by Jeremy Sturgill, Staff Writer
A public service announcement rings out across the deserted streets of Gotham City. The warning is a call to all civilians to stay inside. There is a winter blizzard stirring, and Gotham is about to become a snowy hell.
Black Mask has placed a $50 million bounty on the head of Batman. The Dark Knight has been making a nuisance of himself in Gotham City for the past two years, and Black Mask has resolved to end his vigilante reign of terror over the criminals of Gotham on the night before Christmas.
As an open-world game in the Arkham vein, you may assume that the natural progression of this game would be eight distinct levels with designs that mimic the area-specific assassin with Gotham City connecting these levels. Arkham Origins declines to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors in favor of each environment being noticeably affected by the blizzard with little environmental references to individual villains. This appears to be a calculated change by the development team at Warner Bros. Games Montréal. One reason for this could be the assassins in Arkham Origins are more obscure than many of the enemies from previous games. Also, the assassins themselves are often pursuers who appear while Batman is doing something unrelated to that particular assassin.
This is Arkham Origins, not Batman’s origin. As mentioned previously, Bruce Wayne has been the Dark Knight for two years by the beginning of this game. The events of Arkham Origins chronicle the night that Quincy Sharp decided to reopen Arkham Asylum, making Origins a direct prequel to Asylum in many respects. While the $50 million bounty has lite a fire under the world’s greatest assassins, this game focuses more on how Batman, Gordon, the Joker, and Bane first became acquainted with the assassin’s providing boss encounters at somewhat irregular intervals throughout the main arc.
Combat has suffered a slight setback this time around. The combat does not feel as tight as it should. In past games, you would be able to attack a distant enemy when a nearby enemy was ready to attack both avoiding being hit while extending your multiplier. Now, enemies will often magically move with you as you somersault through the air toward a different enemy. Batman’s attack animations are lengthier than previous entries, and counters cannot be executed during these animations. This means that every physical attack, strike, is more risky and harder to execute. If you are used to the pace and flow of the previous two games, then combat is bound to frustrate you until you acclimate to the new pace. To counteract these changes, shock gloves and a more forgiving multiplier counter have been implemented. However, the shock gloves will feel overpowered to veterans and make encounters more difficult if you choose to vary attacks. Combat is still fun, functional, and fluid, but it also feels less polished and balanced when compared to previous Arkham games.
The story and out-of-engine cinematics combine for the greatest moments in Arkham Origins. After a somewhat lackluster few hours in the beginning, the game takes off with the introduction of Joker. The anticipation of Joker’s next move pulls you through the game. The desire to see what happens next is the greatest strength of this game, and there are few moments more memorable than the climax of Arkham Origins. Joker’s madness, Bane’s thirst for blood, and Batman’s guilt are the core elements that combine for a memorable introduction to the Arkham universe.
If you are familiar with the series, then you know the joy/tediousness of the Riddler Trophies. Riddler is referred to as Enigma and Riddler trophies are replaced by Enigma’s data packs. Enigma controls information that he plans to use as blackmail against the powerful citizens Gotham. With the reduction in allusions to villains through environmental design, the use of environmental scans to solve riddles and earn trophies has also been abandoned. All of Enigma’s data packs are physically placed throughout Gotham City, and you get an interesting prize for finding all of these data packs.
Another major change to Arkham Origins is the new voice actors for Joker and Batman. While Troy Baker, the voice of Joker, replaced the legendary Mark Hamill, and Roger Craig Smith took the reins of Batman from Kevin Conroy. If you were unaware of the change, you might think that the vocal actors were unchanged and only embracing their roles as slightly younger counterparts. Troy Baker is exceptional as the Joker as his musical talent may lend itself to a twisted serenade or two as you play the game. Batman’s voice is noticeably different, but this is acceptable when considering that this game is a prequel. Batman and Joker would naturally sound younger. Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith embrace the opportunity to headline a well-acted game.
The map challenges and online multiplayer are a disappointment, and the overall lack of polish can be frustrating. Map challenges are serviceable but in no way innovate beyond past games. Multiplayer, Bane’s gang (three players) versus Joker’s gang (three players) versus Batman and Robin (two players), is a conceptually interesting mode that fails to provide solid gameplay or public online service. Public lobbies are messy and time-consuming while the third-person shooting is bland and lacks the unique hook that made Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood’s and Mass Effect 3’s, the third entry in their respective series, multiplayer modes exciting and worthwhile.
Enemies and Batman regularly clip through the environment. AI can be buggy and left enemies running in tight circles on more than one occasion. If you try to find a glitch, then you will find one fairly quickly. You need to protect the games from itself in some instances to preserve the game’s integrity. However, no effort on my part could eliminate, texture pop and environmental glitches (e.g. enemies phasing through walls). Arkham Origins would have benefitted from a month or two to finish polishing the game.
Arkham Origins succeeds by crafting a deep story around spectacular cutscenes to create a memorable introduction to the Arkham lore. While the online multiplayer and unpolished world of Gotham City will disappoint, WB Games Montréal has succeeded in creating a fun game from Rocksteady’s award-winning formula. The additions to Origins do not greatly benefit or hinder the game. With obvious nods to moments from previous games and recycled puzzles from Riddler trophies in past games, it is hard to suggest that you should play Origins before Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. If you are looking for more Arkham to enjoy, then Arkham Origins will scratch that itch. If this is your first Arkham game, then you should check out Arkham Asylum and Arkham City before deciding to play Batman: Arkham Origins.
(Review written using a retail copy of Batman: Arkham Origins for Xbox 360)
by Leah Christensen, Staff Writer
The game developer Rocksteady Studios has a real good sense of timing. Their game – Arkham Asylum – was released right on the skirts of Christopher Nolan’s extraordinarily successful The Dark Knight film. It was a very nerdy time. A time when fans and casual audiences alike were crazy for all things Batman. Toy sections of department stores were stocked with action figures and Bat Cave play sets. The Batman logo was plastered on t-shirts, cereal boxes and coffee mugs (I have one on my desk). Coincidence or not, Rocksteady took advantage of the mania, and, to their credit, made two of the best superhero games of all-time in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.
For the third entry in the Arkham series, Rocksteady handed the Bat mantle to the development team at Warner Bros. Montreal. What they came up with is a paler version of Rocksteady’s genius entries, but even still, Batman: Arkham Origins is a very good game.
Origins takes place two years after Batman first dons the cape and cowl. I thought I would be playing as a greener cape crusader than the previous games, but this Batman feels as hardened as we’ve ever known him. The combat mechanics are still addictively fun with Batman fluidly jumping between thug encounters, countering punches, knife strikes, shields, bats and gunfire with the grace of a clandestine ballerina.
The overall game, however, feels awkward. Where Arkham Asylum and City were restricted to well-structured areas, Gotham, as a whole, feels too clunky. I don’t say that lightly, either. I have wanted to traverse through a gritty, realistic Gotham for years. But Montreal missed the mark. Origins is too much of a carbon-copy of its predecessors that it comes off as unpolished and forced. I also had my game freeze on me on several occasions while other glitches created odd camera angles.
Montreal Studios didn’t completely rest on Rocksteady’s laurels. Smart additions such as Fast Travel stations make traveling through the sections of Gotham quick. And new gadgets and detective modes add to the sense that you are Batman, which has always been the series strong suit.
The game’s story is a mixed-bag of middle-of-the-road and tour-de-force storytelling. The first part of the game has eight assassins competing to kill Batman for a hefty bounty. This set-up never fully plays out and eventually limps away from the game’s focus, which changes fast when the Joker harpoons himself into Gotham. Origins is more of an origins story between Batman and the Joker than anything else, and though we’ve seen these go at it time and again, their dynamic never stops being compelling. Montreal did an outstanding job portraying their absurd and not-so absurd kinship.
And though the assassin storyline is one of the weaker points of the game, it does provide the opportunity to bring the Batman rogue Deathstroke into the mix. Deathstroke was one of my favorite boss battles this year, and as a big fan of him in the comics, I thought the encounter between him and Batman delivered.
It’s hard to knock a game for being too stale when at every turn I was having a blast. But the lack of freshness does take away from the overall experience. In the season right before the next-generation of consoles launch, many games have been phoning it in, and I was disappoint that Arkham Origins was one of those titles. It’s a game worth your time, but you won’t feel as charmed as you had in the past.
© 2013 by N00b Magazine.