When a new Batman: Arkham game was rumoured as being in development, I had a rush of anticipation and excitement. I am a huge Batman fan and the previous games were (and still are) two of my favourites from this generation and in this respect I often find myself returning to both titles. So when Arkham Origins was confirmed but was revealed as coming from Warner Bros. Montréal instead of the series creators Rocksteady Studios, I was probably not alone in questioning this eyebrow-raising decision. Rocksteady Studios had done a fantastic job in reviving the superhero game genre with 2009’s award-winning Arkham Asylum and followed it up with an expansive and equally outstanding sequel in 2011’s Arkham City, so it was strange to think they wouldn’t be at the helm this time around, especially seeing as though this would be the first solo release from the WB Studio who had only previously worked on the WII U version of Arkham City. This was followed up with the news that Kevin Conroy, who voiced Batman in Asylum and City, was not returning this time around as the decision was made to go for a younger, rougher version performed by Roger Craig Smith. Also not returning was fan favourite Mark Hamill, whose performance as The Joker was a highlight for many people, with the torch being passed on to the impressive Troy Baker. Put all this together and my excitement had turned into scepticism.
Arkham Origins is a prequel set roughly five years before the events of Arkham Asylum and takes place around the same time frame as the Batman: Year One graphic novel, documenting the fall of Commissioner Loeb, corrupted SWAT team leader Branden and the rise of the younger and less refined Batman. The story begins with Batman attempting to intervene in a jailbreak at Blackgate Penitentiary by Black Mask and subsequently has a $50 million bounty placed on his head by the crime lord, drawing eight of the world's greatest assassins, including Bane, Deadshot and Killer Croc, to Gotham City on Christmas Eve in an attempt to collect the lucrative reward. Chuck in appearances by Alfred and Captain Gordon (among others) as well as some of Batman’s most famous villains such as Penguin, Enigma, Mad Hatter, Anarky and the Joker, along with a plot that unfolds into something a little more complicated than it originally seems and it sounds like a good story, right? Well, it should have been, but on this occasion it just doesn’t seem to fit right. It feels like the writers had these individual story pieces all mapped out and then just tried to force them together like a misshapen puzzle and fill in the gaps with side missions and random street crimes. It’s the ‘boss fight’ style meetings with the assassins that are the memorable moments of the game, with the Deathstroke scene sticking predominantly in my mind. All in all, the story just feels a bit disjointed but I still found myself thoroughly enjoying playing through it, but then again, that may well of been because, well…….it’s Batman.
In all honesty it seems as though WB Montréal has gone for a ‘If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it approach’ with this prequel, as the gameplay is almost identical to that of its predecessors. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing, but if you’re going to imitate something then you may as well copy the best of the best and then innovate on some sort of level. Sadly, WB have chosen to just play it safe and rather than build on top of the foundations that Rocksteady Studios had provided, it’s like they’ve removed half a layer and then just built that layer again almost identically to how it was before, but just with a tiny little extension. That’s not to say Arkham Origins isn’t a good game, having Arkham City as a base is always going to provide a solid output, it just feels far too similar and samey.
Right from the off you have some of Batman’s arsenal of familiar gadgets available and as you progress through the story you come into possession of some new and useful gadgets such as Deathstroke’s Remote Claw (which allows Batman to pull two items together, pull items such as fire extinguishers into NPC’s or connect two strategically placed wall points to create a tight rope/zip wire), the Concussion Detonator (which can be used to stun large groups or enemies) and the Shock Gloves (I think those are pretty self-explanatory). It's the latter which is the only gadget that feels out of place, as once they’ve been obtained, the brawls with groups of enemies become a bit too easy. They slowly charge during a fight and then allow Batman to unleash powerful electric attacks that can break through even his most powerful enemy’s defences. Aside from that, the free-flow combat that we’ve known from the series returns virtually untouched, except from the addition of a couple new enemy types such as the Martial Artists but they’re not really worthy of writing home about.
Missions are in abundance. Whether it’s the main story plot, side quests, collectables, or just gliding around and cleaning up the mean streets in the interconnected islands of Old and New Gotham one thug at a time, there is more than enough to keep you occupied. The main addition is the crime scene case file investigations. They transport you into a first-person detective mode to scan clues around a scene in order to piece together what has unfolded, allowing the user to then rewind and fast forward through a holographic re-enactment of the events, showing that Bruce Wayne is not just all brawn and muscle. While they are enjoyable and a break from what feels like the norm, they’re no challenge, there’s no failing them and you don’t get a chance to work out what has happened for yourself as the scripted dialogue automatically takes over. It feels like you’re being guided through the motions rather than really being immersed into the scene.
The cold and wintery Gotham City that is the setting for Arkham Origins itself looks exactly the same as that in Arkham City. The visuals haven’t really changed at all and I found myself dealing with déjà vu a lot more then I probably would have liked. If anything this version of Gotham feels simpler, there seems to be less little alleys, enterable vent covers and general nooks/hiding spots.
Arkham Origins is the first instalment in the series to offer competitive multiplayer. It pit’s three of Bane’s gang against three of Joker’s gang in a gun-wielding fight, with the added element of the caped crusader and his assistant Robin looking over them and intervening in a 3 v 3 v 2 situation. It sounds hectic and complicated, but somehow it works and it is enjoyable but unfortunately that feeling wears off all too quickly. I might add that this is the only multiplayer mode available and since launch it has suffered with terrible connection issues. It’s good for a couple of hours but honestly, I probably won’t delve into it again.
If you enjoyed the previous games in the series, then you’re going to enjoy Arkham Origins, just don’t expect it to wow you or surprise you. Go into your play through almost thinking of it as an Arkham City: Part Two or an expansion to the previous game and it’ll keep you occupied for hours on end. However, if you’re looking for the next great Batman game in the Arkham series, then I suggest you probably wait for the next-gen Arkham game that is rumoured to currently be in development at Rocksteady Studios.
Words by James Grantham.
(Version Tested: Xbox 360)
+ It’s Batman, who doesn’t love Batman
+ Plenty of things to keep you busy
- Feels all too similar
- Disjointed story
- New gadgets are overpowered