won’t go in to the story too much, as a spoiler-free review is always the aim, but, due to the sizeable bounty, some of Batman’s greatest villains come out of the woodwork. Hell, even villains who have yet to make an appearance in any of the previous Batman video games are invited along, and Warner have been criticised for doing so. I mean, who the hell is Firefly anyway? For me it doesn’t really matter, as overall the story seems to have been phoned in. From the various trailers it felt like this was going to be an in-depth look at the character, with some ass-kickery thrown in for good measure, but ultimately I was left feeling cold, and maybe a little confused by it all.
Take the Joker, for example… in the trailers it seems like this game would explore the personal struggle between the two characters, how they met and became arch enemies. Batman meets his nemesis and the Joker meets his best friend. Fine, I thought, and then I realised that this was all supposed to take place in one night? In every comic book I’ve read, the origin story takes months; Batman investigates murders over weeks and finally the Joker is revealed. In Origins they’ve tried to fit that all in to one Christmas Eve and it just does not work. The game is called Origins and yet the origin story of this iconic pair is so poorly told. Disappointing for a Bat fan.
Many of the gameplay staples from the other games in the series make a return. Freeflow combat is still your main method of kicking inordinate amounts of ass and has been sped up, slightly increasing the challenge. Experienced players will find that the combat can be a little tricky to get into but I enjoyed this element; it kept the game fresh. You have to be quicker on the counter buttons and, unlike Arkham City, the enemy won’t wait around for you to complete a combat move before diving in to smack you upside the head. It makes the whole game a little more challenging, which I found to be a major plus, but then I did spend a week replaying Arkham Asylum challenge maps in an effort to beat the score of one Vice Destroyer. I could play through Arkham City with my eyes closed so this additional challenge was a vast improvement for me.
To me, it seems like many of the gameplay elements are plucked straight from the previous games. Gadgets return and work exactly as you would expect, with many of the key gizmos from Asylum and City present from the start, with others unlocked during the few trips back to the Batcave. The only real change is the omission of the Line Launcher and the REC (Remote Electrical Charge) along with the addition of others such as the remote claw and glue grenade.
The Batcave itself is strangely under-utilised. Basic in its decoration, which is understandable given that this is only Bruce Wayne’s second year of crime fighting, there really isn’t that much to do there. It’s used as a story point, a place to talk to Alfred, and an area through which to access the challenge maps, yet disguised as Wayne’s training simulator, all of which could be handled with cut scenes and menus. It seemed like they threw it in because they knew that the fans would want it. When I think about the Batcave, I imagine wandering around Batman’s collection of supervillain memorabilia, looking at the various items and having a cool Batman voiceover describing where it all came from. Think of the Penguin’s museum in Arkham City; the various displays where he would talk about a different character. That’s what I wanted and was, yet again, left disappointed.
One key addition with Origins is the Batwing. While it doesn’t add much to gameplay, it’s used as an excuse for fast travel around the vastly expanded map. Players have a much wider area to explore, more or less doubling the size of Arkham City, ranging from the GCPD HQ building on one end to the more familiar Ace Chemical plant and the Wonder Tower on the other. I love the expanded city in Arkham Origins, and while we don’t get to cruise around soaking up Gotham’s dark vibe in the Batmobile, from the skies it’s easy to pick out areas which appear to have been pulled straight from the Burton movie. The architecture is carefully based on the comic books and this really is apparent in the visual quality of the environment. The world itself is incredibly detailed, filled with goons to beat down and numerous sites that any true Batman fan will recognise and may want to glide around just for the giddy thrill.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any issues. At times I’ve had Batman get stuck on ledges, and even fail to grapple to the top of certain water towers or buildings because they serve as an arbitrary edge to the world. The city also seems to have a pretty inconsistent glass ceiling where you can scale some buildings but can’t get higher than a few feet on others, all of which is subsequently ignored when you fast travel and drop out of the Batwing, giving you a weird disjointed experience when travelling around.
