Batman: Arkham Origins Review
Beginning with a dark and gloomy shot of bats clinging to a roof, we're thrust straight into the action of Batman: Arkham Origins as Bruce Wayne descends in an elevator into the well known Batcave. There's trouble on Christmas Eve as Black Mask terrorises Blackgate Prison. Bruce suits up, Alfred watching woefully from the side, as Batman now steps away climbing into the Batwing and launching off into the night.
It's an exciting and memorable opening for fans as it's the first time we've seen the Batcave in an Arkham game. Warner Bros. Montreal takes over for this latest entry in the franchise after Arkham Asylum
and Arkham City
produced by Rocksteady. Straight away in the opening moments of the game you can see that WBM have adopted Rocksteady's baby and handle it well. The iconic Freeflow and Predator Combat of the previous Arkham games remains completely intact. It's a combat system that has been close to perfect right from the very beginning in Arkham Asylum
and fans will jump back comfortably into Batman's shoes. Navigation hasn't changed. Running, jumping, gliding and the Grapnel Accelerator have all been retained and function just as well as they have in previous games. In terms of the core gameplay, it feels and plays like any of it's predecessors. No need to fix what isn't broken. A new addition to navigation, though, is the ability to unlock Fast Travel markers across the significantly larger map. It's a seemingly minor addition, but very welcome on a map this size.
After the opening sequence in Blackgate Prison we're introduced to the main plot of the story. Batman is being hunted. Black Mask has hired 8 of the world's best assassin's for a one night only shot at claiming a $50 Million bounty on Batman. This is just the beginning of the night for Batman though as the plot thickens as Batman pursues his targets.
The story is most certainly the highlight of this entry in the Arkham series. Exceptionally well written and the story keeps rolling forward at a brisk pace as Batman crosses the likes of Penguin, Jim Gordon and the GCPD, Black Mask, Deathstroke, Bane and eventually Joker. Make no mistake, this is a Batman-Joker story and I feel that it works great in context with Asylum and City. It's a true origin story. The first meeting of Batman and the Joker. Black Mask and the Assassins are simply the catalyst that puts these two on a crash course with each other on this particular night. As an overarching story, if Asylum
was the middle and City
the end of Batman and Joker's story, then Origins
serves perfectly as the beginning. We see a Batman who is raw, less refined, more brutish and someone the GCPD hunts down like any other criminal. Watching him evolve throughout the story as he forms familiar relationships gives more insight to the experiences that lead Batman to become the well refined crimefighter we see in Asylum.
The same is said of Joker. He's far more unwound, violent and brutal than his previous incarnations.
Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker take over the roles of Batman and Joker respectively and they fill the shoes of their predecessors exceptionally well. Baker especially puts in the biggest highlight performance of the game and steals the scene every time he's on screen.
The relationships formed throughout the story are some the best moments in the Arkham series. The relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred Pennyworth in particular. Friends at heart, but with largely differing opinions of Bruce's methods. Especially when Bruce's enemies thus far in his early years have been common street thugs. Never has Bruce faced down the world's best assassins or anyone that would ever pose as much a threat to him. Bruce's resolve and capabilities are truly put to the test.
This is where Origins
excels in delivering fresh new boss battles. The villain encounters in this game are some of the best in the series and after three games it really feels as if the developers have found a handle on creating memorable encounters. Testing Batman's various Freeflow Combat and Predatory skills, every villain offers a different challenge. Bane is a brute force enemy that requires careful evasion and putting stuns, beatdowns and takedowns to use; Copperhead tests your large crowd control skills and general skills; while a villain like Deadshot tests your Predatory skills. Having found different and unique methods to craft their boss battles in Arkham City
with the likes of Mr. Freeze, Origins
is able to build on that foundation again and craft some memorable and fun encounters.
A big part of Batman has always been his gadgets and in Origins
nothing is lost from previous games. All of Batman's previous tools return, but to retain story continuity some items have been renamed or restructured. The Jammer is now a Disruptor and instead of looking like a small trigger, it appears like a larger gun; the Glue Grenade substitutes for the Ice Grenade; and the new Remote Claw is the spiritual replacement for Batman's Line Launcher with a few new features. The newest addition to Batman's belt are the Shock Gloves. Used for powering Electrical Conduits in puzzle solving situations, they serve as a significant power boost for Batman in combat. As you fight you'll build up energy to activate the gauntlets. Batman's strength is amplified and armoured, riot shield and stun baton enemies no longer pose a serious threat as you can just punch through them.
In hindsight, the Remote Claw can seem like an overpowered tool for use in Predator situations while the Shock Gloves can appear overpowered in Freeflow Combat situations. They can quite simply make life easier and Batman a great deal more powerful. Some might feel they take some of the challenge out of both situations, but no one's forcing you to use them. Others may feel the reuse of certain gadgets may feel like a cheap way out creatively. Particularly in the instance of the Glue Grenade and Disruptor. There are some parts of Origins that just feels reused from City. While there's certainly a whole bevy of new thugs and enemy types, it struck me funny when I was attack by a group of Ninjas, all of which were the exact same character model as Talia's Elite Guard from Arkham City
with some different colouring on them. It's minor, but it still feels cheap in that regard.
