The Arkham series has become the gold standard for licensed titles, and comic book games in general. It has also become one of my favorite new series from this current generation of consoles. The third and likely final chapter on this current generation is more of the same I have come to know and love, with a few minor setbacks that keep it from reaching the same fondness of the originals. Part of that is likely due to the fact that a new developer has taken over the reigns, or perhaps more due to the idea that this series hasn’t really progressed much since it was conceived. Still, for those that enjoy the Arkham franchise, this is yet another great entry in the Batman lore.
Origins takes place before the previous two games; hence the tagline. This version features a darker, sloppier Batman. He isn’t as suave as the Kevin Conroy version we have come to know and love, which is readily apparent considering the new voice actor. This Batman is rougher than the current Dark Knight, and most importantly, he makes mistakes. Warner Bros. Montreal delivers that idea perfectly. The new voice actor is more aggressive, even going as far as to taking attitude with his most trusted colleague, Alfred.
The story of Origins starts off with the same plot we have seen for months in the advertising. It is Christmas Eve and Black Mask has put a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head. Of course, it wouldn’t be an Arkham game without a clever twist, which happens about five hours into the campaign. I can’t say it is overly original or groundbreaking, but being a huge fan of the lore, I giggled with delight upon its unveiling. Seeing Batman meet some of his most famous villains for the first time is certainly a treat for fans.
Not everything fits into place though. How Batman had so many gadgets that he somehow forgot about before Asylum takes place is jarring. Some of the writing is a little sloppy for the series’ standards, and some of the characters are a bit too obscure for the mainstream. With that said though, I still remained glued to the end wondering how things would play out, and it is worth noting that the sequence after the twist involving Batman and a certain other character, is by far my favorite sequence in the series to date. No spoilers incoming.
Beyond the story, not much else has changed. This is an Arkham game, for better or worse. Batman still glides around the city, progressing the story and fighting crime. The addition of bounty boss fights is a cool idea, but fizzles out early on. Nothing really matches the Deathstroke encounter for the rest of the game, and some encounters can even be tedious at times. Batman does get some cool new gadgets to play with though, including a gun that can tether enemies together, or even to fire hydrants for hilarious results.
In addition to the story there are a bevy of side items to complete. Riddler returns with packages instead of trophies, as well as guarding towers that allow Batman to fast travel around the city. Adding in a quick way to traverse came in handy, even if I did have to clear out all the spots before using them.
There are also side missions that feature specific villains. For example the Mad Hatter is introduced through a song and dance by his henchmen in an alley. Once opened up, I could take on his missions at my leisure. Some of these are interesting such as Jervis Tetch’s, while others like The Penguin’s, are glorified fetch quests. Random crimes will also crop up around the city and involve taking down a group of thugs using the superlative combat. There is a lot to see and do in Arkham Origins, but a lot of it is still filler errands.
Speaking of combat, things haven’t changed much here either. It is still super smooth and responsive, and performing large combos or taking on 10-15 thugs is never an issue. My small gripe is that the game never bothers to give a refresher on the advanced pieces of combat through the story. I had to go into the menus to be reminded of how to use gadgets and such during fights. Still, there has yet to be a game that offers up such satisfying melee combat, and Origins continues to make me feel like the Batman.
The stealth sections also return with Batman being thrown into a room with armed thugs, and having to take them down. These segments were always tense and fun, but the addition of a couple new gadgets makes them almost effortless. The tether gun lets Batman string enemies to gargoyles without having to be near them. Combine that with the disruptor, which disables firearms, and these rooms become a breeze. I rarely died due to stupid mistakes, in fact, the only annoyance in these rooms is when one of the enemies was carrying a jammer that blocked my detective vision. Taking him out first was always a priority.
Detective mode also received a small upgrade, which is sorely underused. Batman can once again investigate certain crime scenes to figure out what happened. I could now rewind and fast-forward scenarios to figure out exactly what went down. Sadly these are pretty straight-forward, with solutions being highlighted with giant red arrows. I really wish the developers would spend some more focus on the detective aspect of Batman, it would help wash away some of the monotony of constantly fighting thugs.
In addition to the massive campaign, challenge maps also make a return. These are pretty standard fare featuring both combat and stealth sections. I love that I can play as other characters, and of course the combat was addictive once I started getting back into the swing of things.
New to this iteration though is an online multiplayer game developer outside of the rest of the title. The premise is clever, with two teams basically playing out a team deathmatch against each other. The catch is that two players are selected to become the third team; Batman and Robin. So not only did I have to worry about taking down my rivals, I also had to consider that Batman and his trusty sidekick could be stalking me at any moment. Where this mode falls apart is that playing as a thug is just not fun. I mean who doesn’t want to be on the Batman team? Combined with mediocre shooting mechanics, this mode lost steam after only a few short matches.
Visually, Origins looks much like its predecessors. The city of Gotham feels dark and lifeless though. I began to wonder if people really lived here, or if it was just a playground for Batman and his villains. Frame rate takes a hit from time to time when gliding around the city, but it isn’t horrendous. I am still not a fan of Batman’s stiff posture and walk, it just feels awkward. It is also jarring that some of the character designs are different from the previous games.
Sound wise everything is stellar. The voice acting is top-tier, and the soundtrack fits the mood well. I also have to compliment the sound design. Punches felt impactful and the ambiance of the world is extremely well done.
Arkham Origins is not a bad game, in fact, it is really well made. The problem is that it feels like a lateral move for the series. Whether that is due to the shoehorning of multiplayer or the developer wanting to play it safe, this is an Arkham game, for better or worse. If you are OK with that statement, and are not tired of the series, there is plenty here to enjoy. Batman aficionados like me will really enjoy the second and third act of the story, and no one can tell you there isn’t a plethora of content to be had here. It just feels very familiar to anyone who has played the original entries.
Review copy of game provided by publisher. Primary play on Xbox 360.