When Batman: Arkham Asylum released in 2009, developer Rocksteady did what many had thought impossible: make a good superhero game. Critics and fans lauded its quality, many calling it the best superhero title to date. Two years later, Rocksteady hit the ball out of the park again with Arkham City. Batman: Arkham Origins, however, sees a new developer, WB Games Montreal, taking the helm. For fans of the series, the franchise changing developers was worrisome, and unfortunately, those fears have merit.
Set five years before the events of Arkham Asylum, Origins tells a tale during the second year of Bruce Wayne’s career as the Caped Crusader. While there have been many reported sightings of Batman, many, including the Gotham City police, are unsure if he really exists. On Christmas Eve, Roman Sionis (Black Mask) puts a 50 million dollar bounty on Batman’s head, drawing eight assassins to Gotham. While it’s not the worst sounding story, the plot completely and utterly falls apart during early events, boiling down to stopping villains to stop villains. Written by Corey May and Michael Wendschuh, writers of Assassin’s Creed (a series recently muddled by its own mythology), Arkham Origins is a far cry from veteran Batman scribe Paul Dini’s work on Asylum and City.
It's a shame villains like Copperhead don't get more screen time.
Even with the lackluster narrative, it would have been nice to see some different villains get the spotlight, but Arkham Origins can’t get that right, either. The likes of Electrocutioner, Deathstroke, and Copperhead get quick one-and-done fights, while returning rogues like Joker and Bane are reused multiple times.
Not only does Arkham Origins fail in its main story, but in its side stories as well. Where Arkham City had variety in its optional missions, such as solving Riddler's giant puzzle rooms, tracking down Hush and his murder victims, and rescuing Nora Fries (Mr. Freeze’s wife) from Joker’s goons, Origins’ side quests tend to be very similar. Go to a location, beat up group of baddies. The one exception is a quick Mad Hatter mission, which plays out similar to Scarecrow’s missions in Arkham Asylum.
Troy Baker does the Joker justice, providing a near perfect match to Hamill's Joker.
There are a few diamonds in the rough. Despite mainstays Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s departure from the series, Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker do Batman and the Joker justice. Music is another standout, mixing movie quality themes with some classic Christmas songs. Thankfully, the close quarters and stealth combat remains untouched. Aside from new shock gloves and a few minor changes (the freeze grenade is now a glue grenade), the easy to learn/hard to master “Freeflow Combat” that made the Arkham series a standout is still wonderful.
Gotham City itself, however, suffers from some problems. The city is poorly designed – essentially borrowing Arkham City’s map and attaching an island to it via a tediously long bridge – and feels very empty, even with the myriad enemies patrolling streets and rooftops. I know it’s Christmas Eve, and people have good reasons to be inside out of the cold, but it was surprising not seeing any families getting mugged. Despite the fresh coat of paint on the visuals as well, flying around Gotham causes some graphical hiccups and slowdown.
The Dynamic Duo as they appear in multiplayer.
Multiplayer makes its first appearance in the franchise, and as expected, it feels shoehorned in. Joker’s and Bane's henchmen square off in a bad third-person shooter, needing to control the most capture points or straight up kill the other team as Batman and Robin use stealth tactics to raise an intimidation meter. It seems interesting in concept, worrying about threats hiding in the shadows while facing off against rival gang members. But in practice, it comes across as a rough draft, like a cheap clone of a third-person shooter when playing as a gang member and a clunky version of the single-player when suited up as the Dynamic Duo. It's an ultimately unnecessary addition attempting to curb trade-ins.
Hopefully Arkham Origins is simply a not-so-great installment in the series, and not the beginning of the end for the first celebrated superhero franchise. It still feels like Batman gameplay-wise, but it's a letdown in every other aspect. Pray that the Arkham game Kevin Conroy said he was working on is real and bears Rocksteady's name.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: WB Games Montreal (Campaign), Splash Damage (Multiplayer)
Release Date: October 25, 2013
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign), 2-8 (Multiplayer)
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC