Batman: Arkham Origins - Review
The Arkham series has been one of the biggest surprises this console generation. Did anyone expect that Batman: Arkham Asylum was going to be that good? Superhero games have always been a mixed bag, just ask Spiderman if you want any proof. With Batman: Arkham Origins we got yet another surprise, except not the good kind; developers Rocksteady were being swapped for Warner Bros. Studios Montreal.
That's perhaps the biggest warning sign about Arkham Origins, regardless of whether it's good or bad (I'll get to that in a minute). It's completely unnecessary; it doesn't give us any new information nor does it expand on the previous two game's core mechanics. If you're played the original two games, especially Arkham City, then you've played Origins. You do the exact same stuff, in a similar looking place, with an almost identical-looking Batman. Nothing new to see here folks.
Billed as a prequel, mainly so that Warner Bros. Studios don't step on Rocksteady's toes, who are presumably working on the proper follow-up to Arkham City for next gen consoles, Origins attempts to shine the light on Batman's early years as a young crime-fighting newbie. Here's the problem, it doesn't do any of that. You see, an origin story only really works if we see the character's origins (obviously) and in this game we don't. The game starts with Batman in the suit and fighting crime and kitted out with all of his gadgets. There's no moments where he's learning the ropes or getting things wrong. In other words, for a game with "Origins" in its title, it's not really an origin story.
This isn't to imply that the story is garbage or terribly written, just that it seems to claim to be something that it ultimately isn't. Sure, we get to see the beginning of Batman's relationship with Commissioner Gordon, and his first encounter with The Joker, but we don't really learn anything new about Bruce Wayne, or Batman, that we didn't already know. We never go through a complete character arc that sheds new light on the superhero. Ironically, The Joker gets more established back-story, with a rather effective section that's possibly the most interesting and original part of the game.
Batman meanwhile, is just Batman. You're given a whole city to explore just like last time except now Rocksteady's clever conundrums have made way for plenty of cut-and-paste switch puzzles which almost never require you to think for more than a couple of seconds. The combat fares a lot better, mainly due to the fact that it's identical to the previous two games combat. The introduction of the "Shock Gloves", one of the few new gadgets, is a little unnecessary, mainly due to the fact that combat isn't particularly hard anyway, and the gloves basically result in one-hit killing most foes whenever they're powered up.
There's a similar tired, pedestrian approach to the game's villains. Warner Bros. have clearly been digging through the dustbin for this bunch. Most of them you'll have never heard of unless you're a comic expert and since the only bit of characterization they're given is "kill Batman", you'll hardly care all that much. Even Warner Bros. don't seem to have too much faith in their group of hitmen since several of them don't even show up in the main story and are only utilized in a bunch of rather perfunctory side missions.
Instead it's down to Bane and The Joker to be the game's primary antagonists. There's a clear Dark Knight Rises vibe to the whole game, from the snow-covered Gotham City to the emphasis on Batman's relationship with Bane. In fact, much of Arkham Origins story seeks to draw upon people's familiarity with Christopher Nolan's films. This isn't a problem, and the previous two games made good use of various elements of the character from the abundance of comics and movie adaptations. The issue here though is that, just like everything else, there's a hint that this decision is not done out of reverence for the material, but because it was a quick and easy way to snap together a plot.
The biggest sign that the game was rushed is the technical hitches. Several cutscenes suffered from constant stuttering and a couple gave out all together and I was forced to restart my machine. What makes this worse is that whenever you're warping between different areas of the city with the Batplane, it triggers a mini cutscene, meaning that you're likely to suffer from more problems just from hopping about the city. When the quick travel system risks taking up more of your time than simply travelling there on foot, there's a problem.
What's more, the issues that were present in the original games are still here. Boss fights are still an awkward affair. The game's combat has always been about fighting a group of weaker enemies that greatly outnumber you, relying on the rhythm elements to maintain interest. When we're faced with a villain in a one-on-one fight, the combat system crumbles, leaving behind a two button combat scenario which pretty much involves countering the bad guy enough times until his health bar vanishes. Some of the game's bosses get around this by setting themselves up as group fights, where you fight a bunch of grunts rather than the actual big bad, but these only cover up the combat's weaknesses, rather than improve them.
If you really need to scratch that Batman itch, and have exhausted everything that Rocksteady's games have to offer, than this is more Batman. The combat, stealth and puzzles are all there, mixed in with a woefully inconsistent plot that on the one hand has some good writing ruined by a misleading subtitle and an overabundance of uninteresting villains. Beneath the gloss and the appropriation of an otherwise excellent set of game mechanics however, Batman: Arkham Origins is horrendously shallow; a cash in for the end of a console generation.
Batman: Arkham Origins was released on October 25th for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U and PC.
This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.
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