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Batman: Arkham Origins Review

by William Schwartz

The Batman: Arkham series is the king of comic book adaptations when it comes to video games. Rocksteady’s 2009 release of Arkham Asylum ushered in a new day for licensed properties of this sort.  The first game’s brutal and refreshing combat systems and gadgetry were enough to set a brilliant foundation for future games in the series. In 2011, Rocksteady raised the bar yet again with Batman: Arkham City. They introduced a massive open world that allowed players to not only travel down an intriguing story path littered with popular characters from the DC comics, but also created a world that was begging to be explored for its many hidden secrets.

Batman: Arkham Origins is cut from the same cloth as the 2011 release. In fact, it’s almost identical to what we were offered with Arkham City — minus the team at Rocksteady at the helm. Origins, like its name denotes, is a story that takes place ahead of the events of the first two games in the franchise. Players take command of a younger Bruce Wayne (*spoilers he’s Batman), who is meeting up with new characters in the DC Universe for the very first time, and they are all after Batman and the $50 million dollar bounty on his head. For true blue Batman fans, it’s a can’t miss story. For those who are less knowledgeable about the Caped Crusader’s comic book exploits, some of the characters and references won’t likely be as deeply appreciated.  While Warner Bros. Montreal does a good job in equaling the proficiency that has been demonstrated by Rocksteady in the handling of the Batman franchise over the last two games, it’s hard not to under appreciate the game, if just for the feeling that you’ve been here and done that over the course of the series. There’s a lot of recycling in Arkham Origins. The combat mechanics and gadgets are almost entirely copped from the other games. The city is familiar in many parts, and even a holiday makeover can’t cover up the fact that you’ve been here before. But it’s not all old news for Batman fans in Arkham Origins. Warner Bros. Montreal does try its hand at introducing some new things into the mix, with varied results.  And for the first time in the series, the game comes complete with a multiplayer mode, courtesy of Splash Damage — makers of Brink.

Singleplayer Campaign

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On the singleplayer side of things Arkham Origins plays nearly identical to Arkham City. The game is structured in an open-world fashion, but you can play it like a linear checkpoint to checkpoint game if you so choose. Hitting the main objectives will progress the storyline along, and we’re not gonna spoil any of the story details in this review, because it’s a heck of a Batman story that ties Origins directly into the narrative of all three games in the series. WB has done a good job of keeping them a nice secret, and makes some of the repetitive aspects of the game worth mashing through, if just to see it through to the end. The core gameplay of the previous games is still very much intact, whether looking at the story missions or the side content. Gameplay mechanics that are basically a combination of combat sequences and light puzzle solving is nearly identical to previous games. The critically acclaimed combat system relies on a combination of hard hitting blows and a counter system to offer one of the best hack-n-slash fighting offerings in gaming. It’s fast paced, and varied by way of numerous enemy types introduced through the game’s campaign. The light puzzle solving elements usually rely on you using one of the many different gadgets that Batman carries with him. Whether that be looking for weak spots in walls to find hidden passages, or utilizing the Batclaw or Bat-a-rangs to trigger levers which open your path. WB Montreal also introduces a few new gadgets that you’ll pick up as you take out the assassins one by one. But almost everything you earn in Origins is either lifted outright from the previous games, or re-skinned with minor variations to the functionality.

WB Montreal does add more than just a few gadgets to Batman: Arkham Origins to separate it from its predecessor, namely in the boss battles and nine different Most Wanted side stories that can be tackled. Boss battles play out like one on one fist fights as you make your way through the lineup of assassins that are looking to cash-in on your death. One of these cinematic fight sequences can be found in the gameplay video below, where Batman takes on Deathstroke in one of the game’s early fights.  Not all of the fights are like this, there is some variation to the gameplay as you progress towards the end game, but these fights do separate Arkham Origins from previous games.

