Batman: Arkham Origins – Review
Follow Genre: Action
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PC, PS3, Xbox 360

Batman: Arkham Origins – Review

Site Score
7.0
Good: Detective mode is an interesting addition, great prequel to the Arkham story, great Batman-sim.
Bad: Technical bugs, plays it too safe and sound, lacks innovations, empty city.
User Score
10.0
(2 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)

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It’s all too easy to forget the impact Batman: Arkham Asylum had, after all it was a game that not only delivered the first decent Batman game in a stunningly long time. At the same time it proved that popular licenses aren’t necessarily doomed to spawn terrible games.

So in the end, Arkham Asylum got the praise it deserved and found a worthy sequel in Arkham City – which widened the Dark Knight’s working space.

Trilogies are still all the rage though. No wonder then that Batman’s escapades received a third entry. Thus we get Arkham Origins, a third entry for the franchise one that was not developed by the series’ creator, Rocksteady Studios, but by Warner Bros. Games Montreal, the studio who ported Arkham City to the Wii U.

Story

Origins is – as the name already announces – a prequel the the Arkham-series. It’s not a tale about how Bruce Wayne took on the mantle of Dark Knight, mind you, instead offering a detailed look at the events leading up to both Asylum and City.

The plot starts out with gangster boss Black Mask hiring eight assassins as an early Christmas present. Each is tasked to kill Batman in return for a hefty take of Black Mask’s wealth.

It’s a decent enough premise, one that certainly delivers plenty of fan-service to go around. To summarize: Deadshot, Deathstroke, Bane, Electrocutioner, Killer Croc, Lady Shiva, Firefly and a female Copperhead – who, by the way, has been confirmed as the next iteration of Copperhead to appear in the comics.

If that were not enough there’s the likes of Anarky, Enigma, the Penguin and the Mad Hatter to complicate Batman’s already busy life.

All that is just the premise though. Since this is the prequel to Arkham Asylum, there’s no escaping The Joker. I’ll spare you the details, because in all honesty, both Rocksteady and WB Games Montreal have done a great job at portraying rise of the super-villain, along with his relationship with Batman.

And that’s essentially what this is all about; the way Batman relates to his friends, allies and foes. Origins is where it all began, at a time, two years into Bruce Wayne’s life as the caped crusader, when Batman’s existence is still being denied and the worst he has had to deal with so far were crime lords, mobs of criminals and corrupt cops.

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Graphics

When it comes to looks, Arkham Origins is as dark and as gritty you’d expect Gotham to be, ever since Frank Miller and Tim Burton set the tone with their visual novels and film respectively.

And while the game looks great on most accounts, adding subtle, but visible details compared to Arkham City – and certainly compared to Asylum – it is still force to offer some concessions when it comes to graphical fidelity.

Most of it can be pinned on opening up the entire city of Gotham for Batman to traverse.

Still, buildings and scenery taking their sweet time loading their proper textures – I played the 360-version by the way – are jarring and remove you from the experience.

Then there are some nasty graphical bugs – most of which appear during boss-fights. For instance, during the battle with Killer Croc, I was forced to throw in the towel two times because the oversized reptile somehow perfected a shadow clone technique, making him appear all over the arena. This was not a game mechanic, which was made more obvious by the constant flickering in and out of his character model. I encountered this particular problem a few more times with normal enemies, adding to the impression that this was more than a one time slight.

Later on, during the fight against Bane, both Bane and Batman teleported half-way through the area when countering one of Bane’s moves.

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Sound

Arkham Origins’ soundtrack has its recognizable moments. There are tunes that are either mash up or taken straight from their movie and cartoon-counterparts. In general the music sets the mood with foreboding ominous jingles.

It goes without saying that this works perfectly for a dark anti-hero such as Batman.

Where Origins shines, though, – and this goes for the entire franchise – is in its fabulous voice-acting. Troy Baker replaces Mark Hamill as the Joker and while he sounds a little bit different than the man who has been delivering an outstanding joker since Batman: the Animated Series entered our youthful lives, Baker still sounds as delightfully mentally unstable as you’d expect his character to be.

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Gameplay

Arkham Origins is exactly what you’d expect from the franchise. As a matter of fact, the game plays it safe to a fault, offering more of the same, without ever really innovating or improving on the basics laid out by Rocksteady.

Batman’s skills as an expert brawler have remained intact, allowing him to elegantly use his athleticism to kick, punch, grapple and counter his way through hordes of enemies. It’s standard fare by now, but while this system remains interesting for the first few hours, there’s no masking the way it fails to deliver anything new as you go along.

Instead, Origins relentlessly sends ever growing mobs Batman’s way. Essentially this only adds to the length of fights, doing nothing to keep things more interesting. Even a few more types of enemies would have gone a long way to keep things interesting. As it stands, though, you’ve seen what little variation the game has to offer by your third or fourth hour in.

The developers themselves seemed to have realised this flaw at some point, as you collect Electrocutioner’s Shock Gloves at one point, which allow you to dispatch enemies much quicker than before.

Batman’s arsenal of gadgets and utilities has also returned, adding to the metroidvania-roots of the game by opening up more areas as the storyline moves along.

Aside from the aforementioned Shock Gloves – which let you empower and recharge gates and electrical equipment – you’re stuck with most of the same gear found in Arkham City. Although the ice grenade got replaced by its stickier glue-cousin.

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The only true innovation is Batman’s enhanced detective mode, allowing him to inspect crime scenes in detail. This way you can even turn back time, re-enacting what happened in order to find more clues. In truth, this is a great addition, adding to the feeling, that Batman’s actually a really good detective.

The biggest gripe I have with Arkham Origins, however, is the way Gotham works from a gameplay-perspective. The map is huge, and even after unlocking quick travel points, it can require a hefty trek to your destination. The problem with this is that there’s nothing noteworthy to do along the way. Sure, you can collect Enigma’s Data Packets or destroy relay stations along the way, but they are only minor distractions, meant for true completionists.

The only thing that’s really between you and your next grappling hook shot is just another gang of criminals. Needless to say, I found myself avoiding them rather quickly. Without proper motivation to engage them – since rooftop battles lack the diversity of stealth-options indoor fights do sport and there’s not a single pedestrian to be rescued in sight – they amount to little more than nameless thugs, there to liven up the streets of the city.

While moving through the city, there’s also no telling which rooftop or ledge is suitable for a well aimed shot of your grappling hook and which one isn’t. In practice this also means taking the long way around certain areas because a building, slightly too large, is blocking the way.

When all is said and done though, Arkham Origins is still a decent enough game. It’s not great though, lacking the innovations its predecessors brought to the genre. If anything, it is still highly satisfying prowling around rooms, picking off mercenaries and gangsters one by one, striking more fear into the remaining few with each and foe biting the dust.

In other words: Origins still offers a true Dark Knight simulator where you not only have to think as Batman, you have to become Batman.

Lastly, there’s also a multi-player compartment to Batman: Arkham Origins, but you’d do just as well to quickly forget it. It’s unbalanced, uninteresting and boring. Two players take on the role of either Batman or Robin, while others play as a normal gangster. Our while our heroes feel underpowered during their online battles, players stuck as a goon have it even worse thanks to being forced to use guns in a game that clearly has never been designed to work as a shooter. Like I said: forget about the multi-player.

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Conclusion

Should you play Arkham Origins? Frankly: yes; pick it up if you’ve played the previous two games, since it offers a brilliant story about how The Joker started out as Batman’s life-long nemesis. Aside from all my previous remarks, Origins also isn’t a bad game. All the things you know and love from Arkham Asylum and Arkham City remain intact, but you shouldn’t expect more than that.

Add to that bugs that shouldn’t have made it into the retail version, a general tendency to shy from offering new and interesting mechanics and a City that may resemble Gotham but feels lifeless and empty, and there’s no way around the fact that this final(?) part of the series is a flawed one.

I’m sure it must have been difficult for WB Games Montreal changing anything to what was evidently a golden egg. Taking on the work of another studio that’s been so critically acclaimed as the Arkham-franchise has been, wouldn’t be easy for any studio. As such the tendency to stick with what worked is a logical choice, but it’s also one that, in the end, keeps Origins from claiming its place in the list of this year’s must-haves.

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Rating: 10.0/10 (2 votes cast)
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Batman: Arkham Origins - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 2 ratings

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