THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
The Batman: Arkham series has received the Halo 4 treatment; a new studio has taken over the series, hopefully bringing with it new ideas. Unfortunately, Batman: Arkham Origins brings barely anything new to the table. That being said, it’s still a good game, and well worth your time if you’re a fan of the series.
The game opens in the Batcave, where Bruce Wayne has learned that Black Mask has put a bounty of $50,000,000 on Batman’s head. So now, eight assassins, attracted by the bounty, are causing trouble in Gotham to try and get the caped crusader’s attention. Interesting as it may be, the story actually leaves something to be desired until the Joker shows up. Batman doesn’t focus on taking down the assassins, he focuses on going after Black Mask, and the assassins just seem to interrupt the story.
Once the clown prince of crime takes center stage, the assassins just sort of “exit stage left”, as it were, and a few of them don’t even make an appearance in the main story whatsoever. The entire premise of the game, and what Warner Bros. Montreal has been trying to sell, is turned on its head. Their story does recover, however, as it focuses more on the first encounter between the Joker and Batman, and Arkham Origins’ version of the events is both respectful of canon and a joy to experience. In fact, seeing the Joker’s reaction to confronting Batman will stick with many players forever, as oftentimes, Batman and Joker’s relationship is not explored to such depth in movies and games. Altogether, the story certainly has its hiccups and gets derailed; but it soon ends up on a different track, one that ends in a satisfying way. An estimated time to complete the campaign is around 9-10 hours.
Gameplay-wise, very little has changed from Arkham City. Expect to scan rooms in detective mode high atop convenient gargoyles while slowly taking out armed guards and also punching your way through scum with the fantastic free-flow combat system. There is one notable new feature where Batman equips shock gauntlets that act like a temporary power-up. You can attack anyone, regardless of his or her shields or armor. This controversial addition to combat can over-simplify things, but it also serves to relieve pressure in especially dire circumstance. The best change when it comes to gameplay comes in the form of the vastly improved boss fights. These encounters play quite a bit like the normal free-flow combat, but with some kind of twist, making these fights feel very natural and exciting rather than interrupting the flow of gameplay. While they didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the improved boss battles are just one example of how WB Montreal has delivered the most rounded-out Arkham experience when it comes to gameplay.
When it comes to the gadgets, all the usual suspects are here. Gone are the freeze bomb and line launcher, and joining the fray are the glue grenade and the remote claw, which serve generally the same purpose. Considering Arkham Origins is supposed to be a prequel, it is interesting that WB Montreal decided to arm Batman with basically the same gear he had in Arkham City. A more homebrew, experimental arsenal might have been a bit more fitting, but WB Montreal decided to play it safe. When the gameplay and gear are so similar to Arkham City, it certainly doesn’t seem like the Batman of Arkham Origins is younger or less experienced. The lack of an arsenal change was the easy choice, and it’s definitely a little disappointing to not receive any entirely new toys.
Speaking of disappointments, a lot of the game’s facial animations and even some of the models seem hastily put together. While the majority of the game looks good—most notably Batman—when certain characters talk, it’s almost as if their lips are just flapping and their teeth remain motionless. Again, the game does have a good style and can look gorgeous, but these moments truly break the immersion and can be very distracting.
It’s nice to finally be able to explore a larger part of Gotham in an Arkham game, as Origins certainly has the largest map of the series. The new sprawling map brings fast travel along with it, as well as a host of sidequests. There is plenty to explore and be done after the main quest is over, but with the larger map comes less focus. There are plenty of uninteresting, empty spaces in Gotham, which makes exploration a little less exciting. There is also a multiplayer mode, which is good for a laugh or two, but doesn’t really have all that much lasting value. Let’s face it, no one is going to buy an Arkham game for multiplayer any time soon.
DCN fans will know that Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are not reprising their roles as the Joker and Batman in Origins, but do not fret, for Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith do a fantastic job in the voice acting department. The music also adds the right mood to various situations. Christopher Drake’s soundtrack definitely takes some inspiration from Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight Trilogy score, but it obviously works for the subject matter.
Lastly, it should be noted that at the time of release, the game has quite a few little glitches and frame rate drop issues across all consoles. PC gamers also have their share of glitches, but the frame rate drops are far more infrequent.
+ Solid Gameplay
+ Good Story
+ Great Boss Fights
+ Fitting Voice Acting
– More of the same
– Some shoddy models and animations
It’s certainly a disappointment to lose the wealth of content and degree of care that Rocksteady would bring to the Arkham games, but WB Montreal didn’t make a bad game. In fact, they made a great game. They bring you tried-and-true combat, an interesting story, and a respectable amount of side content. Hopefully, they experiment a bit more with the next game.