Published on November 8th, 2013 | by Malcolm Spinedi2
Batman: Arkham Origins Review
Summary: Batman: Arkham Origins was fun to play. A lot of the familiar mechanics are there, and you still feel like the Bat. The origin story for the Arkham universe (while failing to take any real chances) did its job in explaining most of the important stuff, and giving you an exciting ride from beginning to end. However, as great as everything was, it felt like an Arkham game on cruise control. WB Montreal did a great job copying its predecessors, but the end result was it felt like you were playing a by the numbers Arkham game. While the by the numbers still meant a fun experience, it was bogged down by terrible bugs that could have been fixed if they gave themselves more time. There was a great experience and game in here, but perhaps it’s one you should experience after some patches.
To say Batman: Arkham Origins was an anticipated game is an understatement. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were both phenomenal, and proved once and for all that comic book video games could work if you actually put in the time and care. Batman: Arkham Origins had big acts to follow and expectations were high. The previous entries were both game of the year contenders and highly rated. Was Batman: Arkham Origins able to continue this pattern? Well, the end result was that it may not be the Batman game we deserved, and it may not be the game we needed either.
Batman: Arkham Origins took place two years after Bruce Wayne first put on the cape and cowl, and became the Dark Knight. Mob kingpin Black Mask put up a $50,000,000 bounty to 8 vicious assassins and anyone else who can kill the Bat. This game focused on the night everything changed, and Batman got his first taste of super villains. Batman met many famous DC villains for the first time; including Deathstroke, Bane, Killer Croc, and yes, The Joker. The story itself actually flowed nicely. From the moment you hit start, you were suiting up, climbing into the Batwing, and off to fight crime. This pace continued throughout the entire game, and it made for a wonderful tone.
WB Montreal also has to be given kudos for how nicely they handled some of the characters. It was wonderful to see Bane not being a neanderthal, but the intelligent tactician he actually is. It was great seeing Deathstroke going toe to toe with Batman, and being the most difficult boss in the game. Finally, seeing the interactions between Joker and Batman were the most memorable experiences of Batman: Arkham Origins. A lot of the credit has to goes to the voice actors as well. For those upset about Mark Hamill or Kevin Conroy not returning, calm down. Troy Baker’s Joker, while taking a lot from Mark Hamill’s past performances, was incredible, and the clown prince of crime was played to perfection. Roger Craig Smith, while a little on the Christian Bale side, dif a nice job of playing a young and inexperienced Batman.
The interactions between characters was great and felt like it was lifted straight from the comic book. Batman’s interactions with Gordon, Joker, and others are done perfectly and were very true to the comic. The best of these back and forths were the interactions between Alfred and Batman, which take a lot from the animated series. Seeing the sarcastic side of Alfred come out again was fun and refreshing, and made you want to travel back to the Bat Cave whenever you can.
However, and this will be the case for much of the review, there were bad features to the story too. After two previous titles with stories that felt very cinematic, it was awkward to have one with story that felt like a generic video game cliché. Ever hear the one about “a protagonist that has to take down 8 bosses before facing the main boss”? The basic level of this story made it difficult to lose yourself, and this failure prevented Batman: Arkham Origins from leaving the impression that its two predecessors did before.
Also, did you notice that credit was given to how Batman: Arkham Origins handled “some” of the characters? That was because while they did a great job of handling the major characters (like Batman, Joker, Bane, etc), the same focus and attention was not given to all the characters. Remember those 8 assassins? What if I told you that you did not need to beat them all to finish Batman: Arkham Origins? That more than a few have them were mere side quest characters and that the main story fails to ever acknowledge them past the opening? Or that one of the big bad assassins doesn’t even get a proper boss fight? Which raises the question, if they were not going to focus on all eight assassins, then why were there 8 assassins?
Then there’s the issue with the Joker, which we cannot go too much into. I will say he continued his role as the best villain ever. This was not just due to Troy Baker’s performance, but due to the writing. This was unfortunate, as the constant focus on the Joker is starting to get old. Batman has a whole rogue’s gallery of villains. Surely one of them could hatch a scheme at least once?
The conundrum of the 8 assassins is, unfortunately, an analogy for the whole game, as Batman: Arkham Origins was full of missed opportunities. If the Iron Man movie proved anything, it was that a B-Level character could become an A-level one if you give him the attention they need. The Arkham franchise is a great opportunity to get some new villains over, and put them right up there with Joker. However, this will never happen as long as they insist on keeping the spotlight on Joker, and giving bit roles to the other characters At this pace, the franchise’s reliance on Joker will never end.
Take for instance Deathstroke, which leading up to the release Batman: Arkham Origins was advertised like he was a major focus. The character could too, as his fighting skills and intelligence is considered on par with Batman. There was a great opportunity to tell story here with Batman having to find some way to beat him. However, what you got was Deathstroke walking in, starting a fight, you winning, and he’s never heard from again. Worse yet he is only the second boss. It ends up feeling like they included him just because they wanted the name value, fed him to Batman, and cast him aside. Sadly, he is not the only guy they failed to capitalize with.
The gameplay of Batman: Arkham Origins was fun, as it stayed true to the formula of the Arkham franchise. The combat was still as slick as ever, and did a great job making you feel like the Batman. While there have been some complaints about the there being a decrease in time for you to counter moves, it was never noticed in the course of this review. Batman had all his old tricks still available for combat as well, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.
The curse stems from the fact that all of Batman’s tricks are old tricks. Everything (with the exception of the Shock Gloves) was a trick or device from the previous games. They even tried making “new” items that were actually just old items in disguise. For instance, the Glue Bomb was essentially just the ice grenade from Arkham City. The lack of innovation from a franchise so well known for innovation was quite discouraging, and led to Batman: Arkham Origins feeling like a repeat for most of it.
However, if Batman: Arkham Origins did do something right that the previous two games struggled with, that was making great boss fights. In the past, it felt like no villain had any business challenging Batman. Batman: Arkham Origins proved that isn’t the case, and gave you more than a few villains capable of holding their own with Batman. While challenging, the battle with Deathstroke went exactly as you imagine it would. The battle with Firefly was like watching a DC animated movie play out, and it was exhilarating.
The normal fights in Batman: Arkham Origins however, got old after awhile. At first it was great. The same joy you got was there, and it was fun to play. Then they kept shoving fight after fight on you. Worse yet, they tended to pile on an armada of enemies each time. These fights came up so much that it felt like they were thrown in to have something there. Resulting in the fights becoming more tedious than fun, to a point where you started to avoid them.
Also on the disappointing side was the world map. While it was bigger than previous entries and had a good chunk of Gotham City in it, it also felt really dead. This was due to the fact that there are no people in it at all, with the exception of thugs. Everyone in Gotham was a crook, and needed to be beaten up. Even worse was Batman: Arkham Origins‘ in-game story explanation that there was a curfew, which was ridiculous. Previous titles made sense because they were either in a single location or a closed off area of Gotham. If Arkham wants to cover Gotham, they have to include the citizens too. Also not making sense is the fact you could not explore certain areas of the map. There were roofs that you could not grapple to, obstacles that you were not able to hop over, and invisible barriers that you could not go past; and they all made no sense. Another terrible instance is how the game tells you that you could not go further in a direction and a strong gust of wind blows you back. Yes, the terrifying Batman is beaten by a gust of wind.
Batman: Arkham Origins had plenty of content, especially with the side quests. There are so many side quests, that they made up more than half the game and eclipsed the story itself. While some of these were fun, some of them, once again, fail to innovate. The Black Mask and Penguin quests were just rehashes of Bane’s side quests from Arkham City. The Mad Hatter was only put in because they needed the obligatory crazy level. Even Anarky’s missions were just rehashes of Victor Zsasz’s missions from Arkham City.
That is another sin of Batman: Arkham Origins in that there was no innovation. Everything was a reiteration of something that was in the previous games. This is true for such a large portion of Batman: Arkham Origins that it felt like the mentality was “We have only X amount of time, lets just re-apply the good stuff from the previous games to what we want to do.” It was disheartening to see something like this from a franchise that innovated many games after it’s release.
That being said, Batman: Arkham Origins was still a fun experience. As many issues as I had with lack of innovation and inconsistencies with the story, it’s still tells an amazing story, and makes you feel like the Bat. While they did rehash a lot of beats from the past, those beats were still (at least for now) fun to see through. In fact the series did do some little things that were appreciated. For instance, The Riddler (called Enigma here) hid files to extort people around Gotham instead of trophies. This made total sense for the character, and helped you lose yourself in the hunt. The combat training in the Bat Cave was also great for perfecting your combat skills, as well as getting some more experience. It was also nice to once again feeling like you are doing something that Batman would do. On top of this, there was even a new game plus, and an “I am The Night” for hardcore fans of the game.
Batman: Arkham Origins still had that fantastic that gothic look that worked so well with the character. Combined with the Tim Burton era style of music for Batman, and the game is still top notch, least when it’s fully up and going. There were some minor issues with frame rates as it took a while to fully pixilate in many of the scenes. This sadly was not the only glitch that was found.
Finally, it is impossible to talk about Batman: Arkham Origins without mentioning the bugs that plague it. These bugs ranged from Batman looking like he was breathing out of his neck to Batman suddenly falling through the floor in a level to game saves being wiped out. In the course of this review, the following glitches, were faced:
- The game forgetting a checkpoint, and setting us back an objective.
- The sound and the picture not matching up during fast travel.
- Forgetting relay stations were destroyed, making us go back and destroy them again.
- Multiple freezes throughout Batman: Arkham Origins.
- Batman getting stuck in mid-air due to two awkwardly placed objects.
Batman: Arkham Origins was hardly the first game to be glitchy, but when saves and checkpoints are getting lost, then you have a game that should have been delayed to work them out. Granted these glitches could be solved in future patches, but it is terrible that they even released Batman: Arkham Origins with these glitches. These problems were enough to be the difference between buying it and keeping it or not bothering with it. This was a tragedy since Batman: Arkham Origins is not a bad game, and could have been worth a purchase, even with the other issues, but the bugs now put it on the borderline.
Batman: Arkham Origins was fun to play. A lot of the familiar mechanics are there, and you still feel like the Bat. The origin story for the Arkham universe (while failing to take any real chances) did its job in explaining most of the important stuff, and giving you an exciting ride from beginning to end. However, as great as everything was, it felt like an Arkham game on cruise control. WB Montreal did a great job copying its predecessors, but the end result was it felt like you were playing a by the numbers Arkham game. While the by the numbers still meant a fun experience, it was bogged down by terrible bugs that could have been fixed if they gave themselves more time. There was a great experience and game in here, but perhaps it’s one you should experience after some patches.
Editor’s Note: The copy of Arkham Origins for PS3 was not provided by PR.