I will be blunt; I really really wanted to love Batman: Arkham Origins. I grew up on Batman in both print and screen forms, so the Arkham Games have always been fantastic experiences for me as a fan. Unfortunately, Arkham Origins, while still a great game, fails to meet the expectations of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Features largely unchanged gameplay mechanics, a plot that while fantastic for fans can sometimes get a little shaky, (including characters that sometimes feel shoehorned in), and a wealth of technical issues, Origins leads itself to being the weakest installment in the Arkhamverse.
Batman Arkham Origins tells the story of Bruce during his second year of crime fighting. Here he is young, brash, and emotional, while still lurking in the shadows and fighting muggers and typical street crime. We rarely get to see the side of Bruce before his life is bogged down by criminals like Two-Face or Scarecrow, let alone when he is still an urban legend to most of the people in Gotham. This urban legend styled Batman is an awesome way to approach the character, and really allowed the developers to create the sense of fear that Batman has always aimed to inspire in criminals (many of those criminals actually think the Caped Crusader is a demon here in Arkham Origins).
All of the promotional material leading up to the game implied heavily that it was focused around the 8 assassins that had descended on Gotham one Christmas Eve to take down the Bat. While the assassins to play a substantial role, this really is another Joker story at its core. The assassins all do play their role, but many of them are not necessary. I felt that Copperhead and Electrocutioner were shoehorned into the plot, and two other assassins were actually side-missions with no bearing on the campaign. of all eight assassins, only Bane, Firefly and Deathstroke really get any spotlight.
Deathstroke’s boss battle in particular is actually a thing of beauty and aside from being a lot of fun to play, looks and feels like a fight sequence out of a martial arts movie. Slade and Bruce evenly go one on one against each other, dodging, countering and parrying each others moves before resorting to the gadgets and tricks against one another. It is also a relatively difficult encounter and makes for a great challenge for players. The only downside is that it is so early on in the game, and Slade isn’t seen again until the very end.
There is one section at the end of the game’s second act that I cannot go into details about without spoiling large chunks of the game, but is by FAR one of my favourite story sections in all of gaming. It involves a deep and introspective look at a certain famous character, and as a Batman fan, really was a joy to experience.
All in all as a take on Batman’s early years it is very well crafted. There is a little bit of congestion though, with all of the various rogues gallery members that appear. aside from the aforementioned assassins, we have Black Mask, Joker, Enigma, Anarky, Penguin and Mad Hatter all featured either in the plot, or in side-missions, bringing the total number of rogues gallery members to a staggering 14. Not to mention the allusions and introductions of characters before they have turned into their alter egos. This really is Batman’s busiest night ever, and one hell of a way for him to be introduced to the world of super-criminals.
The game’s plot is filled with plot twists and turns at every corner, and while many of these twists are pretty easy to predict, it is still great to watch the story unfold. Using plot twists and cliffhangers during the middle of the story really helps liken the game to a comic book, where at the end of every chapter you are left with either a twist to leave your mouth agape, or a cliff hanger to have you buying the next issue. The same is true here, except you already own the whole game. You will want to keep playing to find out where the story is heading now, and what will happen to the characters along the way.
Sadly, the plot is filled with a lot of Deus Ex Machinas, and other plot devices that just repeat themselves, often in the same fashion. Batman’s use of the shock gauntlets to save lives happens twice in relatively quick succession, each preceded by him remembering the same thing. What is interesting and exciting the first time (even if it is an obvious action) becomes boring and bland with repetition.
Here is where the game struggles, and it pains me to say that, because no matter how good a game’s story or presentation are, if it struggles in gameplay then you have a problem. A lot of Arkham Origins comes from the previous two games, and for the most part you will either be gliding around the streets of Gotham, taking out gangs of thugs in massive brawls, or sneaking through air vents and silently eliminating them.
