With the critical and commercial successes of the previous two titles in the series, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, a third title in the franchise would always have high expectations to meet – both from critics and fans.
And why wouldn’t it? The Arkham franchise – developed by Rocksteady Studios – rises above the previous Batman games. It, in my opinion, perfectly encapsulates the iconic gadgets, detective skills and combat mastery of the Dark Knight.
Two years later after the release of Arkham City comes Batman: Arkham Origins, and it has been somewhat controversial. Not because of the game’s contents, but by who is developing it. Warner Bros. Interactive decided to give the development of third title to an unknown in-house team, Warner Bros. Games Montreal, instead of Rocksteady. Other fans cynically suggest that the decision to make a prequel was just to bring back the infamous villain of the Batman universe – the Joker.
Regardless of your opinions of the development, we must answer that all-important question: is it good? Does WB Games Montreal’s Arkham Origins stack up to the expectations and calibre of the previous games made by Rocksteady?
Set five years before Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham Origins features a younger and less refined Batman, who has yet to face foes to parallel or even test his ability. That, however, changes on Christmas Eve when a mob boss – Black Mask – places a $50 million bounty on his head; attracting eight of the top assassins from the DC Universe to Gotham City.
The narrative has always been imperative in the Batman: Arkham franchise; and thankfully, WB Games Montreal have done a great job. The story is beautifully crafted, immersing players in the rich lore of the Batman and the larger DC universes. I also enjoyed seeing a younger Batman. He is more violent, very aggressive, hot-headed and thinks that he is untouchable. But it’s also quite humbling to see him realise that he is more vulnerable than he expected. I also loved seeing his interactions with other characters, allowing us to understand the relationships between him and those characters in the previous Batman: Arkham games. The most powerful is his relationship with Alfred – the younger Batman often comes into conflict with Alfred and his wisdom. The previous games never described their bond, and it was nice to see it fleshed out in Batman: Arkham Origins.
On the assassins, a lot – especially the prominent ones – did not disappoint and seem to truly test Batman and his arsenal of gadgets (of course, based on how skilled you are). However, there were some assassins that felt isolated or trivial. I found myself asking was that it?
Of course, the game is not just about the assassins. WB Games Montreal have done a good job with the side missions, mixing some of the lesser known characters of the Batman universe with the more prominent (e.g. The Joker, Captain Gordon and The Penguin). I found myself going through the sidequests very quickly – but I’m not entirely sure if that was because of the length or being immersed in the story, I’ll let you decide which one is correct.
For those who love collectables, I found that the map didn’t feature as many as I would hope – especially given the area is twice as large as Arkham City. I also found little desire initially to explore the nooks and crannies of the map because of the Batwing fast travel system, allowing me to move from one waypoint to another. Why is that important, though? It is a nice way to explore new areas of the game. That said, I did go back and revisit the new areas and many locations from Arkham City when I completed the main story and most of the side missions.
He is more violent, very aggressive, hot-headed and thinks that he is untouchable
A cornerstone of the Batman: Arkham franchise has always been the gameplay mechanics: they are simple to understand but difficult to master, and has personally been one of my favourite attributes of the previous games in the series. Batman: Arkham Origins is no different and doesn’t stray too far from the addictive combat of Batman: Arkham City.
It is mostly the same as Arkham City, with some few minor tweaks. Aerial attacks require an additional ground-pound, which was something that caught me off guard a few times; and character animations have been slightly modified. Quickfire gadgets make a return; and while the Triple Batarang Throw and Batclaw Slam are back, new tools like the Concussion Grenade and Shock Gloves offer a new variable to the combat. For instance, the Shock Gloves activate after a sufficient charge has been reached, by which point I usually just go freeflow focus crazy! The predator gameplay also stands out, as per usual, with some modifications like the Remote Claw – providing a new perspective on Invisible Predator.
The new combat feedback system is also a great way of viewing how well you performed in each encounter ranging from a low to an extreme threat. Upgrades were also unlocked differently than the previous games with certain pathways unlocking different gadgets to help better cater to each player’s unique combat style.
There were no real fundamental changes to the combat and predator gameplay
New enemy classes are also a welcome addition and each required a unique strategy to take them down – whether they be the enforcers (who are similar to the lieutenants from Batman: Arkham City), or members of Bane’s gang. My favourite new enemy type, however, has to be the martial artist who has ability to counter Batman’s moves. That provided an interesting challenge.
That said, there were no real fundamental changes to the combat and predator gameplay. It’s not necessarily a bad thing in my opinion. I always felt that Arkham Asylum provided a firm foundation for combat, with Arkham City improving them to a level of perfection. Some may crave more changes like we saw in Asylum compared to City, but I feel that it would be incredibly difficult to enhance the gameplay without making Arkham Origins feel unauthentic when compared to the previous games in the franchise.
Outside of combat, I absolutely loved the new case file system. This new feature improves upon the crime scene portions of the previous games and allows players to fast-forward and rewind a reconstruction of the events in real time. The crime scene segments were also interesting as well in the previous games, but they were easily solved by just observing your surroundings. In Arkham Origins, the new case file system forced me to pay attention to the finer details – like where key pieces of evidence were placed following a murder.
Graphics and Sound
Whilst on ageing hardware, Batman: Arkham Origins manages to look every bit as good as Batman: Arkham City. The colours seem a little richer than the previous game but maintain the dark tone of the Arkhamverse. There were some glitches in the world, however. Some were minor, such as pop-in textures or enemies spawning late. Others did confuse me – sometimes, an enemy would get back up again and pick up their weapons after being knocked out and just stand there without throwing another blow.
The voice acting and music were stellar. Despite fears by many fans after it was revealed that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill would not be reprising his role as the titular character and The Joker respectively, their replacements – Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker – do a great job performing their characters.
Personally, I was happy to see the ability to eavesdrop on conversations between thugs has returned to Arkham Origins. The voice actors have also done a great job in maintaining the tone and authenticity through the story. In addition, the musical score by Christopher Drake is excellent – especially for creating some unique Batman music with a Christmas twist. It is Christmas Eve after all.
Batman: Arkham Origins is the first game in the franchise to feature multiplayer. Unfortunately, I was unable to try it out. It will be an interesting to see how it plays out, however. Based on the tutorial videos, special weapons will be made available to members of both Joker and Bane’s gang, whilst Batman and Robin seem to have largely the same arsenal as before with the exception of gadgets like the scrambler. Interestingly enough, WB Games Montreal did not develop the multiplayer portion of the game. It was done by Splash Damage, known for Brink.
Batman: Arkham Origins
Warner Bros. Games Montreal
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U
- Fantastic character development and brilliant story
- Addictive gameplay and combat system
- Great background music and voice acting
- Many characters overshadowed by prominent roles of others
- Less collectables despite larger map
- Minor glitches such as enemies getting back up again and standing there
For WB Games Montreal, it would have not been easy to follow in the footsteps of its predecessors, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Especially when fans heard that Rocksteady were not developing the game, and that the voice actors of the two most iconic characters in the franchise (the Joker and Batman) weren’t returning.
It doesn’t take being the world’s greatest detective to see that the team have done an amazing job.
But they have done it – Arkham Origins, I feel, is of the same calibre and is worthy to sit alongside Asylum and City. They maintained what we loved about the Arkham series, tweaking the foundations with the addition of new characters and enemies, and enhancing the case file system. The story isn’t perfect – it is definitely weaker than its predecessors – but it doesn’t make it any less memorable or enjoyable.
It doesn’t take being the world’s greatest detective to see that the team have done an amazing job. Of course, there is some room for improvement, but still a great start by the newcomers.