Dinna Dinna Dinna Dinna, Dinna Dinna Dinna Dinna BATMAN!
In 2009, Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum; a gritty, violent take on the Batman universe. Highly praised for its dark approach and deep understanding of Batman lore, the release not only changed the way many gamers see Batman as a figure, but completely reinvigorated the superhero genre of games, with many subsequently attempting to emulate the smooth feel of the combat and general atmosphere is provided. The inevitable sequel, Arkham City, improved on the original by improving the already stellar combat and throwing the player onto the streets of a section of Gotham. With more excellent story and a more refined combat system, it was described by many as the “ultimate Batman Simulator.”
However, the announcement of the third title in the series, Arkham Origins was marked by the departure of Rocksteady as a developing studio and that of both leading voice actors. Created with Arkham City as a foundation, the studio responsible for this new game, Warner Bros Games Montreal has a big black pair of rubber boots to step into. Have they brought the Dark Knight out in force, or does this “Origin” story fall into the shadows of its predecessor?
“You do realise it’s Christmas Eve?”
For those not familiar to the series, Arkham Origins is an open-world Action Adventure game, set in a sprawling reimagining of Gotham city. With a look at Batman’s world in many shades of grey rather than through a spectrum of Adam-West campness, the series has thrived on making the traditionally wacky aspects of Batman that bit more “realistic” and creepy, though how one can really make Killer Croc truly realistic I don’t know. Very much like any progressional adventure you acquire new tools throughout, opening new areas and allowing access to hidden challenges which you can go back for. As you complete story missions, more side-missions open up involving a large amount of collectables and many examples from Batman’s extended Rogue’s gallery in a large sandbox.
The story starts off, like all good things do, in a prison. Set before the original’s Asylum romp, Batman is still new to the vigilante business, and on the trail of Black Mask, long-time gang leader and king of Gotham’s seedy underbelly. Batman discovers that Black Mask has tasked eight of the deadliest assassins with the task of taking him out on Christmas Eve, through any means, with a $50m reward going as an incentive. The narrative jumps straight in the deep end and grabs you from the word go, quickly letting you know where you stand. And it doesn’t let up. Similar to the stellar writing of Rocksteady’s works, it’s surprisingly exciting and well-paced with plenty of twists. Whilst not an “Origin story”, you’re introduced to a much earlier Batman, before he meets his long-time nemesis, The Joker. The Joker’s introduction is executed well, emphasising clear character progression from this to the other entries in the series.
The leading characters are set up nicely; Bruce Wayne is shown to be a raw crime-fighter, tenacious in the face of danger despite having few allies and a $50,000,000 bounty over his head. The new voice talent portraying Batman, Roger Craig Smith, does a great job, as does the new voice of the Joker; Troy Baker. Whilst the great work of their predecessors hang over their heads like a piano, they both manage to pull off a younger, much rawer character, and as such are fitting replacements, bringing their own flare to the roles. This casting quality extends to the other voice acting as well as the overall sound design; it’s gritty, well implemented and full of little cues and satisfying crunches.
The combat, as usual, still feels amazing. After three games, it really should, and it’s still the same fare, but it’s been nicely refined and feels that bit more responsive with a younger Batman. The little additions vary things up nicely, and the additions of new enemy types add new dimensions and options. The expanded arsenal involving weapons and tools taken from the various assassins are implemented well, especially in the case of the things modified from previous versions. The remote grapple is one such example, but it does lead you to wonder why, if this is a prequel, Batman didn’t just use them in the Arkham incidents.
Batman Origins is by far the most beautiful Batman game to date, with high quality texturing on all formats. On PC in particular it seems well-optimised, performing well above how City does even now. The quality of the Nvidia PhysX, especially in the snow, is also fantastic and puts it well above most other titles currently available. It just looks great in every respect.
The two big new additions to the franchise are the modified investigation mode and an interesting take on Multiplayer. Investigations are now much deeper, with reconstruction a key feature. Whilst these sections are always rather easy and little more than a search from A to B, they do feel much more in line with the “World’s Greatest Detective” motif and are genuinely fun to complete. I just wish there was more emphasis on them. The multiplayer is a strange affair. Three teams compete; two gangs of thugs going against each other whilst evading the third – Batman and Robin. As the thugs the game plays as a traditional third-person shooter, and is refined enough to be passable, but is mechanically nothing special. The real fun comes from multi-tasking; evading capture to achieve your goals, eyes to the sky as well as the entry points. The additional threat of the heroes elevates the tension and is just great. With a heap of customisation options I can see it developing a strong player base. It makes you think about how the enemies in the single player campaign feel, hunted by a silent assailant, it’s a brilliant role reversal which fits the overall tone well.
“You’re not some hardened vigilante! You’re a young man with a trust fund and too much anger!”
What I’d love to say is that what we have here is essentially an expanded version of Arkham City with a new story. However, Arkham Origins has a lot of issues, mainly stemming from this comparison and the legacy is picks up.
First and foremost, you can tell it wasn’t developed by the same guys. Whilst the first two were refined experiences from the start, Origins is full of bugs. Especially the PC version and I don’t just mean a bit of clipping. Game-breaking things; a tower you still can’t actually complete, pathing issues, inconsistent sticking to surfaces and general quality control issues. For the most graphically impressive version of an AAA title to have such bugs is disappointing to say the least. Hopefully they’ll patch the majority in time, but it’s frustrating to come up against these things that just shouldn’t be there. Another stark comparison to previous entries is an obvious lack of…love for the subject matter? One of the best things about Asylum and City was the wealth of Easter eggs and nods to the wider Batman lore, most prominent in Riddler challenges. In Origins not only are these nods rare, but the challenges are completely absent, and it leaves a hole where the game’s soul should be. Yes, it’s nice to see lesser-known villains like the Executioner, Anarky and Copperhead included and fleshed out, but the token references are sorely missed too.
Also, for a game which heavily advertised exploration of a wider Gotham City, the sandbox itself feels dead. There aren’t any civilians out, just the usual assortment of criminals and corrupt policemen loitering in the streets. Many hoped for a varied crime system, but unfortunately this “living, breathing city” is just empty.
“Gotham’s Gonna Burn!”
All in all, Arkham Origins is good; after all, any game that makes you feel badass like Batman must be! However, mainly due to its legacy it falls short of greatness. It may be one of the better releases of this year, but like the most recent film trilogy, this third instalment doesn’t live up to the great heights of the second. If you enjoyed Arkham City and want more of the same, you’ll find it in piles here, and as an iterative release it functions brilliantly. However, there isn’t a ton of new mechanics and content. Apart from a new story, slightly updated graphics, Multiplayer, a few new tools and a re-thought investigation mode and a multitude of release issues, it could almost be the same game.
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.