My grandpa used to say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Despite new developers (WB Montreal takes over from RockSteady, who will reportedly return to the franchise but two developers working simultaneously and trading off release years allows for more games a la "Call of Duty"), that motto seems to be the driving creative force behind “Batman: Arkham Origins,” an undeniably fun game that nonetheless feels undeniably familiar at the same time. Rarely has a sequel been “more of the same” to the degree that “Origins” attempts to replicate the insane popularity of “Batman: Arkham City
”. If you’re looking for a game that pushes the franchise forward, you’ll be frustrated by this title. If you loved “Arkham City” to the degree that you just wanted it to go on twice as long, it could be your favorite of these crowded final weeks of the current generation (and, if so, you should splurge for the Collector's Edition
). Personally, I had both responses. At first, I was downright annoyed at how much “Arkham Origins” felt like I was watching a repeat of a show that I had already seen. But the game gets better as it expands, including supporting roles by legendary Dark Knight villains like The Joker, Penguin, Bane, and many more. Maybe I just allowed the criticism that this game isn’t ambitious enough to be overwhelmed by the addictive gameplay but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying “Arkham Origins,” even if it doesn’t come close to breaking the same gaming ground as its predecessors.
- Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Developer: WB Games Montreal
- ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
- Genre: Third-Person Action Adventure
- Pros: Great Melee, Engaging Storytelling, Fun Gadgets
- Cons: Feels Familiar, Technical Glitches
It is five years *before* the action of “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and this Bruce Wayne/Batman is a lot more rebellious, an intense crime-fighter who uses brute force to stop his enemies and hasn’t even heard of The Joker, Bane, or The Black Mask. A group of 8 assassins, including The Executioner, Copperhead, Firefly, Shiva, and more, descends on Gotham City on Christmas Eve and changes Batman’s life forever. Encounters with younger versions of Alfred and an Officer Gordon before he’s put in charge will have a nice charge for fans of the legacy of one of fiction’s most beloved superheroes.
Batman: Arkham OriginsImage © WBIE
The basic mechanics of “Arkham Origins” are the same as "Arkham City". In other words, expect to do a lot of punching, countering, and jumping. The melee combat that “Arkham Asylum” revolutionized – it’s really the skeleton on which everything good about the game was built – is largely unaltered. There are a few new kinds of enemies that require different strategies and a few new finishing moves but you’ll still be using a Free Flow System that encourages you to string together combat techniques. You’ll even be graded on your success at the end of each fight and your displayed fighting ability increases the XP earned, which, of course, can be spent on new upgrades, techniques, etc. Very little of “Arkham Origins” will feel new to anyone who’s played the previous games.
What exactly IS new? There are some new gadgets, including a Remote Bat-Claw that can be used to create ropes to access areas or to perch above enemies for stealthier takedowns. There’s a glue grenade, shock gloves, and a concussion detonator. Neat toys but most of them blend into the Bat-gadget arsenal you know and love. The gloves come in the handiest (pun only slightly intended) in that they can be activated in the middle of a fight, making you electro-Batman. There’s a Fast Travel system that allows you to access Batwing for movement around the map, although I still found myself travelling the old-fashioned way most of the game. And travelling through familiar locales. Many of the environments, interior and exterior, feel recycled from the previous installment.
But what about what takes place in those environments? Without spoiling anything, “Arkham Origins” gets notably more interesting as it goes along. At first, partially because of the familiarity, technical problems I’ll get to later, and a rather lackluster first act narratively, I wasn’t engaged in the storytelling at all. In fact, I was kind of annoyed. And then the script by Dooma Wendschuh and Corey May, with Geoff Johns consulting, begins to turn, particularly in the way Joker is integrated into the narrative. It also helps that the boss battles are very cleverly designed here, including an early fight with Deathstroke and a great, later one with Bane.
Graphics & Sound
It’s hard to believe that there aren’t teams of men and women working hard to fix the current problems with “Arkham Origins” on a technical level (although you can peruse a few screenshots
and see that the game still looks great. My game got choppy regularly, sometimes even just as I was gliding around the city, which may not sound like a big deal but it’s such a cinematic game that it’s akin to watching a DVD that skips a lot. You can still make it through the movie but it hampers the experience. The voice work is also lackluster compared to the other two games with new actors voicing Batman and The Joker, both with big shoes that they don’t quite fill. A lot of the smaller roles are well-performed and the score/sound effects are impressive. But you can’t have a game this important that freezes this often (and I hear of total system crashes on the Xbox 360).
Batman: Arkham OriginsImage © WBIE
I wish that the developers hadn’t gone the prequel route with this title because while there’s some narrative intrigue in it, the story enhances the “been there, done that” feeling of the gameplay. We’ve seen these characters, in this place, and hit these same buttons with the same results. I loved “Arkham City” enough that it made my top ten but I wanted the next “Arkham” to push the model even further. There’s enough to like here in terms of narrative in the second half of the game and the solid mechanics overall but it feels like a mid-season episode of your favorite series. It’s not the anticipated season premiere or the blockbuster season finale, just another solid installment of what you’ve come to expect.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy