Warning! Contains some reference spoilers to both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. If this bothers you, you may wish to play the game first. You can always skip to the final paragraph if you want the verdict first.
Poor old Batman, he never gets a moments peace. It isn’t enough that he prowls the rough, tough streets of Gotham nightly to expunge crime like a giant black Vileda super-mop, but he also gets wheeled out by Warner Brothers whenever there’s some money to be made from films, TV shows or videogames. Batman’s teat has been milked so dry I would be surprised if he has any left to feed his furry offspring.
Not so long ago it was widely accepted that there had never been a great superhero game, nevermind Batman game, for example Batman Vengeance on the Gamecube was more painful to play than putting your hand in an industrial meat grinder.
So when Batman Arkham Asylum arrived on the scene in 2009, there was a huge a collective sigh of relief when developer Rocksteady broke the duck with a winning combination of combat, stealth, visual style, atmosphere and numerous Easter eggs for the comic book fans. The 2011 sequel (City ) polished many of the aspects and added a grandiose scale to the mix but perhaps lost a little of the creepy atmosphere in the process.
Which leads us neatly to 2013’s Batman: Arkham Origins, which set a number of alarm bells ringing; firstly Rocksteady were no longer holding the reigns and Warner Bros. Games Montréal had taken over secondly, was this one sequel too far? After all, if the original developer perhaps feels they have said all there is to be said, the artistic integrity of any resultant additional instalment is automatically going to be questioned. True, the same could be asked when Bungie left the Halo franchise but 343 Industries did a sterling job with Halo 4, so it can indeed work.
This was further compounded by the creative decision to set the game early in Batman’s crime fighting career, rather than a sequel, curious when you consider the interesting narrative direction which City took itself in with the death of a lead character and introduction hints at new hitherto unseen, interesting villains like Hush and Azrael. Perhaps it was a lack of confidence by the developers / studio who felt the game wouldn’t effectively function without a clown-based antagonist? Who knows…they probably do but they aren’t returning my calls.
Anyway, although the purports to be a prequel to Asylum, set five years before the events of that game, it’s tough to figure out if its linked or not, some characters origins such as the Joker are the same but characters like Bane have been altered.
This is all beside the point really, the game follows Batman on Christmas eve, when disguise wearing crime kingpin Black-Mask offers a bounty of $50 million to anyone who can ice the Bat and a motley crew of six assassins including Bane (somewhat disappointingly without Tom hardy’s brilliantly odd voice), Firefly and Copperhead step forward to have a go. So begins another long night of punching villainous archetypes square in the temple for surly neighbourhood Bruce Wayne.
The gameplay is pretty much identical to the previous titles, combat is intuitive, being easy to pick up but tough to master, meaning even the most ham-fisted player should be able to make shattering drug dealer’s pelvis’s look relatively elegant. The combination of the basic X and Y button with the other prompts is a combat system that many have aped since and it’s not tough to see why.
…combat is intuitive, being easy to pick up but tough to master, meaning even the most ham-fisted player should be able to make shattering drug dealer’s pelvis’s look relatively elegant.
What would The Dark Knight be without sneaking about in the dark like a hungry student outside a kebab shop though? Nothing, that’s what. Thankfully once again the stealth element is also tremendous, Batman flitting between cover and over-watching positions with ease.
The boss battles which put a dampener on Asylum, which mostly consisted of making large running people fall into things to hurt themselves, have also been given a lick of paint and have a little more imagination and variety than before. This time Batman’s use of brains over brawn is taken into account so not all boss fights comprise repeatedly punching people, diving out of the way with random Quick Time Events.
The boss battles aren’t perfect for sure, they use the same trope of an arrogant bad-guy cackling how much better he is than you, but strangely needing eight goons to help him beat you, that most videogames have been trundling out for years now like an aging rocker dolefully wheels out his biggest hit at charity concerts. Also in one case a bad guy is perhaps unnecessarily strung out into not one or two, but three different boss battles. All niggles really though; they have tried to improve them and succeeded. Nice work game-making people, have a biscuit.
