October 25, 2013
Like so many superheroes, Batman as a real life crime fighter would be ludicrous. In comic books, movies and games, Batman works when the darkness is turned all the way up to 11 and the drama is dialled right up. And it's amid this inky blackness and relentless peril that WB Games Montreal has taken the Bat once again, following in the intimidating footsteps of Rocksteady, and the incredibly lofty bar it set with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City.
Batman: Arkham Origins takes Bruce Wayne back to his roots with a story set prior to the events of the first two games. On paper it sounds like a foolhardy idea to make a prequel, with a whole new voice cast no less, and it begged the question, could WB Montreal match Rocksteady in the execution? In short, the answer is a resounding yes. Batman: Arkham Origins is more of the same in the Arkham City mould, but in the best way imaginable.
Origins' narrative is pretty meaty stuff too, set in the heart of a Gotham City that's tearing itself apart as villains rip through its decaying streets on the search for the Dark Knight, in the vain hope that they'll score Black Mask's $50 million bounty. The game could have quite easily been a romp from A to B, dispatching the assassins out to kill Batman in sequence, but instead there's a strong story laden with twists and turns, and the odd unexpected surprise for the fans.
Bats himself is relatively new to a life of fighting crime in Arkham Origins, a myth on the streets of Gotham, largely unknown by Captain Jim Gordon and the GCPD, and written off as a freak; a bizarre sideshow, a menace. Chatter among thugs roaming the gloomy alleyways reveals talk of sightings, conjecture and hearsay about the Bat, with most dismissing his existence as ghost stories and spooky hokum. Until you show up on the scene and prove that you are in fact all too real, that is. This particular version of Batman is also one who's self-involved, determined to go it alone and fuelled by anger. He's younger, more brash, raw and reckless.
Like Asylum and City before it, Arkham Origins is about instilling fear in your enemies, although essentially the series' core gameplay mechanics remain untouched, with a few tweaked gadgets like the glue grenade, the odd new one like the concussion detonator, and a couple of fresh moves in Bats' repertoire. Though is has to be said, turning the tables on enemies with the shock gloves is an exceptionally empowering thrill.
A game still largely comprised of exploration, free flow combat and predator sections, if you've played Rocksteady's previous two Batman games you'll feel right at home with this one. Arkham Origins doesn't set out to break the mould or reinvent the rules, and yet it still seems like a bold game, and one that proves relentlessly entertaining as you breathlessly freewheel from one set-piece to the next.
Instead of familiarity breeding contempt, Batman: Arkham Origins somehow feels fresh. Even when you bump into a building you're sure you've seen in Arkham City a million times before, it's from a different Gotham years in the past, indistinguishable enough from its future counterpart. Indeed, the city itself is in an entirely different state, with none of the flooding that claimed a chunk Gotham in the previous game, and some taller and more imposing architecture to scale.
Arkham City's locked down Gotham was an urban nightmare caked in rust and decay, ruled by feral gangs running amok. Origins' version is a city on a steep downward spiral, but one where there's still a shred of hope buried beneath its seething cauldron of corruption. Knowing that glimmer of hope amounts to nothing doesn't make the atmosphere and tension any less palpable.
If anything there are more criminal gangs and crooked cops on the streets, and when you're not punching their faces to burger, you'll be foiling another one of The Riddler's plots, tracking down Anarky, Shiva, Deadshot and a host of other villains that you could ignore altogether if you chose to. There's a whole raft of optional tasks to complete in addition to what is a solid 10-15 hours of story. Collectibles are just the tip of a very big iceberg.
On top of all of this is an improved and more involving Detective Mode, in which Batman gets to prove his credentials as the great and much-vaunted sleuth that he's supposed to be. You now set about reconstructing a crime, piecing together the components of what transpired, before Bats comes to his own conclusion. It's not exactly LA Noire, but it beats the previous games' efforts.
Arkham Origins is not without its frustrations however, and some of the Predator encounters and boss battles can prove trying at certain junctures. Predator areas aren't quite so clearly defined in some cases, and controlling Bats can prove fiddly when there's no obvious place to hide. There's a fight with Deathstroke too where the game attempts to explain that you need to look for an opening to strike and time your counter moves accordingly, but the result is messy and the ultimate outcome – at least in our personal experience – feels arbitrary.
On top of a generously proportioned campaign is an entirely separate multiplayer component, assigned to its own disc and outsourced to UK Brink studio Splash Damage. Multiplayer takes nothing away from the fantastic single-player, and has a few neat ideas of its own. Is it a unique enough proposition to stand out? Not really. A rather shoddy Gears of War clone, multiplayer pits two criminal gangs against one another in a straight-up shootout, then throws randomly selected players into the mix who assume control of Batman and Robin. It's playing as the dynamic duo that proves the most fun, filling your Intimidation Meter and swooping down upon unsuspecting enemies.
Conversely, playing as a bog standard thug is typical tacked-on multiplayer fare with a decent cover system and solid shooter mechanic. It clearly sets out what it aims to do, and Splash Damage has done a fine job in creating a multiplayer mode that slots neatly into the Batman Arkhamverse, but it's hard to imagine it'll have legs amid a slew of better multiplayer options already available and just on the horizon. Multiplayer isn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, but its long-term appeal is questionable.
If you want to complete the entire achievement list, you'll have to put some time in with the multiplayer however. That means reaching Prestige level and achieving maximum rank with both the Bane and Joker gang factions, which will take a good few hours and then some. The story campaign is where it's at of course, and this time there's not only New Game Plus to beat, but there's also the 'I Am The Night' mode. Chuck in achievements attached to the Challenge Rooms, and the wealth of content and replay value on offer is simply staggering.
A triumphant third outing for the Dark Knight, Batman: Arkham Origins is proof positive that the series is in safe hands with WB Games Montreal. Building upon the strong foundations of the first two Arkham titles, Origins boasts the same marriage of compelling storytelling, uncompromising gameplay, killer combat and faithfulness to the source material. Batman: Arkham Origins is an empowering rollercoaster ride and a more than worthy successor to the cowl and cape. Another dark heroic fantasy that demands to be played.
As darkly atmospheric as ever, Arkham Origins' sound design is superb. Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker also do gruff and manic to a tee, filling Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill's shoes as Batman and The Joker respectively, doing the material the full justice it deserves. Utterly exemplary stuff once again.
A slight step up over the previous games, Arkham Origins is a damn fine looking game, a bold, meaty and visually appealing comic book title. The Dark Knight never looked so good.
WB Montreal has played it safe for the most part, keeping the combat and stealth systems largely intact, while introducing a couple of new gadgets into the mix. If you've played Arkham Asylum and City you'll know what to expect, and you'll know that it's a good thing.
The biggest and possibly most varied Arkham title yet, there's a whole range of content, from a campaign laden with collectibles, side missions and other surprises to a solid multiplayer, and a range of new Challenge Rooms to tackle.
A generally decent list, marred only by the inclusion of multiplayer achievements that demand reaching maximum level. Mostly straightforward, there are a few tasks we've seen before, and an increased emphasis on the game's range of collectibles and optional bits.
A brilliant prequel story that retains the high standards of the series to date, Batman: Arkham Origins is a superlative third instalment that perfectly embodies the spirit of DC's darkest and most enduring hero. The Dark Knight rises once again, and he kicks ass.