The greatest games of this current generation breathed a new sense of life into one of DC Comics' most popular heroes.
Batman’s track record of good games was quite spotty, until a relatively unknown development studio (Rocksteady Games) created two incredible titles – Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. Gamers were shocked and overjoyed once news of a new Batman game in the Arkham line was in development. The following news of a fresh development studio (WB Games Montreal) being behind this prequel worried fans about the game’s quality, though.
Now that we have Batman: Arkham Origins, does it live up to the lofty standards set by its predecessors? In some cases, it does. But in others, it falters a bit under the pressure of the other games in the series.
The major plot threads behind this prequel tale places players in control of a younger, meaner and more explosive Batman. Black Mask is on a rampage during a particularly cold evening in Gotham City. It turns out that Batman’s head is being served on a silver platter to a collection of assassin’s who want to fulfill Black Mask’s bounty. This storyline gives the game a reason to feature a cavalcade of well known and obscure villains from the Batman and DC universes. Along with newer presentations of Batman, The Joker, Bane and some other series staples, some new faces join the roster – Copperhead, Deathstroke, Shiva, and more. Any Batman fan worth their salt will get a kick out of the many characters, easter eggs and plot revelations this game offers. Even those who aren’t up on Batman’s long history will get sucked up into this entry’s intriguing plot. Once Joker enters the fray, you’ll really become invested in this dark tale.
The voice acting was feared to be a factor that would falter in this release. However, that’s simply not the case. Roger Craig Smith presents a vocal take on The Dark Knight that’s powerful, scruffy, and grim. This Batman sounds like a much-clearer take on Christian Bale’s super gruff rendition. As for everyone’s favorite criminal clown prince, The Joker returns with a different voice actor in Troy Baker. Baker pulls of a magnificent job as the maniacal nemesis that Batman needs. The voice acting across the many characters that populate the game’s dark city is excellent.
If you’ve ever played the past two Arkham games, then everything here should instantly feel familiar. You’ll take Batman across several locations within a snow-filled Gotham City. You’ll turn on your Detective Vision to analyze crime scenes and discover hidden items. You’ll invade inner sanctums that are filled with predator challenges and group melee encounters. The Freeflow combat engine still maintains its top quality and fluid nature. Fights still feel fun, fast, brutal and challenging in the earlier portions of the game. These encounters falter a bit and take the challenge away further into the game, but we’ll get to that issue in a bit.
One of the newest wrinkles in the Detective Mode gameplay is the use of rewinding/fast-forwarding to solve crimes. These moments serve to showcase Batman’s detective skills, which is something that’s handled pretty well this time. It feels good to investigate a live crime scene and arrive at a conclusion after examining all the available clues in the area. With all the optional missions that also make up the bulk of all the adventuring, you’ll have lots of time to delve into Batman’s crime solving aspects. The addition of fast travel via the Batwing makes your searching escapades less of a chore as well.
Along the way, you’ll use the same gadgets that have become a staple in Batman’s arsenal – the Batclaw, the Cryptographic Sequencer, the Grapnel Accelerator, etc. These familiar gadgets are joined by some new items and mechanics that improve the game quite a bit. However, one gadget in particular brings down the challenge factor during combat sequences. The Shock Gauntlets that you eventually obtain breaks up the flow of combat by turning Batman into an unstoppable powerhouse. It’s more fun and much more engaging when you’re trying to enter a rhythm while dealing with armored thugs, gun wielders and shield-carrying foes. The introduction of the gauntlets takes away the feeling of entering a combat groove, which makes the combat encounters less memorable and way too simple.
It’s easy to see that the new developers behind this prequel played it safe in some respects. The last two Arkham games are damn near perfect, so why should they have tinkered with the winning formula? While playing this game though, you’ll begin to wish that some newer mechanics were included. The combat is the same as ever, traversing around feels no different than before and the overall scope of the game mimics the feel of the other Arkham titles. The additions of huge boss fight encounters, stat grading for fights/stealth encounters, fast travel and the Batcave location are commendable. But in the end, these new features don’t do much to fight off the feeling of “same ‘ol, same ‘ol.”
The less said about the tacked-on multiplayer mode, the better. While the concept of playing as Batman & Robin or two groups of armed thugs sounds great on paper, the off-putting third-person shooting mechanics and small selection of playable maps hurt this mode’s potential. You’ll have a much better time topping the leaderboards by completing the many challenge maps. Single-player enthusiasts will have much to look forward to after completing the game. A New Game Plus mode exists, along with a super tough mode that only gifts you with one life and no saves. The “Crime in Progress” missions should also keep you busy. Thankfully, there’s much to do in Arkham Origins.
At the end of the day, Batman: Arkham Origins is still a great game. Everything that fans loved about the first two games makes a return here, along with more involved boss encounters and a host of other minor add-on’s. However, when compared to those two games, this stands as the weakest of the bunch.
Everything feels the same and it’s clear that no new ground is being broken here. This title can be compared to the Batman that inhabits this tale – an entry that still performs at a good pace, but a lack of fresh mechanics and minor innovations makes this heroic attempt feel stagnant.