Gamescom 2013: Batman: Arkham Origins Hands-On Preview - Merry Christmas, Bruce Wayne
Written Wednesday, September 04, 2013 By Lee AbrahamsView author's profile
Forget Rocksteady, what the hell happened to Bebop? Yes, it seems like the never ending stream of misgivings about someone, anyone, taking over at the helm of pretty much the only good superhero game for years were nonsense, as there is nothing to worry about. The new Sheriff in charge, WB Games Montreal, seems to be doing a good job of handling the pressure and, if anything, Batman: Arkham Origins looks like being a fine continuation of the work that has gone before.
Benoit Richer, the Game Director, was on hand to show us a bit more of the single-player story before setting us loose with some of the Deathstroke specific challenge maps. Following in the footsteps of Rocksteady was certainly never going to be easy, but the team seems to have stuck to the winning formula while also introducing an interesting new plot that lets you take on as many iconic villains as possible. At the end of the day, Batman has always been about a compelling storyline and where better to find it than in the early days of his tenure?
The guy with the worst facial skin condition in Gotham, Black Mask, decides that enough is enough and puts a cool $50 million bounty on the Dark Knight’s head. Obviously this attracts a host of would be assassins, all of whom are classic villains from the DC comic books. The cast of would be bat-killers include Deathstroke, Copperhead and, the focus of this particular segment, Firefly. With events playing out in an even bigger area than Arkham City, on Christmas Eve no less, the stage is set for a brooding, snow bound backdrop to frame our hero's derring do.
The Firefly segment we were shown takes place later on in the game (so spoilers I guess), and the flame obsessed degenerate has taken a different approach to some of his peers. Knowing that Batman is a bit of a badass in a one to one fight, he has instead blown a chunk out of Gotham Bridge and then rigged the rest to blow – that is, unless the caped crusader hands himself over for the bounty like a good boy. Trying to play on Batman’s moral code and holding a few hostages may seem like a good idea, but it doesn’t really pan out that way. Instead Batman takes matters into his own hands and infiltrates the bridge in a bid to disarm the explosives before everything goes sky high.
The story is set five years before the events of Arkham Asylum so there is a different edge to the relationships Batman has with local law enforcement and his long time confidante, Alfred Pennyworth. The GCPD treat him as an outlaw vigilante, and plan to storm the bridge despite his numerous warnings and protests, while his butler treats the whole escapade with world weary disdain and the banter between the two provides some comic relief. Once again the story is wonderfully true to the source material while the voice work, despite what fans may think, is still top drawer despite the notable absence of long term Bat veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.
As ever Batman has a range of gadgets to help him out, some of which are in a less advanced stage than they were in the previous games. He swings between the bridge supports as cars and masonry crumble around him. Swooping to a nearby door he can swiftly hack his way in and then take to the vents to surprise some unsuspecting goons. We get our first glimpse of his electric gauntlets which can be used for puzzle solving as well as beatdowns, providing our hero with the perfect weapon to shock a shield-bearing goon into submission. The next room requires a more stealthy approach so Bats whips out his remote claw, allowing a new tightrope to be slung up above the room, which he can nimbly move across to get the drop on his foes.
The gameplay mechanics, combat and action are all true to the tried and tested formula and, while that may disappoint fans seeking something completely new, it’s fair to say that the game looks and sounds amazing at this point. Just making your way to Firefly across a crumbling bridge, while fighting goons and disarming bombs is a wonderful set piece in and of itself, and the game promises many more of these. The increased emphasis on Batman’s detective skills is also a welcome diversion, though the developer promised that these segments would be fun diversions rather than frustrating and fiddly. Certainly a chance to piece together evidence at the scene of the crime is bound to be a break in pace from pummelling all and sundry. Due to the size of the world you can hop around via the Batwing (though it’s not directly controllable) and, as ever, there are a host of side missions, collectibles and Easter eggs to find along the way. This is a grand continuation of an already epic series.
We also had a chance to mess around with one of the new foes, as Deathstroke will be available as pre-order DLC. Plus, no doubt he will show up as regular DLC somewhere down the line if the events of Arkham City are any indication. Armed with a staff and with a different move set to the Dark Knight - which proves a bit of a distraction at first - we were plunged head first into the One versus One Hundred challenge mode.
The idea here is refreshingly simple, and entertaining. It’s just you versus one hundred people intent on snuffing out your life gauge. Not all at once of course, as there are usually only about ten to fifteen foes on screen at a time. However, for every one you take out another will pop up in its place, with them becoming increasingly heavily armed and aggressive. Starting with weak foes, and their feeble fists, you graduate to people with baseball bats, swords, shields, guns and so on. It has to be said that we got pummelled shortly after passing the fifty enemies defeated mark (hey, it was our first attempt) so who'll turn up in the latter stages remains a mystery.
Still the brief exercise highlighted, once again, just how fluid the combat system is. Chaining together varied attacks leads to better rewards and once you hit a certain number of moves you can use instant takedown moves, the electric gloves and even multiple takedowns at higher levels. Bouncing between foes with a mixture of timed strikes and dodges brings back all that was great about the Arkham series and, while Deathstroke wasn’t too much of a departure from the Bat, it’s nice to be able to have a range of characters to take on the various modes once again. Let’s just hope they mix up the achievements this time, eh?
With the storyline shaping up to be just as good as its predecessors, with some great visual and audio polish as well as a host of challenges to while away your time, Arkham Origins could well be just as good if not better than what has come before. The multiplayer mode, which always makes players cringe a little inside, is also looking eminently playable and should provide players with the chance for some stealth related carnage amongst friends. However, a word of warning comes from the fact that many games that have suddenly emerged with a multiplayer mode may well have produced serviceable content, but have struggled to get players to stick around.
In any event the main focus is, thankfully, the single-player offering and in that regard Batman: Arkham Origins gets many things spot on. We fully expect to be yelling “KAPOW!” at our TV screens every time we take down a villain (yes, every time) when the game swoops onto shelves in October 2013.