When it was announced that there was to be a new addition to the Arkham series which wasn’t being made by acclaimed developer Rocksteady, many fans including myself were skeptical. Would Warner Bros. Games Montréal manage to keep the bar raised for this great superhero game series?
Scepticism further rose when beloved long-time voice actors of Batman and Joker (Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill respectively) were replaced with Roger Craig Smith (Ezio Auditore of Assassins Creed) and Troy Baker (Joel from The Last of Us) which left many fans feeling very cautious about Origins leading up to its release and while it’s by no means ground-breaking, I’m happy to report it’s still a very solid game.
Batman Arkham Origins does little to improve on mechanics featured in Arkham City, but playing Origins reminded me why I fell in love with this series in the first place. Whether its solving mysteries, obtaining collectibles, progressing through the story, new game plus and I Am The Night mode or simply playing the challenge rooms. Add to this a newly introduced multiplayer mode (more on that later) and you have a game that is brimming with content.
The plot of the game is certainly one of its strongest points and it kept me engaged all of the way to the credits and threw in a few surprises here and there too. The game kicks off on Christmas Eve where Batman is alerted to a breakout at Blackgate Prison led by Black Mask. There, Black Mask executes Commissioner Loeb and then escapes while Batman confronts Black Mask’s hired assassin Killer Croc. After the ensuring fight with Croc, Batman discovers that the deadliest assassins in Gotham City want to kill him to claim the $50 million bounty put on Batman’s head by Black Mask.
Its certainly an exciting plot and a good way to introduce some of the lesser known villains of the Batverse to the public audience, such as Copperhead and Firefly. Furthermore, the execution of some of the levels was fantastic in my opinion. The highlight for me was one scene which relied on Batman’s brain rather than his brawn and required the player to scan for several clues in a crime scene and then patch them all together in a CSI-like video which enables you to solve the mystery of what happened. I thought this was a great improvement to the franchise as this was by far the closest I ever felt to actually being Batman.
Batman Arkham Origins also featured some magnificent boss fights which is something I felt this series could use improving with since its conception. For example, the battle with Deathstroke was genuinely challenging and required quite a fair bit of well-timed counters and attacks to eventually win and due to the fact that it actually took me several tries to beat, felt immensely satisfying when it eventually came to a close. Conversely, one of the fights with Bane felt incredibly tense and required me to hide and plan my attacks carefully. Striking too early resulted in an incredibly tense and thrilling run from his powerful attacks.
The game also represents the characters within very well, with Roger Craig Smith and especially Troy Baker doing phenomenal voice acting to the point where differences in the voices of Batman and Joker are hardly noticeable. The game does a good job at portraying Batman’s personality and development into the worlds greatest detective and certain scenes reflect that he can still be fairly emotional such as a hallucination scene which clearly shows regret for some of his actions, or most noticeably, a scene with Alfred where both characters reveal their true emotions and further highlights the development of Bruce Wayne to the Dark Knight.
There are some issues I had with the game however, for example, many of the gameplay mechanics feel identical to those found in Arkham City and the actual city itself doesn’t feel fresh or exciting enough to keep me coming back to explore quite like City did. Furthermore, while the story of Arkham Origins is based on eight assassins who want Batmans head, some of these assassins are left out of the plot and relegated to side quests which feels like a somewhat wasted potential. That being said these side quests still do offer a solid amount of entertainment. On top of this, unlike in previous games I found the riddler challenges of Batman Arkham Origin to be dull and inspired especially in comparison to those featured in Arkham City with those featured in Origins being little more than collect this item, or climb this tower. While the tower sections were mildly fun, I couldn’t help thinking they had been just a little too easy. On top of this, my copy frequently ran into frame rate issues, and whilst Warner Bros. have since announced a patch for this, putting up with it several times in a playthrough was fairly annoying.
One major new feature that Origins has introduced to the Arkham series is the online mode, which pits a team of 3 thugs against another team of 3 thugs against Batman and Robin. The first time I played this I was fortunate enough to play as Batman and the multiplayer aspect can certainly be fun while you’re the caped crusader. Stealth is key to survival and victory as Batman and Robin can be taken out with noticeably few bullets so sneaking around and taking out other players was a great enjoyable experience which I felt was somewhat refreshing for an online mode. That being said, playing as a thug is much less glamorous, with dodgy aiming mechanics, the 3rd person shooter side of Origins Online is a forgettable, disjointed mess, and sadly due to the fact that its far more probable that you’ll be playing as a thug than one of the heroes renders the online mode to feel like a major disappointment and yet another tacked on multiplayer to a series that’s just fine without it.
Batman Arkham Origins does a lot of things well, combat is still fast flowing and fun, voice acting and storytelling is top-notch and many missions and boss fights were hugely entertaining. Unfortunately, many players will likely find a few too many similarities to Arkham City to warrant a purchase right now, with the world and many of the gameplay mechanics near identical to Rocksteady’s 2011 hit. Arkham Origins will certainly please fans of the series, with familiar gameplay and a surprisingly good narrative and mission structure, but it also simultaneously feels too similar to its predecessor to be considered a must-buy.