Batman: Arkham Origins Review – I’m the G*##AMN BATMAN

Good game is good.  You know it, I know it, everybody knows it.  When you have a sequel (or a prequel in this case)  that is very similar to the game that preceded it that isn’t a bad thing.  In the same vein as Rainbow Six Vegas 2, Assassins Creed: Revelations, or Gears Of War 2, Arkham Origins offers more of the same.  Luckily this a fantastic thing as Origins makes for one hell of a Batman experience, at times reaching the same high marks as those that came before it.

The story setup is simple, Black Mask, one of Gotham’s biggest crime lords has put a 50 million dollar bounty upon Batman’s pointed head on Christmas Eve.  8 of the worlds best assassins have come to town to take Batman out.  I was excited originally to see a story involving Black Mask and characters other than those used in previous Arkham titles.  Getting to see Batman fending off assassins and trying to survive Christmas Eve seemed like a good premise.  To my chagrin it ends up once again focusing almost its entire second half on the Joker, almost dropping the assassins and Black mask entirely in a rather odd plot twist.  Its connection to the Arkham series and the games title makes sense in hindsight as the plot becomes the origin of Batman and Jokers first meeting.  It even goes through some origin material pulled straight out the famous Joker story The Killing Joke.  I was frustrated to see the full list of assassins and only meet half or so in the story.  Defeating most early on, such as Killer Croc (really?), and Deathstroke.  Most are held off to the side content which can be a double edged sword.  The story can suffer but the side content, much like Arkham City, is just as good as any singular story segment.  The Joker versus Batman story was the focus of the past two Arkham games and while their conflict is always interesting it has been spread thin at this point.  Not to say that their meeting doesn’t make for a great Batman tale, in fact the story takes some dark and more personal turns for Batman, making it feel more Nolan inspired than the previous Arkham games.  A decent amount of time is spent on Batman slowly winning over Captain Gordon (Leob is the commissioner in the beginning) and it is greatly appreciated.  Origins serves as a beginning for the Batman we know in City and Asylum as it is his first night meeting and, consequently dealing with many of the worlds classic super-villains.

The fights with the assassins are a highlight and are much better than any of the boss battles in City or Asylum.  The Deathstroke fight was a personal highlight as I am a huge fan and I could only grin the whole time we dueled.  The tussles are representative of the characters and are varied as a result.  Deathstroke and Batman go toe-to-toe in an all out melee whereas fighting Firefly is a completely different experience involving a more gadget focused approach.  WB Montreal made each assassin feel distinct and obviously knows their Batman lore and characters as well as Rocksteady, making for a great experience filled with little nods to Year One, Knightfall and The Long Halloween.  Characters like Brandon and Anarky make appearances and it helps Gotham feel rich, putting you right in the world of the comics.

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Speaking of Gotham this is the first real Arkham game that is in a true Gotham.  It is liberating to finally have a large open world (over double the size of Arkham City) where we can grapnel and glide in between the iconic sky-scrapers.  Especially cool is the plot takes place over Christmas Eve and as a result the city is filled with deep snow and Christmas lights which helps give it a real world feel.  The atmosphere of classic Christmas music being remade to fit Origins soundtrack makes for an epic and memorable score and only adds to the feeling of being in Gotham at Christmas time.  The world is littered with content, after finishing the story, dabbling in challenges and doing a few side missions I was only 22% and I had already played 12 hours.  Riddler trophies are replaced with Enigma dossiers of which there are 200, on top of that there are challenges similar to the original Riddler trophies.  Much of the side content contains major story moments involving the other assassins and makes for some of the games best segments.

The free-flow combat system is as tight as ever and WB Montreal puts the players skills learned over the Arkham series to the test.  The fights are challenging and massive, pushing players thumbs to the limit.  This can be frustrating as  fighting baton wielders, shield bearers and muscle bound thugs on top of a horde of standard goons makes for some truly trying segments.  It is perfecting you technique and learning to use quickfire gadgets and combos that makes defeating these challenges satisfying.  Honing your abilities in the challenge rooms has returned and has never been better.  There are more challenges than ever and playing as Deathstroke is a true delight.  Sadly this content was locked off as it was a pre-order bonus.  Hopefully this is opened to everyone later, even if it is payed dlc.

With Arkham Origins new development team also came a whole new cast of voice actors.  Lucky for us they do an absolutely incredible job.  Troy Baker is truly remarkable as the Joker, easily rivaling Mark Hamill in the classic role.  In fact if nobody knew better they wouldn’t bat an eye if someone told them Hamill still played the part.  With Kevin Conroy not reprising his role as Batman, Roger Craig Smith has taken over and does a great job.  His range is expressed in a younger, brasher Batman who shows much more emotion than he ever did in City or Asylum.

There is multiplayer in Origins, a series first.  In all honesty you would do better to just never click on the online option in the game menu (which is absolutely epic and gorgeous).  The multiplayer (developed by Splash Damage of Brink infamy) is boring and tedious.  The shooting is average at best and makes up most of the experience.  The rare glimpse of hope is playing as Joker, Bane, Batman and Robin but these experiences are too few and far between to ever make the multiplayer worthwhile. Luckily there is plenty of replay to be had without multiplayer as Origins has the full suite of challenge maps, a massive story with tons of side content, new game plus and a new perma death mode.

I played the game on a high end PC and my lord does it deliver visually.  The PC version is full of Nvidia Physx exclusive effects.  Tessellation on the snow, Batman’s cape having the properties of fabric rather than the rubbery texture in previous entries.  Smoke, snowfall and wind react to Batman, being realistically pushed around by his and his enemies movements.  Papers on the floor actually react like paper would, being lifted up by force and wind, making the fights much more cinematic and atmospheric.  On top of that the base game looks fantastic, with characters expressing much more emotion in game than they ever did in City or Asylum.  Cut-scenes are gorgeous and captivating and the world is wonderful looking.  In a rare occurrence, Origins on PC looks just as good if not better than the classically over-doctored screenshots.

All in all Origins is a great game, in fact it is, systems wise, just as strong as any other entry in the series and if they had been presented in chronological order, everyone would talk about how Origins was incredible, and started it all.  Sadly Origins has come after the fact and as a result can feel very similar to the previous entries.  Luckily it is still a blast, retaining the soul of the series despite becoming a little routine at times due to familiarity.  The story is strong and feels more grounded, and WB Montreal handles the large cast of villains much better than Rocksteady did in Arkham City.  They had a tough job, a nearly impossible act to follow, and ultimately WB Montreal succeeded in making an Arkham game worthy to stand alongside its predecessors.

8

Pros:

+Free-flow system is as good as ever

+Story hits some strong moments with the Jokers origin

+World is large and detailed

+Side content is of the same quality as the story

+Lengthy story

+Tons of content

+Absolutely gorgeous on PC and a beautiful game on console

Cons:

-Console version is very buggy

-Story focus on Joker feels tired

-Assassins feel underutilized

-Combat sequences can become frustrating

-Multiplayer is forgettable at best

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