Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), Playstation 3, PC, Wii U
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Recently I’ve gone back to catch up with a few games that for one reason or another I missed out on when they were originally released, and the first one I want to talk about is Batman: Arkham Origins.
When Batman: Arkham Asylum came out I wasn’t expecting much from it, but within mere moments of the game starting I knew I was playing something special. Then a few short years later Arkham City graced our screens and did something that rarely happens with sequels, it not only matched the quality of its predecessor it blew it out of the water. Now, like many other people, when the news reached me that a third edition to the series was in the works I started to get a little bit excited. This feeling soon turned to indifference though when it was revealed the project was a prequel to the original game, after all how many origins stories for The Dark Knight are out there already! The fact that Rocksteady Studios weren’t developing the game also set me slightly on edge. I needn’t have worried though because Origins is actually a pretty good addition to the series, so much so that you’d probably never know it had been crafted by another company had the information not been so widely publicised.
The game takes place at a point where Bruce Wayne has only recently started lurking in the shadows at night ready to take down unwitting criminals with an arsenal of high tech gadgets, which means there are a number of first encounters between them and The Caped Crusader, so you can expect some hilarious dialogue from the numerous goons you drop in on throughout the game as they try to establish what to make of our brooding hero. It’s Christmas eve in Gotham City as well, a fact that won’t escape your notice and highlights the graphics at play in the game, especially when you’re perched on a gargoyle with the snow slowly settling on your cape as it gently flaps in the wind. Naturally, this happy time of the year is the perfect moment for Black Mask to hire a throng of notable assassins to rid himself and the rest of Gotham’s underworld of Batman once and for all. There are plenty of twists and turns in the tale to keep you glued to the screen, but don’t expect the game to last you quite as long as the previous instalments. Also, the writing’s not quite as sharp as before, but not enough to be particularly noticeable.
Another point you’d be forgiven for not picking up on is the fact that Kevin Conroy’s been replaced by Roger Craig Smith, mainly because the later has done a great job of stepping into some sizeable shoes as he brings a younger Batman to life over the course of the game. The same can’t be said of all the cast though and at times you can’t help but wonder why certain actors weren’t brought back to the series.
I really enjoyed working my way through the main story, which is in no short part to the much stronger relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred in this outing. It’s also fun to see The Dark Knight honing and refining both his skills and the way he’ll go on to deal with criminals in the future, including his interrogation techniques and his adamant belief that criminals should be incarcerated rather than being executed. You can expect to cross paths with a wide range of boss characters too, from series regulars like Bane to a rather unique and tense battle with Firefly, a meeting which, for me at least, was one of the highlights of the game.
If you’ve played any of the previous Arkham titles before the gameplay won’t come as a big shock to you and fortunately the combat is just as good as ever. Luckily, there are little tweaks present to prevent things from getting stale and whilst some of the new gadgets might not be as useful as items you’ve used in the previous games, it’s not really disappointing because the lack of technological advancement fits in with the time period the game’s set in. I believe that a flawless Batman game would incorporate everything in Arkham City combined with the ability to get into and move around Gotham in either the Batwing or the Batmobile, or ideally both! I’m therefore pleased to tell you that fast travel points have been added to the map in Arkham Origins and once activated you’ll use your grapnel gun to quickly gain access to the Batwing’s cockpit. Sadly, what unfolds next is a short video of you moving to your next location in the sleek aircraft, rather than actually getting to pilot it yourself, but hey ho you can’t get everything you want!
One last welcome feature that’s crept into the series in this game is the ability to almost completely deconstruct a crime scene from minimal clues using the cowl’s handy detective mode. You can now rewind and fast forward events that have previously taken place in order to locate pieces of evidence and build a case against a variety of perpetrators from petty thugs to major crime bosses. Sometimes these events have a direct bearing on the main storyline, then there are the ones that you’ll get called to and can put on the back burner until you feel ready to pick them up and see them through to their logical conclusions – usually a swift punch to a criminal’s head.
As much as the graphics, the cast, and the writing, help to whisk you away to the dingy streets of Gotham, the atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without an epic soundtrack. The music in every addition to the series has been exceptionally good and that tradition continues in Origins; at times it helps to ramp up the tension whereas at others it helps to emphasise the emotional weight carried by some of the scenes, and then there are the moments when it helps to strike fear into your heart, or lifts your spirits as you realise you’re in command of The World’s Greatest Detective.
Gotham City itself remains largely the same size-wise as when we saw it in Arkham City and there are plenty of buildings to skulk around in too when you’re not creeping around in the shadows outside. The interior and exterior environments are incredibly detailed and you’d be forgiven for abandoning the missions in the game just to spend a bit of time admiring the artwork, or visiting all the nooks and crannies hidden away down the side streets and alleys. In fact it’s advisable to go ahead and explore if you want to get through the numerous side missions as well as collecting all of the Enigma trophies, which are Origins’ version of the illusive Riddler trophies we’ve all spent hours hunting for in the past. Unfortunately for those of us who like a challenge, the Enigma trophies are by far the easiest collectables to find in the series so far though.
The Batcave plays a greater role in this game than it has done before and you’ll find yourself seeking out refuge within it in order to further investigate crimes, quiz Alfred for advice, upgrade your gadgets, try out any additional costumes you might have picked up, and practice your combat moves ready for when you head out to fight for real.
Sometimes the addition of a few multiplayer modes can extend the life of a game, but sadly that’s not the case here and after careful consideration I have to wonder why it was added in at all, it very much feels like it was thrown in at the last minute. There are a couple of other negative points about the game too, but they’re far and few between and include the lack of the Batmobile as a drive-able vehicle and the occasional bug you’ll stumble upon, which can be particularly annoying if they turn out to be game breaking.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a perfectly enjoyable addition to the series, despite its flaws, and can definitely hold its own against Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, it’s just a shame the game doesn’t help to move the series forward and spends too much time replicating the features that made us fall in love with the previous games instead of finding something new and exciting to surprise us all over again.
- Varied boss battles
- Develops the relationship between Bruce Wayne and Alfred
- The combat is just as good as ever
- Can be repetitive at times
- Doesn’t really take the series anywhere
- Still no Batmobile!
The Short Version: Batman: Arkham Origins might not have surpassed its predecessors, but it can definitely stand alongside them with its head held high. If you’re looking for something fun with a story to get lost in and plenty of action, then look no further.