‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through Gotham City not a creature was stirring, except for The Batman and 8 deadly assassins out to kill him. If they succeed, they take home the ultimate gift, a 50 million dollar reward paid by one of Gotham’s most dangerous mob bosses, Black Mask.
These are the events of Batman: Arkham Origins, a prequel to Rocksteady Studios’ outstanding Arkham-verse games. In the game, you play Batman during his second year as Gotham’s protector. No one really knows who or what “The Batman” is, or if he even really exists. This time though, we have a new studio behind the Dark Knight’s cowl. WB Montreal, the developers that ported Batman: Arkham City to the Wii-U, have now thrown their Batarang into the mix and taken a shot at this successful series. But does their take on the caped crusader end up all Christian Bale, or do we get stuck with George Clooney? If you don’t get the reference, shame on you!
The Black Mask is a ruthless crime-lord who loves torturing his victims
Batman: AO starts out on Christmas Eve as Black Mask makes a daring escape from Blackgate prison. Batman almost thwarts his plans, but ultimately the Black Mask gets away. During these events the Dark Knight discovers that Black Mask has put a price on his head and 8 of the world’s deadliest assassins have shown-up to compete for the grand prize: 50 million dollars.
Anyone who has played either of the previous Arkham games will be instantly familiar with Batman: AO. This game is structured the exact same way with Gotham City acting as a hub world for the player to explore and take-down unsuspecting goons from the snowy rooftops. This time around, Gotham is much larger, roughly double the size of Batman: Arkham City’s over-world. The architecture, neon-lighting and snow covered streets make for a rich setting and let the city be one of the games many characters in its own right. Traversing the city is just as easy as before; using your grappling hook and gliding gets you from place to place at a fairly brisk pace.
But now that Gotham has doubled in size, a “fast travel” system has been implemented. Batman can hop aboard the Batwing and jet from one end of the city to the other. The only catch with this system is that radio towers jamming the Batwing’s GPS systems have been activated by an unknown villain, so Batman must disable each tower, a’la Farcry 3 style, before you can utilize the fast travel option in that area.
The Batwing launching from the Batcave
Also, Gotham City now contains random crimes in progress and murders scenes. The crimes-in-progress can pop-up at anytime and you can choose to ignore them or dish out justice on a group of thugs and gain some experience in the process. As for the murder scenes, Batman must use the Bat-computer to reconstruct what occurred to help him track down the killer. I found myself attempting to complete as many of these as possible, as the extra experience gained comes in very hand in upgrading Batman’s combat moves and gadgets.
There are a ton of other side missions available to the player as they uncover Gotham’s secrets. Some will lead to faces we seen before in the Arkham games series, others are fresh and down-right surprising. I was thrilled to see WB Montreal use some of the lesser known villains for the Batman universe.
You will also lots of other “collectable-style” activities to keep you busy, especially if you’re a completionist and want to see everything Batman: AO has to offer. Overall the city is filled with things do and I constantly broke away from the main story missions to go off and see what I could find. The only negative thing I can really says is that there isn’t any pedestrians wandering around. I understand that the game takes place during a snow-storm and people have been warned to stay in, but other than the occasional bum or police officer you save, there is no-one. I really think Gotham would have benefited from some more inhabitants, it would have made the world seem much more alive.
One of the side missions includes a run-in with Anarchy
The cut-scenes and story in Batman: AO are a step up in the series. The direction and cinematography have taken a huge leap over it’s predecessor. There were several times I was blown away watching the events unfolding on the screen. In fact, I wish there was an option to watch all the cut-scenes from the game’s menu.
Everything about this game seems darker and more serious than the previous titles. The Batman in this game is a total loner and doesn’t need, or should I say, want help from any outsiders. He feels like he is the only one meant for this job. Some of the later conversations between Batman and his trusted butler and friend Alfred reflect this idea and are much better written then any of the dialogue in the previous games. The voice acting is executed well, although it is a little odd hearing some of the main characters voiced by new actors. Troy Baker as the Joker does a good job, but I felt he was trying to do an impression of Mark Hamill the whole time. I wish he would have made the character a bit more his own. Batman is voiced by Roger Craig Smith, he also does good job, but I found myself missing the iconic Kevin Conroy.
