Whether you preferred the tense atmosphere of Arkham Asylum or the big-budget antics of Arkham City, one cannot deny that both games were in fact excellent. Arkham Origins on the other hand, brings very little to the table that hasn’t been seen already in those first two entries of the franchise.
That’s all fine and dandy if you’re looking for more Batman action that you’re familiar with, but a sequel or prequel is meant to still allow for part of the experience to be fresh. Instead, players are treading over familiar ground once again, with a large portion of Gotham City being a re-skinned Arkham City, albeit with an even colder winter motif.
The biggest new additions to the city come in the form of some new boroughs and interior levels, with players going inside the Gotham City Police Department, Blackgate prison and the infamous Bat-cave
Thanks to a curfew put in place, the citizens of Gotham are snug at home, leaving various gangs and corrupt police officers out to roam the streets, all wanting to grab themselves a piece of that $50 million bounty on the head of the Batman. That means that anyone you happen to see is just begging for some fist-based justice to be dished on their candy-asses.
As an Arkham game, Origins still keeps that tried and tested combat system intact. It’s all about controlling your battlefield, and nobody does that better than the Batman. A newcomer to the franchise can still kick all manner of asses with enough practice, while seasoned veterans will be bouncing around an arena, punching their way to victory and breaking as many bones as possible.
The system has not been changed one iota, and you’ll find that many of your combos still have the same results when applied, with freeflow exchanges of hits and badassery netting the appropriate amount of experience points as a reward. It’s just a pity that the camera for those fight scenes can still be problematic, as engaging in combat in a tight corner can be an exasperating performance.
Likewise with the predator mode. Where Batman swaps street fights for levels where he stalks gun-toting criminals, the status quo has remained intact. Players can still perch on gargoyles, hide in vents or lie in wait behind a wall, ambushing criminals and raising heartbeats in the process. It’s a mode that really does not need to be fixed, and the few additions of slightly smarter criminals with a few new toys that they’ll use to stop you turning them into human piñatas is as satisfying as it ever was.
Detective mode however, has been beefed up in an incremental fashion. Several case files will now have Batman not only examining the scene of the crime, but reconstructing it as well and sifting through a virtual video of events to uncover more clues. It’s a welcome step up from previous games, and it’s a pity that those cases are few and far between as they made me feel like a true dark knight detective.
One of the other few new additions that WB Montreal has added, comes in the form of new goons on which to pounce. Gangsters that possess more than some hard knocks training will counter your counters, and will require some swift action to defeat, while bruisers are more common-place and act as punch-sponges for you to attack.
New enemy types don’t add to much to the standard Arkham formula though, and it’s a pity that they weren’t experimented with more in order to shake the gameplay up a little bit more. Likewise with the boss fights; the eight assassins that descend on Gotham to take on the big bad bat should have made for some gripping entertainment.
But instead of running a gauntlet of lethal enemies that combine the three best parts of a Batman game (Brains, Brawns and gadgets), players get one or two highlights with the rest of the rogues gallery being squandered in the Most Wanted case files as quick and easy fights.
Out of all those fights though, Deathstroke, Firefly and Bane provide the best distraction. Deathstroke will have players duking it out in a lightning quick test of skills and face buttons, Firefly will require you to dodge quickly and let fly with those batarangs and Bane will test a player to their breaking point. Spot the problem here? That’s only three out of eight prime villains that make the game actually enjoyable.
The rest of them though, are essentially treading on ground that has been covered before. The Anarky missions smell like the Victor Zsasz phone call races from Arkham City, Deadshot is once again underutilised in a brief encounter and the Electrocutioner is an even bigger joke in the game than he is in the comics, existing only to help players amp up their arsenal.
The Mad Hatter returns once again, taking players on a psychedelic trip reminiscent of the Arkham Asylum Scarecrow stages, while Edward Nigma minus his Riddler getup once again taunts players to uncover data and get past several of his puzzles that prevent them from quick-traveling around the map. Again, this is ground that has all been covered before.
Special mention has to be given to the story of Arkham Origins though. It’s one of the few positives that the game has. It’s a dark tale that is woven here, as the Die Hard tale of Batman stepping out of the shadows to become more than just a vigilante – and it makes for some gripping viewing.
It’s the story of when the Batman first met the Joker, and how the two slowly realized that nothing would ever be the same again. Regular Batman voice Kevin Conroy is absent for this game, replaced by Ezio Auditore himself, Roger Craig Smith. Some folks have given WB Montreal some flak for this casting choice, but once again, I believe that Smith has proven them wrong.
I loved his Dark Knight, a portrayal that makes me believe that this Batman is a younger, untested man who uses his rage to keep him going. One scene in particular, where Wayne’s butler Alfred attempts to stop him from plunging further into the darkness surrounding Gotham City by berating and labeling him as a spoilt rich child with parent issues, speaks of the fantastic voice work present here.
It’s a spine-tingling moment where Wayne fully embraces his character, and the portrayal by Smith completely sold me on his version. Equal praise also has to be given to Troy Baker, who turns in a phenomenal job as the Joker. He’s as gleefully manic and chaotic as the character that Mark Hamill voiced, and a fantastic replacement.
Visually, the game looks fantastic…provided that you’re still stuck in 2011. Don’t let the new coat of paint fool you, this is still the same Arkham engine under the hood powering the latest Batman adventure. But it’s also a flawed engine. Playing on PS3 proved to be one hell of a task, as during my playthrough I uncovered numerous bugs, glitches and faults. I’d punch an enemy so hard, he’d become one with the wall, or my cape would flap over my face as I ran into an invisible wall.
There’ll be randomly spawned enemies, breaking the flow of combat - or situations where I’d build up one hell of a combat flow earning multiple combos that would be broken up by that one enemy still standing around that would be untouchable. I’d glide over the Pioneer bridge and be hit with a frame rate that stuttered worse than King George VI; and that’s not even counting the times when the game would crash completely.
Arkham Origins is crawling with these bugs, low-resolution textures and various other problems that makes it feel like a rushed product in comparison to the smooth and polished previous Arkham games. It’s a set of problems that were present when developer Warner Bros Montreal ported Arkham City onto the Wii U, and clearly, they’ve learnt very little since then.
And then there’s the multiplayer. Developed by Splash Damage, Invisible Predator is at its best a one night stand of a distraction, and at its worst a clunky experience that feels woefully unbalanced. Players find themselves on one of two teams operating under the Joker and Bane banners. Games are won by killing everyone in sight and claiming as much territory as possible before the timer runs out. There’s a twist in this mode comes in the form of a third team.
Those players get to step into the boots of Batman and Robin, and dole out some justice as two of the eight players are randomly chosen to don a mask. The problem however, lies in the manner in which these characters are controlled.
Thugs feel slow and unresponsive, and just trying to aim a gun feels like wading through a river of syrup. Switching to the boy wonder or the caped crusader gives those players some stealthy advantages, but they’re ridiculously susceptible to gunfire and die far too quickly. Add to that the fact that you have to fill a ludicrous amount of bars to call on for some special assistance from your super-criminal boss, and the mode just doesn’t feel right for this type of game.
Still, if you can overlook those flaws and carry on playing, there is a massive amount of content available, to customise and equip your characters with, thanks to in-game unlocks and the option to buy more with real money on the Penguin black market.
That is one side of Arkham Origins that has been thankfully kept intact; let it not be said that there isn’t much to do in the game. The story alone will run you an easy dozen hours, while the most wanted case files throw in a batcave of extra quests. Challenge modes mix things up for experienced players, tasking them with playing the game and reaching certain goals as they punch, batarang and stalk their way through various levels, which can even be customised now to a certain degree.