The Arkham series (Arkham Asylum, Arkham City and, now, Arkham Origins) has, over the last 4 years, reinvigorated Batman as a serious game. Arguably, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are the best superhero games in recent memory. Unlike most superhero games, they were not just spin-offs of films. They were made with real love of the Batman Universe. They made playing Batman cool again. And it should be cool. I mean, you’re playing as Batman. Superb fighting mechanics, beautiful artwork and a real passion for Batman made the first two titles the standout superhero games of the departing generation. Arkham Origins, then, has some pretty big boots to fill.
With a build-up like that, I suppose it’s rather inevitable what I say next; Arkham Origins does not live up to the previous games. Now, before ya’ll start getting your pitchforks and torches out, I’m not saying it’s bad. It’s actually very solid. It just doesn’t quite match the excellence of the last two games.
Batman: Arkham Origins
As you may have already surmised, Origins take place prior to Asylum. No prizes there. But it’s not really an origin (small ‘o’) story in the traditional sense. It’s not about Batman’s origins. Instead, it introduces us to the relationships between Batman and various villains as well as the uneasy alliance with James Gordon. While the actual plot of Origins is fairly weak (a mob boss has put a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head and a whole bunch of supervillains turn up to try and claim it), the exploration of the relationships that Batman has with his enemies and allies alike is interesting. The game also touches on Batman’s internal conflicts, although it’s a shame that this wasn’t looked at in more detail. One of the best moments of Batman: Arkham Origins is the depiction of the first meeting between Batman and The Joker. You come away filled with a sense that this is the beginning of an epic rivalry. By the way, the voice actor for The Joker – Troy Baker, Mark Hammill’s replacement, is superb.
If it ain’t broke…
As I already mentioned, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City had a brilliant, fluid, intuitive, meaty combat system. Nothing has changed in this regard. It’s a simple two button affair–one to attack and one to counter. Attacking and countering artfully across a room full of hired thugs still gives me that simple thrill I loved so much in the first two games: I’m muthaf*ckin Batman! Building up combos leads to powerful finishing moves which look awesome as the camera pans in slow motion. Stringing together these combos isn’t a case of frantic button mashing. It’s a steady, rhythmic style of fighting that rewards patience and timing. As you progress through the game you’ll come across enemies that require different tactics. You’ll have to maneuver behind the ones carrying riot-shields, for example, and when you come across enemies with guns it’s best to avoid direct confrontation all-together. Keeping to the shadows and swooping down to pick off unsuspecting enemies is delightful. Again, it does what the last two games before it also did; it makes you feel like Batman.
If Origins has the same strengths as its predecessors, it also has the same weaknesses. Boss fights, with one or two noticeable exceptions are rather bland affairs and the combat mechanics remain virtually the same through-out. In one boss-fight, the game resorts to some rather cheap quick-time events – of which I am not a fan at all. The redeeming feature of the boss fights are the characters involved. Fighting super-villains such as Bane is always going to be cool.
Batman: Arkham Origins falls down because it does not offer anything original. Honestly, it adds nothing to the franchise. I guess some new scenery and characters are as good an excuse as any to take to the streets of Gotham again, but this is the kind of thing DLC is normally used for. Arkham Asylum was a revelation in terms of combat, story, and general awesomeness. Arkham City’s brilliance was that it took those components and placed them out of the confines of the Asylum and into an open world setting. Looking at Origins, it’s difficult to find any similar brilliance.
Yes, the game world is slightly bigger. But that doesn’t add anything significant to the game. In some ways, the larger map is something of an irritation because it takes such a long time to traverse. You are forced to unlock fast-travel points scattered throughout. The size of the map was never a problem with Arkham City. It was so dense with things to do, you hardly noticed. The map in Origins feels rather empty and a little lifeless. You never once come across normal citizens going about there business. It feels like a ghost-town. In Arkham City this sorta made sense – a part of the city had been blocked off and handed over to the criminals. A smattering of friendly or indifferent NPCs would have gone a long way to creating a lived-in, believable world.
There is a smattering of new gadgets and toys that you get to play with, but again–nothing extraordinary. The tried and tested mechanics are still brilliant; that much is true, but they’ve now become predictable and expected. I want something new, something I can coo and fawn over, something that makes me sit forward in my chair and pay attention. Arkham Origins feels so familiar its almost as if I’m replaying Arkham City.
More importantly, Batman: Arkham Origins just seems to have been made with significantly less love for the Batman Universe than the previous titles. Arkham City was brimming with little Easter eggs and secrets that were a joy to find. Remember finding Scare Crow’s gas canisters? Or Harley Quinn’s pregnancy test? These little Easter eggs were brilliant and really incentivized exploration. Arkham Origins has none of these gems and really loses something that made the previous games special as a result.
There is, of course, multiplayer. On paper, it sounds rather fun. Two teams of thugs duke it out for supremacy while two players take on the role of Batman and Robin. It’s an interesting set-up. Playing as one of the thugs, you have to watch out not only for the opposing team but also the superheroes swooping down and dealing death from above. It has potential for sure and is something I think we’ll definitely see fully fleshed out in the next game. (I think we can all safely assume there will be a next one.) As it stands, however, the shooting and movement feels clunky and slow. It’s something that may be enjoyable for an evening or two for the sheer novelty.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a good game. The mechanics that made the first two games so spectacular have not been changed and the story is more than enough of an excuse to become the caped crusader once again. It just feels so familiar. If I’m being honest, it feels a little bit like filler while we wait for the next generation of Arkham games.
7/10 If you enjoy the Arkham series, you’ll enjoy this. Just don’t expect to be blown away.
Superb combat mechanics make you feel like Batman
Plenty to do besides the main story-line
Interesting character development
You are Batman
A copy and paste of previous games
Multiplayer is not fully fleshed out
Uninteresting boss fights
The city feels life-less