Deathstroke Boss Fight

Minor differences aside, there aren’t any real significant changes to the successful formula that Rocksteady has established. With confidence, I can say if you liked Arkham City, you’ll enjoy the hell out of Arkham Origins. Below, you’ll find some open world gameplay from after the story is completed. It shows off the Batcave, and the new fast travel system that allows you to zip around the city without all that pesky gliding and grappling.   Now I say pesky because one of the things that was inexplicably mishandled is in the traversal of the open world. There seems to be many buildings in Origins that you just can’t grapple onto, and it leaves you constantly looking for a nice spot to launch off of.  In Arkham City you could grapple nearly everything, in Origins your grappling tool is more discriminant.  In the video,  you’ll see on the map there’s a ton of objectives to discover as well — much like Arkham City in this respect to the tracking down of side mission content.  These indicators are all things that must be completed to tackle the game’s Most Wanted mission structure.  They are wholly optional in the main storyline, and if you don’t feel like tracking down these things during the story, you don’t have to.

Arkham Origins Single Player Gameplay

Where this single player campaign falls a little short is in the side content. Unlike Arkham City, a game whose side content actually made the world a richer environment, filling in backstory and coloring the world with difficult puzzles to complete and challenges to unlock — Arkham Origins side content feels more like filler than anything. The Riddler Challenges are far less difficult this time around, and it’s probably because of the recycled solutions to many of the traps strewn across Gotham. When coupled with a fairly short single-player storyline, mileage will vary. There is a new game plus option, and a permadeath mode for the true completionist.  You can complete the campaign in around 10 hours without really tackling too much of the side content.  Though if you do opt to pass on the side content, you may only see 20-30% of all the single player content.  It does flesh out the world a bit if you go ahead and do it, but it can be extremely time consuming and monotonous if just for its familiarity — as you can see, the map of Gotham is chocked full of these tasks for you to perform.

Futhermore, some of the liberties that WB Montreal takes with the combat system can frustrating for long time fans.  Namely in the introduction of a new electrified glove mechanic that is unlocked about halfway through the game.  Where fights in the latter part of Arkham City required complete command of Batman’s repertoire of fighting moves, these gloves essentially turn the more advanced fights into button mashing contests while waiting for the gloves charge back up.  It breaks through the shield attackers, enemies with electric prods, and it zaps all of strategy out of the fighting in the latter stages.  The gloves are optional, but when there’s a win button staring you in the face, it’s hard to not use them.

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The build up into the Arkham Asylum story line is fantastic

Arkham Origins’ story rounds out a lot of the unknowns in the previous games.  It’s a different experience because it’s set in a different time for Batman.  Citizens of Gotham are unsure of this new hero.  Is he a vigilante?  Is a hero?  Nobody knows, but the build up into the Arkham Asylum storyline is pretty fantastic, especially if you’ve played the previous games.  If not, Arkham Origins will make you want to.  I don’t know if it has quite the draw for a second playthrough as the previous games, but it does have a lot of aforementioned content to explore after the credits roll.   Challenges modes are back, and they can be played in either single player or online capacity.  These range from fighting arenas where you are scored on using specific types of attacks and combinations.  Predator missions let you tackle rooms full of enemies and use numerous strategies to take down groups.  And then there’s a customizable set of these arenas that allow you to tackle any number of variations on the same premise.    If competing for high scores isn’t your thing though, Splash Damage has been tagged in to offer a full suite of online multiplayer action for Arkham Origins.

Multiplayer

While Arkham Origins single player is derivative of previous games, Arkham Origins multiplayer is anything but.   It’s a unique third person shooter/stealth game mode that puts three teams at each other’s throats.  The Joker leads his gang of thugs, Bane his, and then Batman and Robin are the third team.

Both Bane and Joker’s teams have three players each, the other two players are randomly assigned to Batman and Robin.  The gameplay has each team looking to accomplish a goal of taking out the opposition, the three way tug of war has all teams trying to wipe out the other team’s reinforcements.  As Batman and Robin take down enemies, their intimidation meter rises.  The goal for the heroes is to get the intimidation meter to 100%.  If they are taken out by the other teams, the intimidation level falls.  As they get kills it rises.  Bounties are placed on Bane and Joker’s goons to get more intimidation as you take out the gang leaders.  Batman and Robin have an arsenal of weapons and gadgets to use, and can move through the environment swiftly, using vertical elements to swoop down on their enemies.  Playing as the heroes feels very much like the single player campaign it’s just a tad more sluggish.  It feels quite balanced, probably due to the multiplayer beta that has been running for some time.

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Origins Multiplayer has a lot of potential, but not much else

Bane and Joker’s teams are also trying to take each other out, and take out the heroes for bonus points.  There are capture points throughout the maps, and the three-man teams look to control these points and kill other gang members to reduce the reinforcement levels.  Once the reinforcements are depleted, the game is over.  Along the way numerous drops are laid across the map.  These include grenades, and even the opportunity to control The Joker and Bane themselves.  These super characters have their own special powers, and they’re quite strong against opposing gang members.  Bane can grab and throw enemies for instant kills, and has a devastating rocket launcher that has a large AOE.  The Joker has a couple of guns that take a little more skill to use than the brute force of Bane.  These include a powerful revolver and gun which shoots exploding rounds.  If anything Bane seems to be the stronger of the two, if just because he requires very little finesse to use in a game mode that’s severely lacking in finesse itself.   But it’s incredibly fun to take these legendary comic book characters into the online realm.

Origins has got all the trimmings of modern multiplayer.  An XP and leveling system which leads to unlockable weapons for your customizable characters.  Each gang member can customized with a specific loadout, and new skins for both Batman and Robin can be unlocked as you progress through the mode.  Similar to the Call of Duty’s of the world, XP is tied to in-game accomplishments, and is earned for completing games and winning them will pay you even better. Arkham Origins’ Invisible Predator is not a throw-away mode, and it’s got a lot of potential.  Unfortunately, it just feels a little rough around the edges.  It can be fun in short bursts, or even for a couple of days possibly, but it’s inconceivable to think that this will hold the attention of multiplayer fans as anything other than novelty.  It’s something different for those that want to take that Arkham Origins experience to the online realm, and I thought that it would be far worse than it actually is.  It immediately gave the impressions of something along the lines of what has been seen in Asssassin’s Creed series — a competent multiplayer game mode to go alongside a tried and true single player experience.  While it’s a little short when it comes to maps and modes,( there’s only four maps and one mode) and far from perfect, it’s something to come back to after the single player has been completed.  If Warner Bros intends to keep this a part of the Arkham series, it’s gonna need to see a lot more polish put into the core systems of the game.  At the end of the day, the multiplayer feels like what you would find in a low budget shooter.  Awkward controls and sluggish movement for your characters just don’t match the expected pace of play.

The Verdict

The overwhelming sense that you’ve been here and done this before are unavoidable in Batman: Arkham Origins. Despite an excellent story and a ton of content, there’s very little that has changed in the last two years. Batman: Arkham City being such a good game, and Origins being so similar, makes this game good by default — but it does feel formulaic. If it wasn’t for the exceptional story and tie-ins to the previous games, it would feel almost unnecessary.  Origins has about the type of iteration that you see from yearly franchises, and this could be a disappointment if you were expecting anything different.  The biggest changes that series has seen, such as the multiplayer component, are pretty damn impressive for a first offering,  but it’s too rough around the edges.  WB Montreal proved that the franchise is in capable hands with Rocksteady on the leave, but they did very little to really leave their mark on series, other than competently referencing some of the well-known Batman lore, while sticking to the gameplan that Rocksteady has clearly laid out for them.

"meh"
meh

Batman: Arkham Origins

  • Available On: X360, PS3, PC
  • Published By: Warner Brothers
  • Developed By: Warner Bros. Montreal | Splash Damage
  • Genre: Action Adventure
  • US Release Date: October 25th, 2013
  • Reviewed On: Xbox 360
  • Quote: "The overwhelming sense that you've been here and done this before are unavoidable in Batman: Arkham Origins. Despite an excellent story and a ton of content, there's very little that has changed in the last two years."
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