I don’t know if you remember, but there was a time when Batman games sucked. Release after release, every licensed Caped Crusader game (except for a few, like Rise of Sin Tzu; I liked that one) made Batman look like a complete idiot, and usually had him beat up on clown after clown in dilapidated streets or other grimy, gritty areas that would’ve made Tim Burton proud. It was not a pretty time for the World’s Greatest Detective.[su_pullquote]
Batman: Arkham Origins
Developed by Warner Bros. Montreal / Published by WB Games
Available on the PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U. Reviewed on the PC.[/su_pullquote]
And then developer Rocksteady came around and changed everything, digging deep and creating two Batman games unlike any other. Successfully borrowing elements from games such as Metroid and Assassin’s Creed, these guys took the Dark Knight to the next level and presented gamers around the world with an experience that was true to the character and the world he lived in. In other words, it was Batman.
But now a new developer has stepped up to the plate in Rocksteady’s absence to deliver the next entry in the Arkham franchise, Batman: Arkham Origins. Can developer WB Games Montreal deliver the goods in Batman’s latest adventure, or does it spell doom for the franchise that made the Caped Crusader relevant in video games once more?
Arkham Origins is a prequel to the events that transpire in Rocksteady’s games. Here Bruce Wayne/Batman is a younger, more reckless version of the Dark Knight who rushes into danger without hesitation. When mob boss Black Mask hires eight heavy hitters from the underground world to take him out, Batman must use his skills and wits to stop Black Mask before the hired help stops him first.
As you can very well imagine, the story in Arkham Origins is expertly crafted, telling the darkest tale seen so far in the franchise. Batman meets many of his most recognized foes for the first time in this entry, as well as investigate some grisly murders on his way to apprehending Black Mask in a quest through Arkham City. Batman’s inexperience shows as he rushes into situations unprepared, and this element really makes for an entertaining thrill ride into unexplored territory.
The rest of the game isn’t as fresh as the story, as you’ll pretty much be doing the same stuff you’ve been doing in the last two titles. It’s nearly to the point that this game is a carbon copy of Arkham Asylum. You take on the role of Batman from a third-person perspective and guide him around the city, gliding and grappling from building to building in order to get closer to Black Mask. Movement handles the same as previous entries, and it’s still very solid, as climbing, jumping and grappling is all done with the touch of a button. A fast travel option is also available this time around, but it’s only usable if you unlock it through the completion of some trials.
Combat is also similar to previous entries, although it carries some very minor improvements. It’s still a combo-based affair, with Batman spinning about acrobatically landing blows while countering incoming ones, but there are also some new special moves that will allow him to quickly dispatch minor foes or stand up against tougher foes, like attacks that remove armor or get past riot shields. Combat is still one of the best parts of the game, so it’s good that it hasn’t been tampered with too much.
Batman also has access to his signature gadgets, and while most of the ones you’ll be using are ones that you’ve used previously, like the explosive gel, grapping hook, remote controlled boomerang, and others, Batman will gain access to a couple of new gadgets as well. Concussion grenades, a remote claw (shoots out a tightrope that can be grappled to and walked on), and the disruptor (shoots EMPs), among other neat toys, will keep things fresh for a while. Don’t expect them to be exactly game-changing, but they are fun to tinker around with.
Mission structure is also similar to previous games in the series, with Batman traveling to certain points in the city in order to open new areas and continue the storyline. Mixing action and some light puzzles, these missions are fun and varied, though they usually boil down to fighting or hunting down enemies, using specific gadgets to bypass obstacles, and a boss fight. Investigations take a new form this time around though, as Batman can highlight certain objects in a closed area and see how the crime played out, complete with rewind and fast-forward options. It’s a pretty silly and over-simplistic feature, but it somehow works.
In addition to the main missions, there are plenty of side-jobs as well. There are a couple of fetch and destroy quests that open up down the line, as well as crimes in progress that Batman can interrupt in order to score extra EXP in order to unlock upgrades. Then there are the Most Wanted missions, which task players with tracking down members of the rogue gallery, and various collectables strewn about the city. There’s a lot to do in Arkham, so players will be busy for a while.
The main campaign is joined once again by the Challenge maps and a new online multiplayer mode called Invisible Predator Online. Challenge maps throw players into various combat/hunting scenarios, and task them with obtain high scores. Invisible Predator Online however is new, and has players either join a gang in an effort to defeat both the rival gang and Batman and Robin, or join the heroes as they take out the trash and win by intimidation. Playing as a gang member turns the game into a third-person shooter, while playing as the heroes is unchanged. It’s a fun and challenging mode, and you should definitively check it out.
Batman: Arkham Origins is not a bad game, it’s far from it. It’s just that this is the same game you’ve played twice before. Gameplay has remained relatively unchanged, and while that’s not terrible, I would’ve have liked to see more innovation in this latest entry. Invisible Predator Online is a step in the right direction, but it’s too little to make this title feel excellent. Origins is a solid game that feels more like an expansion than anything else.