Arkham Origins is a strange game. It follows Arkham Asylum and City: two of my favourite games. Unlike the previous two, Origins isn’t developed by Rocksteady: WB Montreal have instead been given the reins. The strange thing is…you can’t really tell. Because Origins feels exactly like City: too much like it.
You’re put in the shoes of Bruce Wayne, two years after he became the Batman. It’s Christmas Eve, and Black Mask has decided to send eight assassins after you. Kicking, punching and batarangs inevitably ensue.
Although the story might seem to be overly simplistic, it’s easily the strongest part of the game. As it progresses, it becomes more nuanced and gains some depth, eventually leading to a fascinating exploration of Batman’s origins and the beginnings of his relationship with the Joker. We do get a surprisingly deep insight into the early life of Batman (the man with the suit, rather than Bruce Wayne), without too much time spent retreading the typical origin story. WB Montreal have managed to tell the origin of Batman through the Joker, rather than retelling Batman Begins for the millionth time, and the game is worth playing just to experience that.
This is helped by the wonderful performances from Roger Craig Smith, the new Batman, and Troy Baker, who is continuing his year of being amazing: Booker in BioShock Infinite, Joel in The Last of Us and now the Joker. Baker has consistently shown that he’s a superb voice actor, and this is no exception. He replicates Mark Hamill’s voice almost perfectly, capturing the manic laugh and childhood glee that Hamill is renowned for. He does add his own spin though: I think he does a better job at expressing Heath Ledger’s scary and creepy Joker, and Baker can switch between the two personalities in an instant, creating a truly brilliant Joker. This is particularly notable in one scene: an extended monologue which blew me away. In fact, it’s now my favourite Joker moment ever.
In City, it wasn’t just the characters that felt real: the city itself was a living, breathing entity that had some real character. Origins fails to capture this sense in its bigger version of Gotham City. The world is large, that’s for sure: but that extra space has come at a loss of detail. The posters and graffiti that filled Arkham City’s world are mostly absent here, and Gotham feels like a shell of its former self. It is, quite simply, dull. There’s no joy to be found in traversing the ridiculously long bridge separating Old and New Gotham, and climbing huge buildings is less appealing than it was. Fortunately, fast travel has been incorporated into the game, meaning that you don’t need to explore the city if you don’t want to.
THE GAMEPLAY IS FAMILIAR: BORING, BUT PERFECTLY FUNCTIONAL. THE BOSS BATTLES STILL SUCK THOUGH…
This is the case with the boss battles as well. Both Asylum and City suffered from boring, repetitive boss battles which required you to exploit the same move again and again and again. One would have hoped that Origins would improve in this regard: nope. One boss battle with Deathstroke is a series of glorified quicktime events: it certainly looks awesome, but it doesn’t play very well (a number of people have complained about it taking over 2 hours to complete). A lack of mid-fight checkpoints and the fact that the Bane boss fight is mind-numbingly repetitive means that when you get to the end of a level, you’ll already be dreading what awaits you next.
Thankfully, there are some good moments to be found amongst the trash. Whilst most of the side missions are nothing special (mainly just a reskinned level with a different villain), the Mad Hatter one stands out as being something very different. It’s quite like the Scarecrow missions from Asylum: mindbending, trippy and more than a bit eery. It’s worth playing, but it’s a shame that it’s hidden away in a side quest rather than being included in the main campaign.
As with previous Arkham games, the Riddler has a number of challenges for you to complete. This time round, they’re more practical: you’ll need to destroy his towers to access fast travel in that area, which is a fairly enjoyable, if same-y, process. The trophies from previous games have been replaced with “datapacks” and “relays”: Mr Nigma is planning a big data release, and it’s your job to stop him. The puzzles are all either platforming or gadget puzzles, such as “stand on this pressure pad and then use your remote batarang to open the door then hack it with your cryptographic sequencer”. Actually, that makes up a lot of puzzles: they’re awfully similar to each other. Sadly, the brilliant riddles from previous games don’t make an appearance here, something which hugely disappointed me. There are still a huge amount of collectibles to find though. I finished the campaign only 24% finished: you’ll certainly get a lot of replay value here.
The multiplayer addition to Origins is a first for the franchise, and it’s not a bad one. The mode is basically an 8-player version of the campaign’s predator rooms, with two playing as Batman and Robin and the remaining six as thugs on Joker’s/Bane’s gangs (two teams of three). If you’re playing as one of the superheroes, you’ll find the experience to be a less-good version of the standard Predator rooms: stealth is harder, as the other players have a watered-down Detective Vision, and it is much easier for you to die than in the main game. Playing as a thug, however, is a whole lot of fun. Splash Damage (the developers of the multiplayer mode) have managed to capture the experience of being a terrified guard: looking all around and darting about in fear of the Bat. I repeatedly caught myself acting like the game’s AI: firing out blindly and constantly turning around. The shooting controls could do with a bit of work, as they’re not particularly tight or defined, and the map design isn’t great, but the mode’s worth playing.
The multiplayer addition to Origins is a first for the franchise, and it’s not a bad one. The mode is basically an 8-player version of the campaign’s predator rooms, with two playing as Batman and Robin and the remaining six as thugs on Joker’s/Bane’s gangs (two teams of three). If you’re playing as one of the superheroes, you’ll find the experience to be a less-good version of the standard Predator rooms: stealth is harder, as the other players have a watered-down Detective Vision, and it is much easier for you to die than in the main game.
Playing as a thug, however, is a whole lot of fun. Splash Damage (the developers of the multiplayer mode) have managed to capture the experience of being a terrified guard: looking all around and darting about in fear of the Bat. I repeatedly caught myself acting like the game’s AI: firing out blindly and constantly turning around. The shooting controls could do with a bit of work, as they’re not particularly tight or defined, and the map design isn’t great, but the mode’s worth playing.
I should mention that the game is pretty glitchy. I had multiple frame rate issues, where the rate literally dropped to a crawl: we’re talking 2 or 3fps. It’s completely unacceptable for a game to be this broken, and I’d hold off buying this game until WB Montreal fix it. It also doesn’t help that the game is prone to immediately crashing upon launching the multiplayer mode. This seems to be characteristic of games this fall, as they are really pushing consoles to their limits. Sadly, with no next gen version on the horizon, I’m not sure how smoothly WB can get this to run.
Arkham Origins is certainly a good game. In fact, it’s a very good game: it has a good story, largely enjoyable gameplay and it feels just like any other Batman game. Unfortunately, there’s just too much familiarity. There haven’t been any real improvements from City, and even the gripes I had with that haven’t been fixed. The game is fun for all the same reasons as Arkham City, resulting in something that feels more like an expansion than its own game. It’s a fun experience, but it’s not particularly memorable or outstanding. Is this an Arkham game? Yes, I suppose so. But does it capture the magic of a Rocksteady Arkham game? Not by any stretch of the imagination.
- Great storyline
- Troy Baker is superb
- Same fun combat as before
- Terrible frame rate
- Feels like an expansion to City
- Gotham is devoid of life
- Dat frame rate. But it is outweighed by the Joker’s great makeup…
Batman: Arkham Origins is available now on Xbox 360, PC, PS3 (reviewed) and Wii U.
Many thanks to Premier PR for kindly providing a review copy.