Review: Batman Arkham Origins
Available on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. Reviewed on Xbox 360.
Rocksteady laid down the law when it came to superhero games back in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum. Arkham Asylum featured fantastic close combat mechanics, a great setting and highlighted the darker side of Batman almost to perfection. When they came back in 2011 with Arkham City they did the impossible and further improved the franchise. Arkham City opened up Old Gotham into a breathing urban jungle full of detail and old-school references. When it was announced that Rocksteady would no longer run the franchise and that Warner Bros Studios would be handling the entire release of the prequel, Arkham Origins, plenty of people were skeptical of how well they would continue Rocksteady’s saga. After having fully explored the newly developed Gotham for almost 2 weeks I can safely say that those doubts were justified. Warner Bros were given a perfect formula and haven’t really built much on top of it. While the game itself is still tight and enjoyable, the city is lacking in innovation and the brilliant fan service gamers came to expect from the Arkham series.
Batman: Arkham Origins acts as a prequel to the rest of the series, placing gamers into the shoes of a younger, more emotional Batman that’s just coming to terms with who he is and what he means to Gotham. While it’s strange to watch Batman parading around the Bat-Cave with a youthful arrogance the story builds nicely around shaping this young Bruce Wayne and waking him up to the psychopathic nature of Gotham. The narrative follows the Bat as he finds himself with a $50 million price on his head, courtesy of Black Mask. As Batman attempts to fight off the 8 assassins seeking to claim this prize and many other classic Gotham villains, we clearly see him mature, even over the short night the game takes place in. While Bruce does struggle to remain composed across several occasions throughout the night, it never really feels as though he is overwhelmed or even threatened by the odds against him. In Arkham City, Strange knows his identity, he’s slowly dying and more and more innocent people are being thrown into the already stressful fray. It was touch and go throughout the entire game as to whether Batman would even make it through the story. Here, that feeling is never quite reached. That said, its still a well-crafted story that’ll keep you guessing until the end, which comes at around 8 or 9 hours.
Origins biggest downfall comes from its relatively lifeless city. In Arkham City the map was filled with nothing but goons and criminals. That made sense; it was essentially a walled off prison full of psychopaths. In Origins the city is once again devoid of citizens or innocent bystanders, aside the occasional hostage, and there’s no plot device to really cover this. Sure it’s the middle of the night but does that really justify an entire city filled solely with criminals? The city of Arkham Origins is much larger than the prison of Arkham City but with Rocksteady gone their famed attention to detail is sorely missed here. The Enigma replaces the Riddler in the game and presents the same collectible hunt as is found in the previous games. These collectibles are, for the majority, achieved through solving the same puzzles that appeared in City and Asylum. There are also several collectibles that retell the history and origins of Gotham which aficionado’s will no doubt love. Besides these there are plenty of side missions and enemies that pop-up all over the place. Of this assortment the plot-based missions involving well-known nemeses of Batman are by far the most enjoyable. Fans of the Bats classic adventures will relish in the appearances of characters such as Alberto Falcone and Firefly but will be (as I was) disappointed in the lack of extra fan service that Rocksteady loved to provide. Gone are the codes that indicate The Scarecrow’s presence and the inmates chatter about obscure villains such as Crazy Quilt. These little tributes to DC were what made Arkham City such an enjoyable place to fly around in. The Gotham of Origins will keep you entertained…but won’t do much else.
Lack of innovation may sound like a bad thing, but in some instances this isn’t the case. The combat that Rocksteady developed has become synonymous with the Arkham experience and it certainly doesn’t falter here. Counters and combos flow with ease in the right hands and the quick fire gadgets prove just as effective when pulled off correctly. Weapons and gadgets are fairly typical of the series; goons with riot shields, guns, stun batons and occasionally the Arkham Asylum substance of venom. There seem to be some inconsistency in the counters; occasionally I would counter just as they begun their attack and it would stop them, other times their attack would continue over the top of the counter and break the combo, but it serves as little more than a mild inconvenience. One of the only additions made by Warner Bros to the combat is the inclusion of Shock Gloves. These are unlocked at a later stage in the game and for good reason. When the gloves are powered up Batman goes into overkill mode and is able to break through armour, riot shields and stun batons meaning that the combat mechanics that make fights so tactically interesting are instantly nullified. The Challenge Maps make a return with Campaign and Ranked maps unlocking through story progress and Training Maps are introduced with each new ability, these are the definitive measure of your Arkham Origins skill level and provide an insane amount of fun on top of the main storyline. Overall however the combat is just as solid and satisfying, as you would expect, dive-bombing and glide kicks never get old.
