Game: Batman Arkham Origins Developer: WarnerBros Montreal Publisher: Warner Bros Release Date: Out Now Available On: PS3/360/Wii U/PC Version Played: PS3
New developers to the Arkham series WB Games Montreal take the series to an early part of the Dark Knight’s career in this prequel to perhaps the most critically acclaimed superhero game series.
In Arkham Origins Batman is reasonably new to the vigilante gig in Gotham City, having only spent a couple of years under the cowl, while the police don’t know if he is on their side or aiding those who terrorize the city. For some of the criminals they aren’t even sure if “The Bat” is real or is just a figure made up by the local law enforcement to scare the criminals into hiding.
One criminal who is well aware of the Batman and has had enough of him interfering with his business is the crime lord Black Mask. Reaching the end of his tether Black Mask issues a bounty of $50 million dollars for Batman’s head, bringing 8 assassins to Gotham on a brutally cold, dark and stormy Christmas Eve.
A less experienced and unrefined Batman is the focus here. It is called Origins after all and WB Montreal has really nailed what they set out to do. Batman is angry; he is hostile and is at times a little too confident in himself and his abilities which lead to a lot of underestimations in this adventure; he lacks the wisdom and experience that eventually makes him the Dark Knight. The Batsuit screams the same, unrefined and open to revisions. It seems as if it has been assembled together rather than the whole piece that it will become. Roger Craig Smith makes his debut portraying a gruff and extremely passionate Batman and does not miss a beat. In fact after the first scene I completely forgot about this being his debut performance and instantly placed him right up there with Batman legendary voice actor Kevin Conroy.
But what is Batman without his Joker? Arkham Origins takes you into the first meeting between the two characters and WOW! The chemistry is phenomenal both collectively and individually. Troy Baker who takes on the role of The Joker, after Mark Hamill’s retirement from the role. Baker portrays the character excellently by incorporating snippets of Mark Hamill’s work and adding his own flare which proves to be an outstanding combination.
To compliment the terrific voice acting is the exceptional cut scenes that accompany the voices. Highly detailed scenes with exquisite attention to detail that screams out amazing potential for a CGI film. There was more than once instance where I was covered in goose bumps just from the power and emotion of the terrific cut scenes.
Gotham City’s size is roughly twice the size of that which was offered in Arkham City. In fact, in the northern part of the city for those who played Arkham City will be able to recognise the buildings and structures that do eventually become Arkham City, which can be seen as a smart development move and a nod to the previous work of Rocksteady, all which helps to reinforce the idea that we are in the same universe of Bat lore. What connects the northern side of the city to the southern side is a bridge of epic proportions which truly does exemplify the verticality of this world. Tall structures of different shapes and sizes are out there waiting to be scaled for Batman to perch atop and brood upon.
Whilst the city is of a much larger scale it is still an option for Batman to grapple hook onto building ledges and then accelerate off that grapple to enter a sped up glide which is not only extremely fun and is just another one of the little things that make you feel even more like Batman. If soaring and gliding through the air isn’t your thing though, you can remotely call the Batwing for fast travel across the city; a new feature for the series.
Unfortunately for the PS3 version I was reviewing, I suffered from severe frame rate issues which required a restart, all which occurred from selecting the fast travel option. Whilst it appears to have been fixed during an update patch, I must stress that to get the most from your game, it is best to update to save yourself any dilemmas.
For such a large city for all extremities, it is an extremely quiet and lifeless city. Understandably it is Christmas Eve and everyone may be and probably is at home asleep waiting for Christmas day, also with the martial law in effect, but to see some life in the streets; even to intervene in a random mugging would have made the game all that more realistic and improved the experience tremendously.
Arkham Origins doesn’t re-invent anything in the Arkham series and to be honest, why should they? As the old saying goes “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” a phrase I am positive that everyone has heard in reference to the Arkham series. Previous entries are regarded as the ‘cream of the crop’ in the superhero game genre. Previous developers Rocksteady Studios have set a high bar but WB Montreal answers the call and hits back with ferocity. They have tweaked a few components here and there such as gadgets or slight variations to the enemy roster such as martial art fighters who are able to counter your counters and the large armoured enforcer that needs to be completely immobilised and disarmed before you can subdue him.