Beyond the main storyline, the side mission system has been expanded because, thanks to the chaos caused by the assassins’ mission, other minor villains make attempts to cause a ruckus. These missions follow the same kind of set up as the previous titles, with you collecting Riddler trophies or stopping crimes in progress. One advancement comes in the way of the detective cases, and as Batman is the world’s greatest detective you would have expected to see these types of missions in earlier releases. The cases start with a report from the local police department requesting an investigation team following the discovery of a body. Batman intercepts the call and investigates for himself using the power of his cowl and the Batcomputer to re-construct the crime scene in order to search for clues. This element was really enjoyable and one of the few side missions that I actively pursued. That’s not to say that they were in any way challenging and, like the entire detective sections of the previous games, mainly consisted of walking around looking at the floor for clues to “scan”.
Before playing the game, one of my main concerns with Arkham Origins was the sound, specifically the voice over – Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are not in Origins. As I said earlier, these guys were my Batman and Joker. I was worried that every time I heard the characters speak I’d be put off or that the immersion would break as I resisted this new take on a beloved character. Thankfully, the new pairing of Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker (Batman and the Joker respectively) handles it brilliantly. Both do an amazing job at portraying the characters while, on the other hand, Nolan North as the Penguin needs to be found and killed. In fact, every British accent in the game is horrific.
One bold new addition to the Arkham franchise is the online multiplayer, created by Brink developers, Slash Damage. Here, players take part in 3v3v2 battles, with each team consisting of a group of henchmen loyal to either Bane or Joker against the Dark Knight along with his trusty sidekick, Robin. Each match involves the team of henchmen attempting to capture points in the map, while Batman and Robin do their best to strike fear into the hearts of the crooks, through the medium of fists. Players level up their profiles through experience gained in each match, allowing them to unlock new weapons and costume options for their characters. At the moment there is only one gameplay mode, Invisible Predator Online, and the four online maps which, while fun, does mean that the multiplayer becomes a tiresome affair after only a few rounds.
Playing through as Batman and Robin is particularly challenging when regular players can easily detect you hiding in the shadows, and players who are given the role of the dynamic duo are chosen at random between maps, which is great since no-one ever wants to play as them. There is one decent feature which takes place around half way through a match, when either Joker or Bane enter the fray. Here the first henchman to reach a door will be switched out for either of the two super villains. Bane’s attacks focus mainly around the use of his fists and brute strength while the Joker employs two comically over-sized pistols. The multiplayer element of Arkham Origins may be a temporary distraction but seems to be a rather lacklustre attempt to enter the online scene for the franchise.
There are many issues with this iteration of the franchise, sadly. The story is not on par with Asylum’s darkness as the Joker tries repeatedly to kill the Bat. Its combat isn’t of the same calibre as City, which produced some of the best on-the-fly combat I’ve ever seen. It’s overly buggy, filled with invisible walls, goons stuck floating in space, and a useless Batcave. Still, it’s Batman, and I love it. I can see myself playing it time and again until the next Arkham game comes out, but it’s not really that good.Pros
- It’s Batman
- Great cast
- Expanded side missions
- Good visuals on the PC
- Challenging combat
- Nolan North attempts a cockney accent
- Poorly written story filled with too many characters
When all is said and done, Arkham Origins is a “well-produced” forgery. Rocksteady delivered a masterpiece with Asylum and a worthy successor in City yet, try as they might, all Warner Bros Montreal has created is a cheap knock-off. Gameplay elements are picked up and pasted in to a similar-looking world which is ever-so-slightly broken, and a story so jam packed with characters that you couldn’t possibly connect with any of them. If you are a fan of the Arkham series, you will find this a poor example of a Batman game. However, if you are completely new to the franchise, perhaps this may be the best place to start. It can only get better from here.
Word on the street is that Rocksteady is already preparing the next generation of superhero game. We may not have long to wait for another masterpiece.
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