Arkham Origins is still fun, but relies heavily on what has come before it, almost copy/pasting the free-flow 2.0 combat system from Arkham City straight into their game. While it is still fluid, fast-paced, exciting to watch and fun, there is nothing new here when it comes to fighting bad guys. One major drawback that also comes from the combat system is that the game seems to imply that you have played the previous two and remember all of the different combo attacks. Had I not spent countless hours with Arkham City, I would not know how to permanently destroy an enemy’s weapon, or worst of all even finish off a grounded thug. The game chooses to tell you simple hints like how to punch and counter your opponent, but not how to finish them off, which is often vital for scoring high combos.
The combo scoring system has changed here, and aims to really bring to light a lot of the more in-depth moves and techniques that players can do. In past games, these advanced techniques usually weren’t discovered until you had finished the game and were in the challenge maps. Now, you are scored at the end of each encounter depending on factors like; difficulty of encounter, score multiplier , number of times hit, different moves used etc. This makes the player try harder during the game, especially as this combo score feeds directly into the amount of XP that you earn.
XP is used to purchase upgrades for Batman and his gadgets. In previous games it wasn’t unheard of to have completely maxed out your character by the halfway point. The implementation of the combo based XP system means that likely wont be the case, and you will still be upgrading your Caped Crusader long after you finish the main plot. Some of the gadgets are also unlocked by completing various specific challenges, like taking out a particular assassin or completing a predator stalking mission without being seen (the latter of which unlocks the series-regular sonic Baterang).
The game’s length is also incredibly short in comparison to past installments. The campaign can be finished in around 10 hours, and the side missions all up don’t take too much longer. It is also far easier than Arkham Asylum or Arkham City. The puzzles aren’t as in-depth, and the encounters aren’t as challenging. Playing on normal difficulty, I died a grand total of five times, and two of those were just to see what witty retorts the villains would make once they had ended me. The change in difficulty isn’t too bad though, as once you have beaten the game you can try out the game’s “I am the Night” mode, which gives you one life to complete the whole experience.
The lessened difficulty also applies to the Enigma Challenges (previously Riddler Challenges). In Arkham City some of these challenges were downright infuriating, taking time and precision to complete. While there are some difficult data-packs (this game’s answer to riddler trophies) to unlock, many of them are solvable without wanting to throw the controller in frustation. There also feels like there is a lot less of them this time around, which is surprising considering the game’s almost 2x larger map.
While there are less Riddler/Enigma challenges, they are replaced by crime scene reconstructions. Here, Batman will use his detective vision to find out intricate details of the crime, and by linking up with the Bat Computer in the Batcave, will be able to digitally reconstruct the crime to discover how and why it went down. This if fun, and usually involves Batman rewinding and fast-forwarding the reconstruction to find out where particular pieces of evidence may be placed. This becomes less fun when you can physically see where the evidence is, but you cannot interact with it until you have discovered it through the reconstruction. I personally spent five minutes looking at the shell casing I was trying to find before rewinding the crime scene to a point where it would let me interact with it.
The Multiplayer component for Arkham Origins different, and enjoyable for what it is. The mode has two opposing gang teams (Joker vs Bane) with their 3 man squads squaring off against each other in typical third person shooter fashion. Like most third person shooters, as you level up and play more matches you are given more options to customise the look and playstyle of your soldier, including weapons loadouts and gadgets available to you. Many of these gadgets are similar to single-player abilities, like “enhanced vision” etc. What really separates this game mode from others is that there are also two players operating in the shadows as the Dynamic Duo: Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin are tasked with eliminating the gang members from shadows, grates and vantage points while they are busy occupying themselves with each other. Additional points are awarded for killing a member of the Dynamic Duo, which leads to further XP gain at the end of the match.
The other defining feature is that after a certain point, players are able to open a door and either become The Joker or Bane. The player who reaches the door first becomes their gang’s leader, and gives them a wealth of additional powers and abilities. The Joker is overpowered, but Bane is just an absolute monster. This can really shift the balance of the game heavily on the favour of whoever gets their gang leader (Especially if that leader is Bane… Bane just destroys opposing teams).