What isn't a cheap copy, though, is the newly expanded map. North and South Gotham provide a massive playground for Batman to roam around in. While part of the map is the same map we previously had in Arkham City,
time has been rewound and we get a look at how the city looked long before it was walled off and turned into a super prison. So much of it seems different that while some iconic locations are retained, other locations feel completely new. It makes the whole map feel like a whole new playground. Populated largely by criminals prowling the streets late at night, as well as the cops that chase them, the city is largely devoid of a civilian population. Seemingly strange, but well handled. Simple things like cars abandoned in the streets, the severity of the snowstorm, hearing a crying baby inside a building or even as simple as a PA Announcement from the GCPD enforcing that all citizens stay inside due to the conditions, makes the city feel populated. Though, regardless of these things, it still just feels very empty at times when the only people you've got wandering the streets are cops and criminals.
Another new improvement to the series has been the Crime Scene Investigation. Building off of some minor instances in Arkham City
that may have had you scan something in the environment to reveal the trajectory of a bullet, these expanded sequences build upon and highlight Batman's skills as a detective. Relatively simple and lacking in challenge, it's largely a guided walk through a crime scene picking out points of interest and reconstructing a crime. Some instances will have you scrubbing through the footage to help you find the next point of interest, but they're obvious and plainly marker. Might've been more interesting to not mark these points of interest so obviously to add that challenge for the player to find them themselves. It's a great new addition and something well worth expanding on in future entries. As stated, it really highlights Batman's skills as a detective and piecing together the events of a crime can be satisfying. None are as truly satisfying as the first Crime Scene in Lacey Towers, but it's a great direction for the future.
A staple of the series has always been the Riddler, his trophies, challenges and his riddles. Riddler returns in a manner of speaking as Enigma, Riddler in his early days. I applaud WBM for their logical consideration that Enigma, pre-Riddler, is not going to be leaving Riddles and Trophies lying around all over the city. Instead we're faced with Comm Towers that serve as part of Enigma's plot and help to unlock the fast travel points around the City. There are also Datapacks, replacements for the Riddler trophies, that provide information on people Enigma plans on extorting. It's a suitable replacement for the Riddler Trophies of the previous games. In the same collectable category, players will find buildings marked with Anarky's tag. Scanning these tags will provide background information on these iconic locations.
Now, not everything in this game is rainbows and butterflies. I can easily say that the overall fantastic gameplay, which hasn't changed largely since Arkham Asylum,
and the exceptionally well told story make Arkham Origins
an equal to it's predecessors. What hurts the title, though, is a bevy of technical issues that hamper gameplay. As convenient as Fast Travel is, I find it hurts the game. Audio is often out of sync during the Fast Travel animation, and the processing load it places on the system afterwards leads to heavy lag that gets to a point of unplayability. This is fixed by quitting the game and getting back into it, but Fast Travel should be a convenience and not something players want to avoid out of fear that the game will start lagging. Some textures take quite some time to load and some audio winds up out of sync or occassionally loops over the top of the next piece of audio (this happens occassionally during in-game cutscenes). Then there's just the odd random glitch here and there. All of this is stuff that certainly can, and should, be patched within the opening weeks of the game's release, but a title like this shouldn't be experiencing these kinds of issues at launch. They may seem minor in some regard (Skyrim face similar issues, particularly on the PS3) but it feels like it lacks a standard of polish set by Asylum
Finally there's the multiplayer, undoubtedly Origins biggest contribution to the series. Shipping with only 4 maps and 1 mode, there definitely appears to be room for expansion through DLC and I think that's exactly what is intended for Origins.
In Invisible Predator Online there are three teams. Bane's Mercenaries, Joker's Thugs and the Heroes. Two players are chosen by roulette spin to take on the roles of the heroes, Batman and Robin, cleverly designed in a way that no previous player who has played as the heroes in a lobby can play the heroes again until everyone has had a turn. Everyone else forms two teams of three. The thug teams fight for control over three points on a map, slowly draining each other of reinforcements until the other team is completely wiped out. At the same time, the heroes stalk them trying to earn enough intimidation to prevent either team from winning. It's well thought out and a great addition to the series for players who enjoy getting together with friends for some online play. Heroes' predatory skills will be put to the test and thugs will have to fight a war on two fronts. It's simple and it's fun.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Origins is another fantastic entry in the Batman: Arkham franchise. It's gameplay remains as strong as ever and the story is one of the strongest in the series. It's easily deserving to be considered an equal to it's predecessors, but where it loses out is in it's technical faults that, fingers crossed, will hopefully be fixed to improve overall performance.
+ As always, the core gameplay is fantastic
+ Excellent story
+ Strong voice acting performances
+ Memorable boss battlesCons:
- Glitchy and plagued by some technical issues that hurt overall performanceFinal Score:
- Gary V aka TFDutchman