Batman: Arkham Origins Review

[As Read on GIO.]

Arkham Origins may be the weakest entry in the series in terms of score, however that is not to say the game is without its own strengths as well. In some areas, where Asylum and City fell down and scraped their knees, Origins stands tall. It is in others however, where Rocksteady had no problems, that Warner Bros. finds themselves desperately treading water to stay afloat in the frigid sea. Although this game chronologically takes place before Arkham Asylum, with a younger, less experienced Bruce Wayne as its focal point, and without the hardened badass of Arkham City- there is really no reason why Origins shouldn’t have succeeded or at least broken even with Asylum and City. After all, look at other prequels such as Halo Reach- which is one of the best selling Halo titles to date and received mostly excellent review scores. Of course, that is not to say review scores are everything- but they are of course often helpful to go by, and critical enough to catch most flaws- both stand out ones and more subtle ones. As with the Gotham City setting of this particular Arkham title, the crowd has been quiet thus far- with only a few voices of dissent crying out either for or against Batman and Warner Bros.’ particular vision for the caped crusader. Only time will tell if Rocksteady will be back on the scene to set things right once more, or if Warner will continue the downward spiral or lift the cowl once more into its proper place. As the snowy setting shows though, and as Catwoman famously said not too long ago, there is a storm coming- and it’s honing in on Bruce Wayne and Batman…

Not only have the setting, time period, and developer changed, but the voices we once knew as the Bat and Prince of Clowns have changed hands as well. As with the majority of the game however, this is not a bad thing- as they have done a fine job rolling with it, rather a new and slightly different thing- especially for longtime fans. You might not know the difference so much at first, but there are a few noticeable changes here and there that become increasingly difficult to ignore later on as the game progresses. Sometimes it’s just personalities, while others it’s combat. It just depends. And that’s actually kind of refreshing, even if it doesn’t always work. Mark Hamill finds himself retired in favor of Troy Baker in the persona of the clown prince- by Hamill’s choice on the former. Baker does a fine job staying true to the character that Hamill has essentially helped to create, while adding his own twist occasionally as well. The clown is as lifelike and energetic as usual- which is especially refreshing after his encounter with death in Arkham City. More on that later, if you haven’t played that fine gem of a game. Stepping into the shadow of the caped crusader is Roger Craig Smith as well, who replaces Kevin Conroy as the gravelly voice of the law. Again, he does a fine job interpreting things as his won- while still retaining the main elements of Conroy’s Batman as well. All in all- this origins story is a finely tuned one, and only misses a few beats in terms of story and gameplay, but not much else.

The setting is Christmas-time, the snowy backdrop of the beautiful yet slightly decaying, black skyline of Gotham city is lingering and looming overhead constantly. This simultaneously cheery and foreboding sense will permeate the entire game, in a semi-ironic nod to the Joker who later orchestrates the majority of what was at first Black Mask’s rodeo. This origins story is as much about the Joker and Batman’s first encounters with the man as it is about Batman’s survival and crusade against crime itself. Things start off right away with Batman after Black Mask, attempting to save the life of the current Police Commissioner, Gillian Loeb. You can imagine how this is going to go, seeing as you probably know a bit of Batman lore at least from the Nolan movies if not from the comics themselves. I mean, how do you think Gordon became Commissioner in the next games, eh? But anyway, enough on that. Batman arrives at Blackgate Penitentiary and soon realizes that Black Mask’s schemes extend to killing the Bat as well. In fact, wealthy as his crime network is, he’s willing to pay a sizable amount ($1 million or so) to issue a nice hit on the caped vigilante. Eight special assassins receive the invitation to the hunt a la LucasArt’s Jango Fett Bounty Hunter game, and they eagerly accept. You can guess how that goes.

Not to attempt to spoil things, but the eight assassins are as follows: Bane, who unsurprisingly appears for the third consecutive time; Deadshot, making a larger appearance than in Arkham City; Deathstroke, DC’s Deadpool, who is playable with pre-orders; Copperhead, who hasn’t been seen in an Arkham game until now; Firefly, who has a certain affinity for being true to his name; the little-known Electrocutioner; the crocodillian (made that up) Killer Croc; and martial artist Shiva. Sure, not all of them are actually assassins, but they’re all quite deadly in their own rights. Shiva and Deathstroke are of course the two biggest threats it would seem. Now, this is a slightly different approach than we’ve seen yet in the previous Arkham games- instead of Batman being the predator, he is taking his turn being the prey…at least for some time until he gets a handle on the situation. He doesn’t have to like it, just accept it.

The only sad part about this situation, which sounds pretty solid from a central storyline standpoint, is that it never really takes off as it should. There are so many side-missions and convoluted storyline points going on around town, that they can’t be pulled off or integrated into the main mission as well as they could in Arkham City’s campaign. This lack of focus sometimes is acceptable with the story, as it shows Batman frantically searching for who he should really be focusing on, but that focus doesn’t stick around long enough to really take any sizable root either. Oswald Cobblepot aka the Penguin gets involved, conflict with the Gotham PD a la Amazing Spider-Man arises, the infamous Falcone family strikes a few times, and a rioting gang called Anarky gets involved like Spider-Man 3’s Arsenic Candy and other street gangs. Short answer is, Batman has got a lot on his mind, and little time to really deal with any of it, as he’s constantly fending off attacks from the elusive eight and Black Mask. These storylines are all interesting, and I can’t fault them for being action-packed, it’s just they don’t budget their time as well as the plethora of side content in Arkham City did and aren’t nearly as standalone or able to complete at your leisure. Just when all seems lost however, the bright, shining smile of the Joker clears things up and gets the story moving on the rails again- which is good for us, and most certainly bad for the Bat. Batman will need all of his gadgets and wits and skills to keep this grinning maniac away from him, and thankfully he has many at his disposal still- even in this prequel.

In the combat realm, things remain mostly unchanged in terms of combos, moves, skills, and enemy types. Attacks, counters, cape swipes and strikes, gadgets, and timing are all key here, as in the other Arkham titles. Now, as before, it is possible to chain together massive combos as long as you can avoid being hit or leaping the wrong way and not being near enough to a foe. Knowing when to wuit and to start a new combo adds an air of strategy to the mix as well, instead of the whole game being a min-numbing brawl. The animations are steadily holding the bar of standards and look just as good and as painful as those of the famous neck punches and face smashes of the previous games, all the while sounding as satisfying as ever. You soar across Gotham City much as you do across Arkham City, utilziing your diving, soaring, and gliding techniques in combination with the Batclaw grapnel and thumb sticks. You even manage to through in some detective vision combat moments, pinpointing weaknesses, and highlighting weaker structures as well. Of course, you’re free to use it during detective segments and exploration for secrets as well.

While the gameplay is much the same, and some moments seem ripped in all but name from the other two titles, there are still some sizable thrills to be had and awestriking moments as well. You’ll find yourself abusing the cryptographic sequencer, the batclaw, and the line launcher more than ever for pulling down vents, breaking codes, and getting across convenient chasms. Some new gadgets are thrown in as well, but even these scream Arkham City, and are the same as their counterparts in that vast arsenal. For example- the glue grenade is an exact replica of the freeze grenade from that game, mimicking it in every gameplay aspect, and even going so far as to create waterproof rafts as well. Something tells me glue would fall apart in water, and not be quite as reliable as it is in this game, but science be damned I guess. You even get your hands, or claws, on some gauntlets that send out electrical shocks like the armored edition version of Arkham City provided. If that doesn’t make you feel like the Electrocutioner, I don’t know what will. However, as much of a godsend as these gauntlets are, they also break the normal flow of combat by beating down any type of enemy within a few swift blows, with complete disregard for the strategy earlier employed to take out shielded bad guys and other special foes.

To go with gameplay, although not pertaining so much to combat, Gotham City’s immensity makes for one heck of a vista to travel about and explore. Because it is larger even than the expansive Arkham City, Gotham City offers plenty of easy to grasp ledges and batclaw clamping locations, as well as several fast travel destinations for the batplane and Batman in each major district or area. The one slightly tedious area to travel across in order to get to other areas without using fast travel options is the gigantic Pioneer Bridge- which seemingly goes on forever, and has some hidden spots and nooks as well. Suffice it to say, the architectural feats here are impressive to say the least.

Arkham Origins might not always beat or live up to Arkham City’s standards, but it does try to and somewhat successfully one-up its predecessor in that it boasts a large roster of villains- both in leading, and supporting roles. Black Mask, Deathstroke, Shiva, Bane, Killer Croc, Firefly, Deadshot, Copperhead, Electrocutioner, Joker, Mad Hatter, Riddler, and more show up to rain on the Dark Knight’s parade more than a couple of times. And that’s just to get the party started. Some villains are area specific or moment specific, whereas others have overarching stories, or items for you to search for throughout the game. We even get to break down a few more crimes in rich detail, utilizing the vast array of fantastic gadgets the Bat has at his disposal, and the intuitive skills he possesses. I mean, almost all crime scene investigations are like the Deadshot side quest of Arkham City or better. Isn’t that something to be grateful for?

Not all activities are area specific as I mentioned above. Riddler returns, this time with so-called extortion files as well, scattered about the city for the Bat to find. Even the challenge modes are full to the brim with new medals and new adventures for Batman, and presumably later, for his accomplice Robin as well. Two hundred and eighty-eight gold medals alone, unlockable New Game Plus after having once completed the story, and unlockable I am the Night mode after completing that also await challenge-worthy players. Suffice it to say, the game is as full of content as any in the past, and then some, and then some. It doesn’t lack for trying, and it isn’t all simply based upon interpretation. While it might not break too much new ground, and continues Rocksteady’s trend of good work and gameplay, Origins is a true origins story and while the Bat takes some falls, he survives the others.

Another little highlighted portion of the game, in addition to the excellent challenge modes and the excellent story mode campaigns, is the multiplayer. While this is by far the weakest part of the game, and shows the most lack of polish in terms of controls and gameplay, it is also an interesting prototype for something that could be much more refined in future installments, assuming it isn’t completely scrapped. Sort of like a darker version of Gotham City Imposters, multiplayer offers up intriguing matchups of 2 v. 3 v. 3 with Batman and Robin pitted against two team of three henchman- one from Bane’s territory and the other within Joker’s jurisdiction. Batman and Robin play fine, as they are the center of the game anyway and can stealthily take down enemies with ease, however the henchman really mess things up with their shoddy gunplay and terrible maneuvering. This is rarely the player’s fault, but the fault of the skillsets they have been handed. Getting good enough to embody Joker or Bane themselves is fun and interesting, but playing as the henchmen until that point is demeaning and horrible at most times. Now, that’s not to say it is terrible and impossible to be redeemed, just that it needs some significant work.

The Portable Perspective

Not only is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate an entirely too large subtitled mouthful, but it is a repetitive and uninteresting experience for well over three quarters of its storyline. Slow moving plotlines mirrored by slow moving gameplay hold this game back from at least anything better than mundane or mediocre handheld gameplay. The prison is pretty detailed, but it could use some color change at least every now and then to break free of the grey and gloomy. The sounds and voicework are the highlight of the game, as they seem to be the only two facets not in need of dire help at most times. The gameplay is okay, but hard to get a handle on in the two point five dimensions allowed and the handheld setting. It works, but just barely in some instances. Also, you’ll spend more time scanning areas than actually thinning the ranks of your foes. Exploration is fruitless yet required to progress, and that is the entirety of the game summed up in a nutshell. Pointless, yet required at times. My final score for this version of the game would have to be somewhere between a 6.0 and 6.5 at most.

Now, with this incredibly lengthy and detailed review almost at a close, I believe it is time to give you my final thoughts and the final breakdown for the console and computer versions of Batman: Arkham Origins.

Concept: Provide a pretty thorough and gripping account of the Dark Knight’s first encounter with many of his enemies and his archenemy, the Joker. This is most definitely an origins story, and as with its hero, it is gradually learning from its mistakes as it goes.

Graphics: The attention to detail is impressive, and as with the other Akrham games, it does not disappoint in character animations and models during both set piece moments and normal tasks.

Sound: There isn’t much error to be found in the new voices of the Bat or clown prince, and for that, I am sure many people are thankful. It is new and refreshing, but not alien in the slightest.

Playability: Take Arkham City and its elements and you essentially have the majority of the gameplay here in Origins.

Entertainment: Whether you want to complete the challenges of challenge mode, play through the story to see how things unfold, suffer through multiplayer mayhem, or just beat on some relatively defenseless henchmen, this game proves to be very entertaining indeed. Some achievements might require you to play through the story at least three times and be quite annoying, but as i can attest, it’s all doable and all exciting in the long run.

Replay Value: High.

Overall Score: 8.25

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