The most important thing to ask of any Batman game is ‘Does it make you feel like Batman?’ and in the case of Origins it’s a resounding yes. After a bit of practice you feel like the scum hunting bad-ass you always hoped you would be. The closest I have come to installing fear before the Arkham games was answering the door when hung-over in not quite enough clothes, so it was a refreshing change for me.
Unfortunately I did often get the feeling that much like Gears of War: Judgement, the freshness has gone out of the donuts and although the controls have been polished to near peak, the concept and story has been stretched a bit far.
A good example of this in action is watching how Origins resurrects well established level design from the previous games, such as the hallucinogenic Mad Hatter levels which essentially riff on the original and far superior Scarecrow levels from Asylum. You know how the Chernobyl sniper level in Modern Warfare was basically transplanted into almost every subsequent game of that type? It’s like that, only someone’s dressed as a giant flying mammal and there’s no annoying hush-voiced man telling you what to do involved.
In terms of atmosphere the game has the same issue as City, where a large scale environment lacks some of the creepy claustrophobia that the original game had, but this could also be due to the aforementioned issues with over-familiarity.
Thankfully, the bravura final third act helped redress the balance. Origins improves in terms of its story and gameplay variety over the course of the running time and the latter chapters such as the tense bridge showdown and Blackgate prison levels are amongst the best in the game.
Origins improves in terms of its story and gameplay variety over the course of the running time and the latter chapters such as the tense bridge showdown and Blackgate prison levels are amongst the best in the game.
Beyond the reasonably lengthy main mission of around 8-10 hours, side missions litter the Gotham map like dog mess in a city park. Many are similar and are basically variations on a theme ‘go here find this person, beat them until weep blood’ etc, but there’s enough variation especially in the crime scene investigation challenges to pique the interest for a good twenty hours or so.
Add in a smattering of challenge maps in the Batcave and a brand new ‘I Am The Night Mode’, designed for those who love a mega-challenge and there’s no accusing the makers of being stingy with the content.
In other Bat news this is the first game in the series which includes a multiplayer aspect, one which has been given its own disc and multiple game modes. In my brief time with this, it came across as a hybrid of Max Payne 3 and the Arkham Single player experience. Multiplayer comprises different flavours of third person running and gunning with the twist that also involves Batman and Robin taking gang members out from enhanced positions.
was anyone really crying out for a multiplayer function on this game?
The makers also get yet another delicious cookie for trying to include something new but cynically speaking you have to
ask, why it was included at all? Relatively novel though it may be, was anyone really crying out for a multiplayer function on this game? Only you can answer that, but it seems to me that this falls into the same category as Dead Space 2 and Bioshock 2, i.e. a fantastic focused single player experience with a multiplayer element bolted on for the sheer heck of it and a tiny market share.
So whilst it is a decent multiplayer experience it’s at risk of being lost in the miasma of other multiplayer titles out there and its possible that the lobbies will be emptier than the abandoned factory units Batman so loves to prowl around in no time at all (I am happy to be wrong if my prediction turns out to be rubbish). However it’s churlish to complain about a feature which adds more value to the game, especially when unlike some modern titles, single player hasn’t been compromised to add it. You may find much to love in this multiplayer and all power to you if you do.
Visually the game is great, if a bit samey. The graphics haven’t moved on much from City and in fact at times you could be playing the same title but both games are no slouches in this department. The chunky character design isn’t quite to my liking as a Batman nerd but taking out personal preference there is not much to disagree with.
The throbbing and thumping score and bone cracking sound effects are good quality, it’s just a shame Kevin Conroy hasn’t returned to voice Batman as to many (including me) he represents the character better than anyone. The makers get some major points for finding someone with a very similar voice to the department Mark Hamill as Joker though, it’s often uncanny.
Batman: Arkham Origins is an accomplished addition to the prestigious series; fun to play, inventive boss fights, well presented in terms of graphics and sound and great value with a plethora of game modes. In fact if you had never played another Batman game before this you may well think it’s the greatest thing since sliced wheat product, unfortunately its one weakness is its lack of originality. Origins has very few original thoughts in its head and feels like Arkham City: Redux at times. That said in a world where Assassins Creed and Call of Duty are on their umpteenth games in what seems like the last fortnight, it’s not the greatest offender. Another great Batman game basically…if you like Batman buy it.