A lot of gaming cynics were wondering if Warner Bros. was attempting to just cash-in on the popular Arkham series by rushing into a pre-Christmas release. While others were happy to see the Caped Crusader back on consoles again, this prequel has created a few enjoyable tweaks of their own.
For those who have enjoyed Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Rocksteady Games elevated the bar for superhero games to a level that was critically acclaimed across the board. Released last Friday (Oct. 25), the highly-anticipated prequel game was inherited by Warner Bros. Games Montreal, the studio's two-year-old video game startup, and Splash Damage. It is telling that for all the strides made by the previous developer, Arkham Origins plays out much like a filler, as the game is not quite up to par when compared to its predecessors.
Powered by Nvidia's PhysX effects, the game picks up where the previous ones left off in terms of the graphics department. As Batman is pitted against eight assassin's all coming for his cowl during Christmas Eve, the engine delivers both realistic fog and snow that adds a holiday charm to Gotham City, which isn't fully given the proper nod. Split between Old and New Gotham, players are able to grasp the mechanics fairly easy, as they haven't changed much. You still use your grappling hook to glide and zip around Gotham. The most interesting difference you'll find while traveling in the city is that Arkham Origins is a significantly larger open world.
As you navigate the area, you realize just how similar everything is to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The 'Anarky' bomb side quest is but a reworking of answering phones around the city for Victor Zsasz. The crimes that are actively in progress while you coast in the air are still events that you can choose to participate in or ignore when they come up on your radio. Instead of using this as an opportunity to tell individual tales of Gotham's hapless citizens, this ends up being an exercise in pummeling groups of thugs for extra XP, which is something you engage in throughout most of the game anyway. Also unchanged is the free-flow combat, which propelled the earlier Arkham games into the stratosphere (or batosphere?). The animations are still crisp with the emphasis on getting into a rhythm, but it also feels exactly the same as it did before.
The few new enemy types that are thrown into the mix aren't much of a challenge, as Bats must take on martial artists who have an attack that need to be countered twice rather than once. Even when the Caped Crusader gains new abilities in the form of shock gloves, your punches will send joules through your enemy's bodies, but doesn't change the fighting from coming off as rote and routine.
Arkham Origins does offer some new elements in the form of the "Case Files" investigations, which finds you as Batman putting on the World's Greatest Detective hat and discovering clues from a first-person perspective. Playing out in a CSI-style manner, each point is uploaded remotely to your Batcomputer, and you're able to reconstruct the events holographically piece by piece. The addition of fast travel is also a much needed element in the Arkham universe. After Bats clears out the data scrambling devices placed in key areas, he can utilize the Batwing to quickly enter a new section of town. That said, players are forced to see the same cutscene over and over every time they use the Batwing. Hopefully in the future, players will be able to engage in vehicle missions instead of just watching them.
When the earlier Arkham games were out, they placed you right into the thick of the universe, which allowed gamers to delve deep without stumbling over an origin story. In Arkham Origins, the whole assassin storyline falls into the Star Wars category of confusion, where enemies whose animosity festered for years (see: The Joker, Bane) is pieced together in a few hours. Outside of Bane, Deathstroke and Firefly, the rest of the Christmas Eve assassins are nothing more than D-list baddies at best and fail to live up to the previous games' stellar rogues gallery. Equally as important is the fact that as an origin tale, players are never able to discover more about the battered and broken Bruce Wayne that a long-time comic fan would already have known. Arkham Origins would had done well to take us deeper into his heartache to learn why becoming the Bat was a better move than to say... move to Metropolis.
Warner Bros. Games Montreal inherited a title full of critical acclaim and managed to churn out an effort solely for easy money. There aren't too many advances in gameplay with Arkham Origins. There are a few continuity issues that will have to be addressed when Rocksteady picks up momentum for their next installment. Add to that that at launch, the game was not without glaring technical issues (frame rate plummets, loading screen freezes, disappearing enemies), and you are a bit disappointed during your initial play-through. While there is some great stuff to see in Gotham, and Troy Baker (who voices The Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman / Bruce Wayne) do a great job filling the roles left vacant by Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, respectively, it doesn't push the franchise out of the predictability lane and into a grand new direction.
Don't believe us?! Well, take a look at the trailer for yourself!
Batman: Arkham Origins is out now and available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC.