Batman: Arkham Origins’ reveal came out of nowhere and caught many gamers by surprise. No one was expecting another Arkham game so soon after Arkham City (2011 release), which both gamers and comic book fans alike have deemed to be one of the greatest video games based on a comic book franchise. Thanks to the wild popularity of Rocksteady’s Batman Akrham franchise though, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Warner Bros. wanted to cash in on the series one more time before the next generation of game consoles hit retail.
To do so the company turned to its internal WB Montreal studio to take over the Arkham reigns, which caused concerns amongst long time fans of the franchise. Could WB Montreal execute the same level of polish that Rocksteady first introduced in Akrham Asylum and City? That question was asked by thousands of gamers, and after playing through Origins, the answer still isn’t clear.
Batman: Arkham Origins (B:AO) takes place during Bruce Wayne’s second year of cosplay inspired vigilantism, and recounts a fateful Christmas Eve from his past that helped to shape him into the force we come to know him to be in Asylum and City. Gotham’s police and criminal factions still don’t even know if Batman exists, and neither group trusts his true intentions. His tale as Gotham’s caped crusader is in its fledgling state, which provides an interesting take on the character in the video game space. This is also what led to the game’s best feature, which is its story.
The plot of B:AO is focused on the Black Mask’s plan to consolidate his underground power by eliminating the Batman threat. To do so he hires a group of formidable assassins straight out of the DC Comics vault to wipe Batman’s cowl from the face of Gotham’s streets and skylines. The assassins feature name stays from the other Arkham games like Bane and Killer Croc, but a few lesser known villains get their turn in the spotlight such as Firefly and Copperhead. While Batman chases down Black Mask and his crew he eventually crosses paths with each assassin, providing for a few defined boss fights sprinkled throughout the relatively short campaign. Each fight helps to break up the monotony of the button mashing focused gameplay found in B:AO, and a few in particular like Deathstroke offer a compelling challenge to your skills.
Ultimately, the assassins end up playing second fiddle to Arkham Origins’ introduction of the Joker, and for a good reason, but their inclusion did end up feeling secondary by the end of the game. That’s semi-excusable thanks to the quasi-origin story told about the Joker and Batman’s ongoing relationship, which sheds light on the inner workings of the two’s odd symbiotic bond. The tale begs the question of did Batman’s actions awaken the Joker, or would the Joker’s insanity eventually cause him to do what he does without Bruce Wayne’s Batman to play his foil? It’s a conundrum that many die hard Batman fans may have thought about to themselves, so it’s nice to see a video game tackle the concept, and in an entertaining fashion.
Unfortunately for the story of Batman: Arkham Origins, the gameplay and technical issues let it down, causing the overall fun factor of the game to take a steep hit. The gameplay is virtually identical to Arkham City, in fact it’s so similar that it doesn’t even feel like you’re playing a new entry in the franchise. The only major difference to the gameplay formula is the inclusion of fast travel, a few new Bat gadgets, and a more detailed CSI facet to solving crimes. None of the “innovations” are ground breaking, and the enhanced crime solving segments end up feeling tedious and repetitive, while the new toys don’t really offer game changing experiences. The combat is nothing more than an exercise in button mashing, which after two previous games is starting to feel stale. It also doesn’t feel as responsive as it did in City, which leads to many broken combos and a few cheap deaths.
What’s even worse than the repetitive gameplay is the fact that Arkham Origins features its fair share of nasty glitches. The most egregious is its penchant for freezing mid game, sometimes corrupting saves that could erase hours of time spent playing the game. Luckily this event only happened to me twice while playing, and neither time did I lose my save, but bugs of this nature are inexcusable in any form whether they affect you or not. The game also stuttered during a few of the cinematic cutscenes, effectively breaking up the immersion of being the Dark Knight.
WB Montreal made sure to cram in all sorts of side missions to accompany the main narrative, but unlike the previous games, it’s never clear if completing these missions add value to Batman’s overall quest. Most of them pop up after chance encounters with NPCs, and before you know it a few others will appear, effectively cluttering up your in-game map with missions to complete that don’t really effect the end game. I would have liked more of these missions to be critical to the end game, which would have added much more time to B:AO’s overall single player campaign that clocks in relatively short to the other two games.
Batman: Arkham Origins is far from a bad video game, but thanks to its lineage it has been held to a higher standard than most video games. Its story is solid, but it gets overshadowed by the muddy side missions, technical glitches, and stale gameplay that flesh out the experience. Origins does offer a unique take on multiplayer, but there’s not enough people playing to really make it a worthy addition to the package. Batman fans will surely overlook its more glaring errors thanks to the subject matter, but gamers will not be so forgiving with some of its more dire issues.
Review statement: The reviewer purchased a copy of this game for the Xbox 360 for the purpose of this review.
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