Batman: Arkham Origins
The Batman: Arkham games started as a reinvention of Batman as a viable character in gaming. Long-suffering fans used to sub-par action-adventure games were blown away when Asylum was shown off and they heard the Animated Series cast reprising the roles that they made their own. A classic game soon followed, and gave players a chance to play a semi-realistic version of Batman in the claustrophobic asylum. With its heavy emphasis on combat, some stealth, and sleuthing, the game provided you with the best way to play as Batman in a game yet. Months after its release, blueprints for Arkham City were found hidden in a secret area in Asylum, and about a year later, fans were treated to an open-world game with a ton of enemies to defeat and yet another compelling storyline involving the Joker. The hype for AC was insane and yet the game still managed to meet it, even if the open world came at the cost of the added fear of AA’s more confined spaces and a ton of psychopaths roaming around the place.
Now, with Rocksteady taking a break from the franchise, a new developer in WB Games Montreal has been put at the helm of the single player campaign. Black Mask has put a bounty on Batman’s head, and the near-rookie at this point in the timeline seems a bit overwhelmed at the prospect of having to defeat eight enemies even if he looks forward to vanquishing Black Mask. The origin story nature of the tale is easily the most appealing hook for the game since it shows Batman’s first interaction with many enemies – including the Joker and Riddler – in this universe and is pretty intriguing. Like before, there are a lot of little twists and big surprises to keep you hooked.
However, now, the gameplay wears a bit thinner than before. The basic combat is exactly the same as it was in prior games, which isn’t awful, but it’s a bit disappointing to see no real changes made to something you’ll be spending a lot of time doing. Luckily, the controls are still solid and if you loved Arkham City’s free-roaming, you’ll be glad you explore the portions of the city you’re able to move around at a given time. Detective mode has been changed around and now allows Batman to scan evidence like before, but that evidence can be used to create a virtual version of what happened – instead of thinking about what might have happened, you can now see it. This mode is a huge time-saver compared to how things were in Arkham City, but also holds your hand and makes it impossible to fail – so it also takes away all of the challenge found in the prior setup.
The overall single-player game reminds me of GTA: Liberty City Stories. Both games had some recasting for voice work and used an existing gameplay engine to close out a system’s generation with something that was by-the-numbers fine, but felt a bit lacking. Here, the extra bit of polish and care that was evident in Rocksteady’s efforts isn’t quite there. There were tons of little bits thrown in that added to the world and there aren’t all that many of them in Origins. It’s hard to put one’s finger on, but the game feels kind of like a side game rather than a main line one, and while it’s worth playing for die-hards, it’s hard to recommend for newcomers since the earlier entries are better and available for far less money. It’s also very much worth noting that major bugs, including some that can mess with your save, have been reported. Fortunately, we never encountered any, but they’re a symptom of a greater problem – a severe lack of fine-tuning that makes it feel like a rush-job.
The biggest new addition to the overall package is an online multi-player component. Developed by an outside team, this mode does a fairly good job of allowing you to replicate the battle system when you’re playing as the heroes, while getting across the fear of them the enemies have when playing as a gang member of either Joker or Bane. Playing as the good guys is basically the same as the solo game, while playing as a baddie gives you third-person shooter mechanics. They work reasonably well, but the engine wasn’t crafted with third-person shooting in mind, so it doesn’t quite feel as polished as the rest of the game. Even though the game is fairly new, wait times in lobbies can still be quite excessive – I had one session where I waited at least 20 minutes for it to fill up. Sadly, the game doesn’t support AI bots in place of real people, so prepare to wait if you want to play online.
Like Tomb Raider, Origins doesn’t really feel like a game that needs a multi-player mode. Here, it feels natural when playing as a hero, but the third-person shooter mechanics never quite feel right. They’re not terrible and aiming is accurate enough, but the cover system is too archaic to be of much use and given how wide-open the maps are, it doesn’t do you much good since you can be spotted from above fairly easily. The MP mode is best viewed as a nice bonus that gives you a reason to play after beating the single-player campaign, but it isn’t likely going to serve as your go-to game to mix campaign and MP gaming with like Uncharted 2 and 3.
Visually, Origins looks about on par with Asylum and City, but doesn’t look any better and may seem a bit worse with next-gen graphics in the minds of players. On its own merits, the world has a lot of detail and it’s impossible to not be blown away by the stunning cinematography on display throughout the story. Character animation is also fantastic, and the environments look pretty good. It’s a bit of a shame it doesn’t strive to look better than prior games, but I was satisfied with the visuals.
The voice actor cast has undergone some changes, with the Joker’s voice no longer being done by Mark Hammill, and Kevin Conroy being replaced by Roger Craig Smith as Batman. Still, like with Arleen Sorkin not being used for Harley in Arkham City, the changes are pretty seamless. Robert Costanzo returns from Batman: TAS to voice Detective Bullock, and the voice work as a whole is still fantastic. The Batman franchise as a whole has been known for great music since the first Tim Burton film, and that trend continues with another fully-orchestrated soundtrack full of beautiful music. It’s the kind of score that may not have you humming it after playing, but will have you playing it on your own time after enjoying the game.
Batman: Arkham Origins does its best to continue what two of the generation’s best games started, but falls far short of either game. It’s got far more rough edges and problems than it really should for something expected to be a AAA-level game and winds up as more of a B/B+ effort. It is in desperate need of some bug-fixing to make it a recommended purchase anytime soon. Series veterans will get their money’s worth out of it because it tells a very good story with an incredible cast, but newcomers are better off buying the prior games first even though this does work as a first entry because it’s an origin story. By the time you play those games, this one should be patched up and also cost you a bit less money. The addition of multi-player was a pleasant surprise, but doesn’t add much to the package as a whole.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a retail copy of Batman: Arkham Origins for the Xbox 360 provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.