For the longest time, videogames based on licensed properties from media like comic books, movies and TV series were immediately considered with a suspicious tint thanks to a dearth of quality present in this segment of gaming.
Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009 and Batman: Arkham City in 2011 from Warner Bros. Interactive and developer Rocksteady Studios, however, did a tremendous amount of good in changing the poor general perception of licensed-based games with titles of extreme excellence. With Warner Bros. Montreal taking on development duties for the next game in the series, has Rocksteady’s high standards been met in Batman: Arkham Origins?
What You Need to Know
Batman: Arkham Origins is a third-person action adventure game set in a carefully scoped and crafted explorable open-world slice of Batman’s stomping grounds, Gotham City. Thankfully, Arkham Origins still includes the series’ tremendously satisfying and, at times, wonderfully challenging brawler combat popularised in Arkham Asylum and (some would argue) perfected in Arkham City.
Taking place over the course of a single evening, Christmas Eve, Arkham Origins acts as a prequel to Rocksteady’s games and stars a more naive and fresh faced Batman who has only been wearing the cape and cowl for two years when we meet him. It seems as though that is enough time to to have accrued enemies as the villainous Black Mask has put a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head, attracting eight of the world’s most talented and vile assassins to Gotham with the aim of taking him down for good, with the likes of Deathstroke, Copperhead, Killer Croc, Bane and more to contend with.
The Penguin, Enigma and Mad Hatter also make appearances, but how does this ‘new’ threat, The Joker, fit into the picture?
Games in the Arkham-verse are unique in that the series’ combat system is still unmatched by other games, while the open-world exploration is much more vertical than similarly styled titles rewarding you for gracefully gliding high above the ground while catapulting yourself, slingshot-like, from rooftops and bridges with your grapple gun.
Arkham Origins also provides a good selection of Batman’s trademark gadgets right from the start with chances to hack locked doors, use explosive gel to destroy weak surfaces to progress, sneak through the cover of a thrown smoke pellet and speed up traversal time with an upgraded grapple gun. Other gadgets are available throughout the story, too, which provides a wealth of options to approach puzzle and combat situations (also rarely matched by other games).
The improved ‘Detective’ sequences in Arkham Origins are especially fun to play through (even if they are limited) allowing you to fast-forward and rewind through a virtually re-created crime scene to piece clues together, while new to the Arkham games is a multiplayer mode that sees two players take on the roles of Batman and Robin, with other players filling out two teams of villains, all fighting for dominance within the confines of a closed combat space.
What’s the Same?
Fans of previous Arkham games will either be very pleased or rather distressed to hear that Arkham Origins plays out as a near carbon copy of the series to date, and save for the story and its scenarios, as well as the locations and challenges that arise while playing through the solo campaign, gameplay-wise you’ll soon be right at home fighting off groups of enemies, pulling vents from walls, soaring over rooftops, and being tasked with entering a giant room filled with baddies before systematically picking them off from high in the shadows.
You’ll Enjoy Batman: Arkham Origins If You Liked…
… Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman Arkham City.
… Sleeping Dogs, with a similar style of combat and a much more open and freely explorable world.
… Side-scrolling brawlers like Final Fight or Streets of Rage, with similar levels of combat satisfaction.
What I Liked
- 5.) Despite being rather short-lived, I really enjoyed playing through a handful of detective missions to find clues that go towards (auto-magically) solving a crime or getting a better understanding of the story.
- 4.) There’s a great selection of side missions and extra collectibles to find around the world, and while not as packed as Arkham City, there’s still lots to see besides the main storyline.
- 3.) The ability to use fast travel (after unlocking certain boroughs) to quickly get from one part of the city to the next is a great addition to the series, which all open-world games should employ.
- 2.) Although rare, Arkham Origins does on occasion really sell the fantasy of ‘being’ The Batman, striking terror into your opponents as you slowly but surely become an unstoppable force that they have no hope of defeating.
- 1.) Combat is still just as satisfying as previous Arkham games, allowing you to dive headlong into a group of a dozen enemies and systematically punch, kick, head butt and ruin your foes using special on-screen cues, with a deep system of experience points and unlocked abilities to improve your prowess in battle.
Without spoiling too much, diving into the psyche of The Joker was a treat while the more otherworldly (side mission) scenarios act as a great palette cleanser for the rest of the action in the game.
What I Didn’t Like
- 5.) There were a few instances where I had to reload from a previous save point because the game wasn’t ready to let me continue thanks to a broken script or a confused waypoint. Very frustrating.
- 4.) It’s very possible that it simply comes down to my own playstyle, but I still don’t enjoy fighting against enemies with guns. The game gives you options to deal with projectile weaponry which forms part of the combat puzzle, but I’m not a fan of how bullets completely destroy any semblance of combat momentum.
- 3.) Objectives weren’t always completely clear to me, and while the special ‘Detective Mode’ vision ably shows how to proceed it often felt like I was simply stumbling forward into the next set-piece rather than confidently forging my own path ahead.
- 2.) For better or worse, Arkham Origins settles into the formula set out by Arkham Asylum and Arkham City right from the start. The familiar nature of the combat, exploration and puzzles is welcome for the first few hours of play but if you’ve played the previous games this familiarity can wear thin.
- 1.) The most gnawing issue I have with Batman: Arkham Origins is the overriding unrefined quality to the experience. The craft and care lavished on Arkham City by Rocksteady simply isn’t here, while the pacing of the story and the scope of the narrative hasn’t been handled quite as well as previous Arkham games.
Least Favourite Moments
After just getting done fighting through an especially challenging (story-based) encounter, the game will often stutter into a pre-rendered cut-scene, which itself is heavily compressed with noticeable artefacts. It may sound like a very small complaint, but it’s frustrating to see and hear the game splutter and for me detracted from the presentation and somewhat ruined my reward after a hard-won scrap.
Batman: Arkham Origins – Launch Trailer
Like Arkham City before it, once you’re finished with the main storyline in Batman: Arkham Origins you can hop back into the city to clean up any extra side missions or find collectibles you might have missed the first time, or start all over again in New Game Plus with all of your already unlocked gadgets and abilities intact. As you play, you’ll also unlock concept art and viewable 3D models of the main characters which are cool to see up close.
There’s also an extensive extra challenge mode to put your combat abilities and stealth skills to the test, using various modifiers to make things more interesting. You can even compare your skills to others in the online leaderboards while unlocking content in the solo campaign, too.
I wasn’t able to get in any games of the multiplayer mode (created by Splash Damage) in Arkham Origins, but after watching the extensive tutorial videos it looks like a solid distraction from the campaign and a fun mode to play with friends.
(Note: We will revisit the multiplayer mode once there are more players online. The inclusion, not quality, of this mode was taken into consideration for this review.)
The Bottom Line
For better or worse, Batman: Arkham Origins is a familiar action adventure game that respectfully treads the very successful formula created by Rocksteady in previous Arkham games, while adding unique gadgets and an intriguing story to make it required playing for fans of The Batman.
Batman: Arkham Origins was reviewed on the PlayStation 3