The boss battles are incredible, full of variety and constantly keeping you on your toes, which is only scratching the surface for combat in Arkham Origins; free flow combat makes an appearance again and is once again in excellent form. Building combos, whilst jumping, countering attacks and using gadgets has never been so much fun and the way the animations tie in and react so quickly particularly when countering three enemy attacks at once is simply outstanding.
As previously mentioned the game borrows a lot of aspects from previous entries; predator rooms play out basically the same as they always have, tasked with subduing an entire room of thugs with only the finest of Batman take downs. At the completion of either combat or predator challenges you are scored on a number of variables such as gadget variations, combo accumulated, stealth and health remaining which is graded and then calculated to give experience points. After collecting enough experience you can enter a menu which allows you to upgrade aspects such as your health, number of Batarangs thrown at once or open alternative take down methods, just to name a few.
A new and exciting feature to debut is the Dark Knight system in which your progress is traced across areas such as combat, predator or navigation. Each category contains 15 ranks each of increased difficulty; a welcome inclusion that will have the keenest of players modifying their approach as they apprehend their foes in all situations.
Batman is after all labelled as ‘the world’s greatest detective’, a feature that is highlighted extremely well in Origins. Using his sophisticated Bat Computer and cowl, Batman can analyse a crime scene and piece it together to solve the crime. These small occurrences only last a couple of minutes but are welcome breaks in the pacing of the game and lets the player focus on another aspects of The Bat; his extraordinarily sharp detective work.
As you progress through the story avenues open to further immerse yourself in the world of Batman, through the “Gotham’s Most Wanted” menu, you can for instance, find yourself dissecting Enigma’s (soon to be The Riddler) cleverly crafted puzzles throughout the city just as an example. This and much more will have you covering Gotham over and over to see 100% completion but it doesn’t end with the completion of your first play through; new game plus allows you to play though a second time with an increased difficulty with your progression transferred over from your first run through, including Gotham’s Most Wanted progress and Dark Knight Challenges. For the extremely brave once you complete new game plus a mode called “ I Am The Night” becomes available in which you are given one life only to play through the entire game (fortunately there are checkpoints so you don’t have to complete this 12 hour campaign in one sitting).
As always, challenges are available outside of story mode to compete in online leader boards or for your own personal satisfaction. Subject to a variety of combat and predator scenarios you are given either a score to beat or three varying methods to take down your opposing thugs; challenges are a sure-fire way to keep the replay value alive for many more hours to come.
For the first time ever in the series multiplayer is introduced which places you in a 3v3v2 scenario. One team of 3 will consist of members of The Joker’s gang, another 3 from Bane’s gang and the remaining two of course become the Dynamic Duo, Batman and Robin. The background to this is a turf war between the two gangs with Batman and Robin coming to put an end to it. Utilising a third person shooter mechanic for the gang members and a simpler layout of controls from single player for the dynamic duo, Splash damage have done a fantastic job with this. It is up to the gangs to eliminate their rival gang, with bonuses for killing Batman or Robin; certain tools specific to the gangs’ help you gain the upper hand and during the course of a match The Joker and Bane become playable with their own added bonuses. All the while Batman and Robin take down as many thugs as they can to increase their intimidation meter. Multiplayer works well it its own right and doesn’t necessarily feel ‘tacked’ on. In fact I think I will be spending a bit more of my free time in it.
Like I have stated Arkham Origins doesn’t re-invent the series but it doesn’t need to. What it does is perfect a balance of using old tools and mechanics from Rocksteady whilst taking small liberties to add variations and flare to it. At times it can feel very repetitive, but then you quickly notice how much WB Montreal have added for this game making it feel like a certified chapter to the Arkham series and not just a game with the Arkham name tacked on. WB Montreal have truly done an outstanding job with Origins. Through their excellent voice acting and CGI works it makes a gripping story impossible to ignore. The multiplayer will have you playing for hours and the challenges as well as new game plus modes will have you hooked for even longer.
For those of you who cannot get enough of Batman Arkham Origins, Nether Realm Studios have developed a mobile tie in app that lets you take your crime fighting anywhere you go. Whilst essentially an individual game it does contain a few tie-ins for your console experience that are worth noting. Upon fulfilling certain criteria, achievements are unlocked and by connecting to your console of choice can unlock experience points for your multiplayer game or unlock a Bat suit for use in the game.