REVIEW: 'Batman: Arkham Origins' Is A Formulaic, Predictable Effort

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.

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Michael Jackson's Estate Files $100 Million Lawsuit Against HBO

Michael Jackson’s estate filed a $100 million lawsuit against HBO over the upcoming Leaving Neverland documentary set to air next month. Jackson’s estate accuses the cable network of breaching a non-disparagement contract made with the King of Pop back in 1992.

"HBO breached its agreement not to disparage Michael Jackson by producing and selling to the public a one-sided marathon of unvetted propaganda to shamelessly exploit an innocent man no longer here to defend himself," Howard Weitzman, attorney for the Jackson estate said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit, according to NBC News.

The statement adds that HBO should have “ensured that Leaving Neverland was properly sourced, fact-checked and a fair and balanced representation.”

Leaving Neverland features alleged accounts from Wade Robson and James Safechuck, both of whom accuse Jackson of molesting them when they were minors. Robson, who attended Jackson’s funeral in 2009, previously testified in 2005 that Jackson never molested him. In 2013, Robson sued the estate claiming abuse. Safechuck also sued for similar allegations in 2014. Both lawsuits were dismissed because the statute of limitations had passed. The two men hope that the film will “educate the public about how abuse like this happens.”

The estate claims that the amount of damages potentially caused to Jackson’s legacy “could exceed $100 million should HBO success in the damage it is intending to cause.” Jackson’s estate also believes the King of Pop's accusers are using HBO as part of their “litigation strategy.”

HBO plans to air the film, as scheduled. In a statement responding to the legal complaint, the network called out Jackson’s estate for going to “desperate lengths” to undermine the documentary. “Our plans remain unchanged. HBO will move forward with the airing of Leaving Neverland, the two-part documentary, on March 3rd and 4th. This will allow everyone the opportunity to assess the film and the claims in it for themselves.”

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Actor Jussie Smollett leaves Cook County jail following his release, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019, in Chicago, IL.
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Jussie Smollett Released On $100K Bail

Jussie Smollett was reportedly released from Chicago police custody on Thursday (Feb. 21), after posting $100,000 bail, CNN confirms.

Police and prosecutors held a press conference, in which they listed a series of evidence that would corroborate their claim that Smollett staged the homophobic and racist attack that occurred against him in Jan. 2019.

The prosecutors confirmed a chronology of the events leading up to and after the attack. They cited phone and credit card records from both Smollett and the Osundairo brothers who were reportedly paid $3,500 to act out the incident.

As previously reported, the Empire actor was arrested and taken into custody in Chicago earlier this morning on one count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. The police claimed the actor staged the attack because he was upset about his low salary.

"Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said. "Why would anyone especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? ... How can an individual who’s been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in the city in the face with these false claims?"

If convicted of the charge, Smollett could serve one to three years in prison.

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'Boomerang' Episode 3 Recap: Stand In Your Power

As the aptly-named episode of BET’s Boomerang kicks off, Bryson is in a deep sleep when his sexual fantasy of Simone riding him like an Amtrak is abruptly cut short after she pulls out a strap-on (um, y’all are grown). Let’s just say, she’s not a football player but she rams. Despite his obvious initial thought, this isn’t a conflict of sexual identity. It’s that feeling of loss of power whenever he’s around the two most important women in his life: Simone and his mother Jacqueline who (FUN FACT) was played by the Queen, Robin Givens in the series’ 1992 film inspiration. First of her name. Mother of no BS. Protector of her pockets. Goddess of You Got the Wrong One. We stan.

While diving deeper into his familial issues, we realize that Jacqueline wasn’t just a ball-buster to Marcus back in the day. A therapy breakthrough reveals that mommy dearest isn’t too affectionate to young Bryson either.  Although she did pull her strings to land Bryson a solid role at the Graham agency, she didn’t make family a priority and that kind of thing sticks with you, ya know? Don’t feel too bad for Bryson just yet because at this point, he will no longer be a “yes, man,” no matter how bomb Simone always looks in her bob.

Just as Bryson decides to boss up, he unexpectedly runs into Simone back at the office who is helping herself to some supplies for her "home office." In a sudden “I can make moves, too” moment, Bryson shares with Simone that her idea (that he’s been persistently pitching)  has finally been greenlit and naturally, sis is annoyed. Marketing an avant-garde black film, such as the project in the episode, “Woke,” has always been a passion of hers.

Within two seconds into listening to his “plan of strategy” to market the movie, it’s obvious that Bryson can’t possibly be Big Bad Bry for too long without asking for Simone’s help. And Simone knows that. At this point, he’s still strong enough to not ask Simone for it but the Hustle Hungry protege takes it upon herself to force it anyway. It’s simple to her. Bryson needs black talent to promote the film and Simone has just the client- Tia. Granted, homegirl can’t sing a note to save her life, but Simone has some tricks and this is way too big of an opportunity to pass up.

Once again at the board meeting, a clearly annoyed Victoria is still over Bryson for previously messing up by being a sucker for love, but she hasn’t lost faith just yet. He still has a shot to prove himself. At an afternoon meeting at their swanky loft, the twin directors of “Woke” try to explain the direction they want for their movie. Although poor Bryson is lost (mainly because their responses barely answer his questions) he hasn’t reached a place of uncertainty to where he feels as if he has to agree with all of Simone’s suggestions. He’s holding it down as Boss Man Bry and he proves that when he reaches the studio. Simone has Tia record two different versions of the track, confident that Bryson would like hers better.

After listening to both, unbeknownst of who is responsible for which, Bryson chooses Tia’s track. He almost even backtracks when he finds out that wasn’t Simone’s vision, but he decides to man up instead and stand his ground, instead.  Yes, he said what he said. Operation Stand in Your Power is in full effect. Simone’s grip on Bryson’s heart slowly slipping. Maybe now she’ll retire from the Rams. *wink, wink*

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