*Authors Note* Batman: Arkham Origins is available for PS3, Xbox360, PC and Wii U, and for the purpose of this review the PS3 version was played. Mild spoilers are contained within this review.
We’ve loved Batman’s escapades this console generation, it is thanks to Rocksteady and their rock solid belief that we finally got a top tier Superhero game with Arkham Asylum that it has since spawned two successors, Arkham City and the latest game (or earliest depending on your perspective) with Arkham Origins. One key thing to note with this new game however is that Rocksteady are not working on it, as they continue to busily work on their newest game – presumably a Batman for the next-gen consoles – the reigns have been passed to Warner Bros. Games Montreal for the campaign with assistance from Splash Damage on the multiplayer.
Origins is to nobody’s surprise, a prequel – set two years after Bruce Wayne first donned the Batman suit and started his vigilante work. Widespread rumours of the Batman have captured the hearts and minds of Gotham, the cities crooks hate him, the cops want him caught and his notoriety continues to spread. One Christmas Eve however Commissioner Loeb gets taken captive within Blackgate Prison by Black Mask and his cronies, and as Batman attempts to save the dying commissioner, he learns that Black Mask has placed a $50million price on his head, and eight of the city’s most notorious criminals have come out to claim the bounty – including among others: Deathstroke, Electrocutioner, Deadshot and Bane. No Batman story is complete without heavy influence from ‘The Joker’ and he doesn’t cease to disappoint inserting himself into the fray and creating extra chaos for Batman in the process.
Through this tale, what Origins does extremely well is giving us a greater and more in depth look at what makes the key characters tick, with particular attention given to both Batman and Joker in particular. We see Batman grappling with the fact that he has now been thrust into the public limelight, we see Joker learn the underpinnings of his own sadistic ways as well as gain a deep understanding of how his famed nemesis Batman works. All the action of the game leads into the inception of Arkham Asylum, the setting for the following two games. The exploration of these key character thought passages resonated with me as I played and made so much of what I’ve come to understand of the Batman series as simply ‘Good Vs. Bad’ make so much more sense on a deeper level. It’s a well told story, worth seeing through until the end.
A ‘If it aint broke, don’t fix it’ approach has been taken in the development of Arkham Origins’ gameplay with many of the core mechanics returning, especially in the combat with the simple yet effective attack and counter mechanics being as prominent as ever. Some new gadgets have been added however like the Remote Claw which allows you to throw objects into enemies from long range, distracting them, the Shock Gloves which allow you to block electrical attacks, whilst also imbuing Batman with electrical force when striking shielded goons and the Concussion Detonator – which is capable of stunning large groups of enemies. Old favourites such as the Batarang, Batclaw and Cryptographic Sequencer all return playing the same roles they did in the previous two games. In certain sections of the game Batman will have to look at a crime-scene and compile evidence to work out who is responsible for a certain murder, scoping through the area and fast tracking a replay to work out where to find evidence. It’s a nice break from the play and gives off a very CSI: Gotham feel.
Now while much of the fundamental gameplay has been retained, the polish that we’ve seen in previous entries is not, as you will at times get stuck in the environment, fall through never ending holes as rooms don’t render properly and the general combat just doesn’t feel quite as fluid as when Rocksteady was at the helm. Various parts of the city become unlocked by hacking towers that then allow you to fly the Batwing in for quick drop offs and pick ups. The feature has been been implemented many times before and works quite well, but the tower hacking element just screams of being ripped off from 2012’s Far Cry 3. There were also some other weird quirks in the game, such as when I encountered my first boss battle (the Electocutioner), I managed to inexplicably 1 Hit K.O. him, and whilst the defeat made sense (I smashed his Shock Gloves into a metal grate) something tells me this should not have happened so easily.
Visually the game has begun to show its age. Origins is powered by the same engine that powered both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City and whilst it’ still quite passable, some rough textures and unusual looking faces for NPC’s are beginning to show through. On the flip side however, the animation used on pivotal story characters remains as impressive as ever, the city of Gotham looks exceptional and the CG cutscenes look truly spectacular. What is interesting to note is that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill do not reprise their roles as Batman and Joker respectively as these roles have been passed to Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker and they do admiral jobs, especially Baker as we woos the crowd with the Joker’s scarily seductive voice. The soundtrack backs the action perfectly and adds real power to the storytelling and gameplay.
Challenge maps return and are as engrossing as ever, but the new addition of multiplayer – a first for a Batman game – sticks out as a first try. Much of time you’re feeling like you’re playing a mediocre third person shooter, where your three man team must fight for territory with a rival gang, The twist is that there are two players playing as both Batman and Robin who can pick off players from either team using the predator moves from the campaign. The idea is a solid, intriguing premise, but it seems as though it has been roughly slapped together – expect to have a few goes of it before moving on to greener, more polished pastures.
Batman: Arkham Origins, may not be developed by Rocksteady, but it features an impressive, engrossing narrative, dozens of hours of gameplay, dozens more for the collectors out there and much more of the same rough and tough gameplay you got in previous entries. Overall the product lacks the same level of polish seen in Asylum and City, but for any fan of Batman, Arkham Origins is still not a game to be missed.