'Batman: Arkham Origins' - review

Thursday, 31 October 2013 12:11 PM Written by 

ArkhamOriginsBox“Batman: Arkham Origins” is a step backwards for the series in many ways. For starters, it’s a prequel to both “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City,” taking place around Bruce Wayne’s second year as Batman. “Asylum” and “City” raised the standard for video games based on comic book heroes. In the case of “City,” it even changed how we view open world games. “Origins” lacks that ambition, sticking with what worked for its predecessors. But it’s most unfortunate regression is that of technical stability. “Arkham Origins” is littered with glaring imperfections.

It’s Christmas Eve in Gotham. The infamous crime lord Black Mask has gathered a team of skilled assassins to kill the new vigilante known as The Batman. Batman isn’t a well-known fixture in Gotham. Many criminals don’t even believe he exists. But Black Mask isn’t taking any chances, and wants Batman’s head for his Christmas present.

The team of assassins acts as a perfect opportunity to top Batman’s extensive rogues gallery. Familiar faces include Penguin, Bane, and Deathstroke, among others. Even the not-so-famous play significant roles like Firefly, Sheeva, and Bird.

While the word of Batman is spreading, so is a new type of evil. The Joker is new in Gotham, but has plans of his own for the Caped Crusader.

The multi-layered story is the best part about the game. Origin stories have become typically formulaic over the years thanks to dozens of superhero origin stories told on film, and then told again via reboot (thanks, Spider-Man). But “Origins’” choice of picking up at year two is an often untold story in the Batman lore. The Christmas angle is also excellent, creating the opportunity to dress Gotham and its buildings in Christmas decorations. Classical Christmas tunes can be heard throughout the game, as well as enemies chatting about working on Christmas. I can see myself playing this game yearly around the holidays, just like watching “Die Hard” or “Christmas Vacation.”

While “Origins” isn’t an origin story of Batman per se, it does explore the birth of the classic rivalry between him and The Joker. Herein lies the game’s crowning achievement. The story of these two characters can be told ad nauseum, but “Origins” displays it as a unique way that’s sympathetic to both characters. Who created whom? If Batman didn’t exist, would there even be a Joker? Does the simple existence of a Batman do more harm than good? These questions are as important and are more compelling than any origin story. The Batman-Joker dynamic is the focal theme of the story as it should be.

Just as this story hits its emotional peak, it ends. “Origins’” core story can be completed in less than 10 hours, making it significantly shorter than “Asylum” and “City.” Like “City,” there is an abundance of side missions to complete, but they seem far less vital this time around. An effective side quest has to at least have the appearance of importance. These side quests feel very much like they’re side quests.

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Dull side quests are far from the most egregious problems that hinder the “Origins” experience. The game is littered with bugs, some of which make the game unplayable. Here are some I encountered: Traveling around the city randomly crashed my game on six occasions. The game booted to a blank screen from the 360’s guide numerous times, forcing me to reset the console. Batman kept repeating a line about getting access codes to a door after I gained access to the door 10 minutes earlier. He even muttered the lines in the middle of combat. A predator scene ended prematurely when the game didn’t realize that there was an enemy left. I was invisible to him, and vice versa. I ended up just having to leave him there to wander around. I removed a metal grate, and a new grate magically materialized in its place.

The summation of these makes for an overall unpolished package. They constantly distract from stellar story and environment. Pray that the game doesn’t lock in the middle of an autosave.

When the gameplay works, it works well, but not many chances were taken to improve the game from “City.” Combat is untouched, making the whole game feel like some long form of story-based DLC. A new martial artist enemy is added. These enemies are faster and require a double counter instead of a single one. It’s far from revolutionary, but it does slightly alter certain combat situations.

Batman’s collection of gadgets has been rearranged. Classics return like the variety of Batarangs, and the disrupter that disables weapons. Some new ones include electrically charged gloves, and a new version of a line launcher. New gadgets are fun to have, but since this is a prequel I wondered why Batman chose to toss these in the time between “Origins” and “Asylum.”

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Since Batman has a slew of assassins gunning for him, this opened the opportunity for multiple boss fights. I’m a sucker for boss fights in any video game, so adding them to the “Arkham” series in the form of Batman villains is a big plus. The battle between Firefly and Deathstroke particularly switches up the gameplay and makes victory all the more satisfying.

Fast travel has been introduced for the first time in the series. Hacking radio towers unlocks Batwing dropzones. It’s an odd addition since the world map feels significantly smaller than “City’s,” but it does make tying up loose ends easier once the main story is completed.

“Origins” is the first “Arkham” game to get the multiplayer treatment. Developed by Splash Damage, this mode was surprisingly unique. Matches are comprised of three teams: Bane’s gang, Joker’s gang, and the team of Batman and Robin. The gangs achieve victory by capturing three bases on the map and eliminating the enemy team. The heroes win by intimidating the gangs. A meter fills with each KO, but the meter depletes with each death.

The gang members have typical third-person shooter controls, while the heroes control like Batman in the story mode. The heroes can stalk in the shadows and rooftops. Playing as the hero team is particularly enjoyable. The controls of the gang members isn’t very tight and occasionally wonky , but the mode is still a welcomed addition overall.

If you can stomach drudging through the many bugs that plague this game, there’s an excellent Batman story on display. Warner Bros. Montreal played it safe, following the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. Not much has changed from the last game, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The combination of story and gameplay doesn’t quite compare to “City” or “Asylum,” but it should still be considered suitable for Batman fans.

 

8 out of 10

 

Pros:

 

Superb origin story of Batman and Joker

Unique multiplayer

 

Cons:

 

Many bugs

Not enough changes to “Arkham City,” or “Asylum”

 

 

 Platform   Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3, Wii U, PC 
 Rating  T for Teen 
 Price   $59.99 
 Release date   10/25/13
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