Batman: Arkham Origins Review

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Batman: Arkham Origins manages to live up to the Arkham name, but it offers very few innovations of its own, leaving players with a serious case of déjà vu.

As with the previous Arkham games, the visceral combat is one of Origins‘ greatest strengths. The unique free flow combat system is nearly identical to Arkham Origins. It makes the player feel powerful with little effort at the start of the game and slowly evolves into something more sophisticated. Each type of enemy or weapon requires different tactics to defeat and it’s up to the player to find opportunities to disarm the more dangerous foes like those with knives or shields while keeping the average grunts at bay with quick strikes and counters. It creates an addictive balancing act in every combat scenario, until you get the shock gloves that is.

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The shock gloves function similarly to BAT mode from Arkham City‘s Armored Edition which was also developed by Warner Bros. Montreal. They allow Batman to punch through shields and shock batons instantly knocking down any small enemy and damaging armored enemies without stunning them first. Additionally, it adds X2 to your combo meter each time you hit and enemy allowing you to get to your more powerful take-down moves faster. While it’s fun to clear out troves of bad guys with minimal effort using the shock gloves, they break the games balance and turn the sophisticated combat into button mashing madness. You can’t use them all the time, they charge up while you fight with your normal fighting capabilities, but they’re available often enough that every combat scenario can be easily overcome with them. I wouldn’t recommend using them unless you’re really stuck and feel like you need them.

Predator scenarios also remain largely unchanged. Batman uses vents, rooftops and statues protruding from the walls to take out gun-wielding henchmen one by one in a small room. Detective vision allows you to see where all the enemies are, making it easy to sneak behind or above each one and take them out one at a time. There are some variations on armed henchmen that show up later in the game that jam your detective vision or place proximity mines. These henchmen make predator scenarios more difficult, but as long as you’re patient, they never become overwhelming. If you’ve played Arkham City, you know what to expect here.

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The most substantial new addition to Origins‘ gameplay is the improved detective vision. There are numerous murder cases and other scenarios throughout the game where Batman can use his detective vision to create a digital scene of the event that occurred. Once enough clues have been found, Batman can and rewind and replay the crime scene to find additional clues such as a camera that got knocked to the side when the cameraman was shot. It’s all very cinematic, but offers little in terms of gameplay. I enjoyed the first instance of these scenes, but quickly grew tired of them and found myself wishing they hadn’t been added at all.

Origins‘ setting of Gotham City is a larger open world than Arkham City. Luckily, Warner Bros. Montreal saw fit to add a fast travel system so that you don’t spend all your time grappling and gliding around the city. The fast travel point in each area unlocks after making your way inside a tower in that area and hacking its signal. Hacking these towers also unlocks some side missions in the area. Unfortunately, the PC version of Origins has a bug that prevents one of these towers from being completed, making the fast travel point in that area unusable and the side quests inaccessible. I’m sure this bug will be patched out eventually, but PC players will have to do a little more traveling in the mean time. Any PC player hoping to complete all the games side missions will have to wait and see what Warner Bros. has to say about the bug.

Larger bugs like that one aside, Origins suffers from some very odd geometry problems. Pipes are spread throughout the city, but landing on them usually throws Batman into a fit of standing and falling animations that eventually lands him on the ground below. Some walls simply aren’t climb-able despite looking like any other climb-able wall. Sometimes Batman would abruptly stop moving along a ledge that he should be able to continue along, or get stuck in an object that he shouldn’t have been able to get into in the first place, though these issues were usually fixable by wiggling the camera around or repeatedly diving in place until I was able to move again.

Origins‘ story premise that has been teased since the games unveiling is that of Black Mask hiring skilled assassins to kill Batman on Christmas Eve. This story quickly takes a back seat to a multitude of other story arcs which eventually begin to revolve around Batman’s first meeting with the Joker. Voice actor Troy Baker’s Joker and Roger Craig Smith’s Batman are nearly indistinguishable from Mark Hamill’s and Kevin Conroy’s portrayals of the characters in previous Arkham games.

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Origins also explores and challenges Batman’s refusal to kill, a theme that was explored in Arkham City as well. While I enjoyed the tale that unfolded and the relationship between the Joker and Batman is an intriguing one, I was disappointed that the story I had been looking forward to since the original announcement of Origins was used as an entry point and then put to the side. All of the assassins still show up at some point of the game, but a few of them are only seen in side missions. Even those who do show up in the main story arc are little more than set-pieces with boss fights attached to them. I never felt like a young, inexperienced Batman being hunted by powers greater than me, which is what the game seemed to promise leading up to its release.

Origins‘ story also suffers from being a prequel. There are a few notable moments in the game where key characters appear as though they may die. However, all those characters whose lives appear to be in danger have already shown up in Arkham Asylum and/or Arkham City, which take place after the events of Arkham Origins. Since Origins is a canonical entry in the series, fans will know from the beginning of the game that those characters are not going to die. It takes a lot of weight out of what should have been very heavy and emotional scenes.

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After completing the game, you can play new game plus which allows you to keep all your gadgets and upgrades, but takes away the indicators that tell you when to counter and dodge, as well as mixing up enemy arrangements to make the game more difficult. Once you’ve completed new game plus, you unlock “I Am the Night” mode which doesn’t allow you to save and only gives Batman one life. If you die in this mode, you have to restart the game. Since there’s no saves, you will also have to beat the game in one sitting or leave it running on your console if you want to do other things. There are also challenge maps and campaigns to complete which are conceptually the same as the challenges in Arkham City. Additionally, there’s a new multiplayer mode in Origins.

Multiplayer in Origins is a mediocre idea with poor execution. Matches pit two groups of three elite mobsters against each other. One group serves Bane and the other serves the Joker. While the two gangs try to kill each other and capture control points, Batman and Robin are on a separate team trying to hunt down and incapacitate members of the gangs without getting caught out. It’s a unique idea, but since there are six mobsters and only two heroes, most of your time will be spent playing as a gun-wielding goon in a game that clearly wasn’t designed to incorporate shooting mechanics. However, halfway through each match, one gang member will be given the opportunity to play as either Bane or the Joker if they make it to a gate somewhere on the map before any of the other five mobsters. It’s a short-lived experience that brings some much-needed variety to the stilted shooting mechanics of the mobster teams but it often ends up  being more stressful than anything else. Since you just took the powerful villain away from your teammates as well as the enemy, you’re expected to deliver some results with him. If you do manage to live up to those expectations, it’s probably the most fun you’ll have in the multiplayer

During my time online, I saw all three of the different teams types win, but the mobster teams won more often. It’s hard to find opportunities to strike as the heroes if your opponents are being diligent. As a result, I hardly noticed the heroes in most of my matches, which takes away the only really interesting twist on the standard multiplayer shooter formula. As people play the multiplayer more and become more accustomed to it, the heroes may become a more prevalent factor, but even skilled heroes won’t fix the disappointment that comes with playing as the mobsters.

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I enjoyed my time with Arkham Origins, but the entire time I played it, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d already had this experience. Arkham City made drastic improvements to the groundbreaking formula created in Arkham Asylum. Arkham Origins just feels like more Arkham City. While that’s certainly not the worst thing in the world, the Arkham series needs to get back to innovating if it wants to keep from getting stale.