Just as crazy as ever
The main attraction of the Arhkam series is Batman’s signature free-flow combat, which makes it’s way back in Origins. While the combat is still extremely fun and fluid, you can tell that WB Montreal has done almost nothing new with it. It’s almost as if they took a, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” approach to the mechanics. The same thing can be said for the upgrade progression as well. While gadgets and combat moves may unlock in a different order than the previous games, there really isn’t much new. WB Montreal has added a series of challenges that when completed reward the player with bonus experience, but nothing very compelling, similar to the Assassin’s Creed synchronization rates.
Yep, the combat is still really good
Unlike Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, you can now return to the Batcave at anytime to try out combat and predator challenge maps without exiting to the game’s main menu. I found this to be a cool feature, it allowed me to take a break from the main game or try out a new combat moves without having to quit the actual campaign. You can also converse with Alfred while here. He gives Batman little tidbits of information and recaps current events in the story. It’s a great touch to see the full Batcave make it’s appearance for the first time in the Arkham series.
The Batcave in all it’s glory
Batman: Arkham Origins’ most innovative new feature is the crime-scene analysis mode. Batman has sensors in his cowl linked to the Bat-computer which allow him to scan the area and recreate the events leading up to the crime. On paper, this sounds like an amazing idea and considering that Batman is the world’s greatest detective, you would think it’s the perfect fit. Unfortunately, all this pans out to is scanning one area/object in the crime scene and then immediately scanning the next. You see the game doesn’t even allow the player to try and attempt any detective work, it simply highlights the next item and boom, it just pops-up on Batman’s scanner. You don’t get to walk around scanning things at random or try to piece any of the events together yourself, the game does it all for you. You just get to sit back and watch what took place, which is one of the biggest missed opportunities in the game.
No detective work here, just scan, scan, scan and done
So while the detective work may be the low point of the game, let’s talk about the high point: the boss battles. This game features some of the best boss fights I can remember in recent video game years. The boss battles contain great cinematics and all have unique mechanics. The variety here is very high and above all else, I felt like every boss fight was relevant and not just thrown in systematically for the gameplay. Batman: Arkham Origins shows how boss fights need to be done going forward in games.
Cinematic, challenging and varied, I looked forward to every boss fight in the game
Origins also features multiplayer for the first time in the series, which ends up being a surprisingly fun game of cat and mouse. The teams are broken down into 3v3v2, and the two teams of three play as either the Joker’s gang or Bane’s mercenary troops. The final team of two is comprised of Batman & Robin. The two villain teams battle it out for control of different points on the map, while Batman & Robin take to the high ground and the shadows in an attempt to take out as many players from either team as possible.
The dynamic duo’s ultimate goal is to fill a “fear” meter in the center of the screen, but if one of them is brought down in action the meter lowers drastically. As the match continues on, Bane or Joker will become available to the villain’s teams. The catch is they appear at a random door on the map and the first one there gets to become one or the other. This leads to some really intense showdowns.
The combat here is quite fun, with the villains playing in a typical third person shooter style. It has a very “Gears of War-ish” feel to the movement and weight of the character. Batman & Robin play just like in the predator challenges in single-player. You are able to grapple around the map, perform inverted take-downs and use your detective vision.
Batman and Robin ready for action
As you complete matches you’re rewarded with leveling up based on performance. As your Bane/Joker thug gains levels you unlock new customization options for your appearance, new weapons, and new perks. I didn’t find this system extremely deep and the fact you don’t get any upgrades for Batman & Robin is disappointing. Also, only having four maps to choose from will hurt the lasting-power for this mode.
Unfortunately the one area that Arkham Origins really falters is the technical department. The game has random slow-down, which pops-up as you glide around the city. I also encountered weird sound glitches where the audio became out of sync with the on-screen action. Another issue I encountered was a side quest that wouldn’t complete after I finished it. I kept going back and attempted to complete it over and over, but it didn’t take until my third or fourth try. These are just the problem I encountered playing the game. Others have reported the game freezing/crashing, falling through the geometry and even a save game file corruption bug. It’s troublesome to see a game release with this many issues, it seems to be becoming a trend in the games industry. Hopefully WB Montreal will address and correct its mistakes soon.
Overall Batman: Arkham Origins is a worthy entry into the Arkham series of games. WB Montreal made great strides with the storytelling and the boss encounters were all memorable. It’s too bad so many technical issues scar this experience and knock it down from greatness. I sure hope Warner Bros. Interactive isn’t planning on making this series an annual thing, because with a little more time and polish, Arkham Origins could have been the best in the series. I hope the next game features some new innovation and a deeper, more fully realized detective mode so the gameplay doesn’t become stagnant . But if you’re a fan of Arkham Asylum and City, or just a Batman fan in general, there’s enough here to love.