The presentation of Origins, despite its lack of innovation, is handled remarkably well. We reviewed it on the Xbox 360 and aside from the occasional audio tremor there were no real glitches or bugs to speak of. Voice acting has always been a highlight of Rocksteady’s series and its predecessor brings some new faces along for the ride. The man behind Joel from The Last of Us, Troy Baker, takes over Mark Hamil’s position as The Joker while the man behind Chris Redfield of Resident Evil fame, Roger Craig Smith, takes the role of Batman. Both these new voices fit their respective roles perfectly. Smith’s performance is inseparable from the Batman of previous titles while Baker proves his range by completely altering his voice to suit the Joker, who he plays slightly more sinister than Hamil did. The graphics on the 360 are a slight improvement to Arkham City but it won’t be obvious unless you really inspect the environment closely. It does suffer mildly from being set entirely at night in a city made from browns and greys. As far as replaying the game goes there are three playthroughs that can be undertaken. The first is the main storyline, the second sees the return of New Game Plus and the third is a brand new mode called ‘I am the Night’ which gives players one life and no saves. Yes, this mode is supposed to be a challenge but I can’t help but feel its Warner Bros making the best out of their shortish campaign and instead of adding more to the plot they’ve just added an extra playthrough. Despite this, I doubt many will actually reach a third playthrough due to the lacking in new ideas and gameplay; Origins is only enjoyable for 2 playthroughs at most especially given the extensive amount of collectables and challenge maps. Players who feel they want more Batman at the end of the story mode would probably find more entertainment in returning to Arkham City.
On top of the single player game modes Warner Bros have seen fit to deliver us the Arkham Origins package complete with multiplayer and I’ve tacked this on to the review for a reason… because it feels tacked on to the game. However, it would be very easy to dismiss this as a failed attempt to get players to stick with the game for a few months longer but there are elements of the gameplay that are well done and may benefit from being further developed. The multiplayer consists of a team domination style match with three separate teams. Two of the teams are made up of goons, one side from Joker and the other from Bane. Players on these teams have access to a variety of upgradable guns and abilities. These abilities are focused around shutting down enemy equipment and opening up possibility for takedowns. The goal for these teams is to hold a total of 3 command posts for as long as possible in order to stop the other team from respawning. Each respawn brings the teams total count down when the respawns run out each life is your last. Playing as these teams provides only a limited amount of fun; at best it’s a decent FPS, at worst the capture points are a camping nightmare. Where the innovation really shines is in the third team. This team is comprised of The Dark Knight himself and his trusty sidekick Robin. Their goal is to use takedowns, kills, gadgetry and stealth to build up a fear meter, once the meter is filled the heroes win. Every time you die, the meter goes down and the player that killed you gets a respawn boost for their team. This curve ball from Warner Bros provides endless satisfaction and interesting situations. As a mercenary you feel the fear that Batman instills in his enemies and as the hero team you feel overpowered as you watch the battleground from afar. With some careful balancing and further attention paid to the shooter side of this Multiplayer mode, Warner Bros may have done what Assassins Creed managed and given a multiplayer mode to a game that really didn’t need it. Without this further work the multiplayer falls flat and will only provide 10-15 hours of enjoyment at most.
Batman: Arkham Origins would make a worthy follow on to Arkham Asylum as it provides much needed innovation and really opens up the environment and it’s gameplay. Unfortunately, Origins is not a follow on to Arkham Asylum but rather a to Arkham City, to which it owes all of its innovation and praise. In this regard it feels just more of the same, almost Saints Row 4 like. However, despite the lifelessness of Gotham and the lack of new features, Warner Bros has delivered more combos, more weaponry, more gliding, more challenges and more Batman…and that…is never a bad thing.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360 after approximately 35 hours of Multiplayer and Single Player game time.