Arkham Origins does suffer from one repeating and horrible issue however; the game has a tendency to lock up and completely freeze. These freezes are random, unpredictable and can occur no matter what you are doing. Gliding over a bridge, freeze. Changing discs to play multiplayer, freeze. Loading up the game’s main menu, freeze. There is no rhyme or reason to it, and it really detracts from gameplay (not only because you have to depower your console just to play again). It is especially troublesome when these happen in quick succession one after another. I was forced to power off my console and wait for it to power off completely three times in under an hour. Aside from the freezing and crashing, the game also suffers from some serious frame rate issues at parts. The game can often slow down to a crawl when there are too many thugs on screen (which happens more and more as you progress through the story).
Visually, Arkham Origins is quite a nice game to look at, but it is still not on par with its predecessor. Despite the fact that the games share many of the same locations, Arkham City’s map just feels more alive, and is better to look at. Snow is used a lot as not only a storyline element (it is Christmas Eve after all), but also to cover up a lot of the map, which leads to this white layer on a lot of things. It looks nice, but is also very stagnant and stationary, there are no footprints left in the snow or slight built up on defeated thugs, which makes it feel more like a device to obscure the player from things.
While the backdrops and settings aren’t as great as their predecessor, a lot has to be said for the character models. Each character looks like they were hand crafted to perfection, and still retain their traditional comic book look, while also looking original and different, and like they belong in this dark iteration of the Batman Universe. Characters also look different to how they do in later games, due to this title’s status as a prequel, so you can see how they grow and develop from where they are now, to where they will be in Arkham City.
Batman himself is a perfect example of this, and his suit is thicker, bulkier and scarier looking that his AA or AC attire. This has the bonus of making him look totally bad-ass, but also you can see that he is inexperienced, and still has a long way to go before he is the Dark Knight that we know him to be.
The voice work for the Arkham Games is always beyond reproach, and thankfully Arkham Origins is no exception to the rule. The cast here are made up of a variety of Arkham alums, previous Batman related media voice actors, and newcomers to the series. Alums like Nolan North’s cockney Penguin really, Tara Strong’s Dr. Harleen Quinzel and Martin Jarvis’ Alfred stand alongside Robert Costanzo’s Detective Harvey Bullock (Costanzo voiced the character in Batman: The Animated Series), and Mark Rolston’s Deathstroke to create a game that looks and feels like a Batman game should.
Roger Craig Smith steps into the role as Batman for the first time here, and although it isn’t the best performance of his career, he manages to deliver a take on the Dark Knight that fits in with the story. Smith’s take on batman goes from one extreme to the other; sounding calm and almost identical to his Chris Redfield voice, or on the opposite end of the spectrum, being more gravelly than Christian Bale’s take on the character. This inconsistency in his voice portrayal really helps set the tone of the game though, as this is a Batman who is still young, still brash, still finding his identity, and most importantly still very emotional, the wide range of voices portrayed here really works.
Troy Baker is without a doubt the stand-out star here, voicing none other than The Joker. Taking over the reigns from the fan-favorite Mark Hamill is no lean feat, but Troy has stepped up to the plate and delivered in a big way. His voice style is very reminiscent of Mark Hamill’s earlier Joker work on Batman: The Animated Series, but retains a sense of darkness and grit that really fit the bill here.
I can’t say that Batman: Arkham Origins is a bad game, because it isn’t. However, it is easily the worst entry into the Arkham series. Copied/pasted gameplay mechanics, reused plot, and technical issues like the game’s random and constant freezing really hold it back from being something special. It is a shame that is the case, because playing this for the story will be very rewarding to fans, but as an overall gameplay experience, it is definitely lacking and doesn’t quite meet the lofty expectations set by its predecessors.
Capsule Computers review guidelines can be found here.