Patrolling the streets of Gotham City is no easy task. Crazy clowns, corrupt cops, venomed-up behemoths, hired assassins, and many more psychos roam throughout Gotham causing nothing but chaos for everyone. Only one man has the qualifications and abilities to handle so many nutjobs in one eventful night. Batman is back in Batman: Arkham Origins, a prequel to the events that transpired in the 2009 smash-hit Arkham Asylum, which rallied hope for Batman fans everywhere that someone could seriously make a great game featuring “The Dark Knight”. Even though Warner Bros. Games has taken over the reins for Arkham Origins, relieving Rocksteady Studios, the team behind both previous entries in the Batman: Arkham series, of their development duties, Arkham Origins still provides plenty of consistent Batman action for fans of the franchise even if no new ground is broken.
Set five years before Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham Origins has players controlling a much younger and less experienced Batman who still finds himself honing his crime-fighting skills. He is not quite the vigilante superhero that later games portray him as. Batman is viewed as the “bad guy”, causing headaches for both law enforcement and the criminals of Gotham. Black Mask, one of Gotham City’s most notorious gangsters, has placed a $50 million bounty on the head of Batman with eight of Gotham City’s most lethal assassins on the hunt for him in hopes of becoming $50 million richer. What a way to spend Christmas Eve in Gotham.
The story, at least for the first two hours or so, is a bit convoluted. Many recognizable adversaries make quick appearances including the likes of the Penguin, Bain, and Killer Croc, but things pick up in a rather haste manner when Gotham’s most-infamous clown appears on the scene. Arkham Origins also showcases the tumultuous relationship between Batman and Commissioner Gordon early in the Bat’s crime-fighting days, which becomes one of the focal aspects throughout the game’s main adventure.
Arkham Origins features many familiar gameplay mechanics found in Arkham City. Combat remains largely the same from previous iterations. Using his various martial arts skills, Batman can punch, kick, counter, and grapple his way to victory in a fight, even if the odds are largely stacked against him. Animations are still as fluid as ever. I spent most of my time in combat using counters as much as possible just because the counter animations were so ridiculously smooth and seamless in transition.
Players are still able to upgrade many of Batman’s special abilities, whether for hand-to-hand combat or any of his handy gadgets, a few of which are new to Batman’s arsenal. The Remote Claw is able to provide Batman with a zipline or tightrope to move around high above enemies or string bad guys from platforms. There are also the ultra-deadly Electro-Shock gloves, which when activated, make fighting even the largest crowd of thugs a simple job. Zap through enemies one-by-one, multiplying your combo numbers to extraordinary heights.
A small addition was made to Batman’s Detective Vision in order to make combing crime scenes for evidence effortless. Batman now has the ability to find, observe, and study evidence through his Detective Vision and construct a 3D mockup of the crime using his new visual aid tool. It provides a nice change in action, but offers little in the way of substance. There is no need for critical thinking or problem-solving skills here. Evidence is clearly highlighted for you, which makes a thorough crime scene investigation a job that takes only a matter of seconds. The 3D reconstruction itself also comes off more as a gimmick than anything else. After collecting evidence, players can piece together a digital mockup of the crime, able to fast-forward and rewind the entire incident as it happened. Most times you will be searching for more details after the reconstruction by following a red line that will lead you to other incriminating evidence. The idea behind this process sounds fine, but ends up being a useless activity more than anything else in the overall grand scheme of new gameplay mechanics introduced to Arkham Origins.
Batman: Arkham Origins includes many excellent boss battle encounters that you would expect from such a series that features a multitude of sinister villains. Each confrontation provides a nice challenge. Early clashes can be handled rather easily, but get progressively harder as you continue through the main quest. While a majority of boss battles end up becoming well-executed showdowns, some others lack the same amount of tension and in some cases, end in disappointing fashion. Overall though, Arkham Origins does a fine job at pitting players against some of Gotham’s most dangerous criminals in epic meetings putting Batman’s skills to the test.
The game’s main story should take most players anywhere between 8 and 10 hours to complete. There are plenty of other challenges and side quests for players to keep them occupied when not working on the primary missions, though the entire city of Gotham lacks any personality and is one empty and desolate location. Yes, Gotham is viewed as a dark and bleak place from the start, but most city streets are void of any civilians and largely brimming with corrupt cops and wannabe-thugs wandering around looking for a fight. It makes exploring the many avenues of Gotham a completely null task as very little is there to be found. Most of your time consists of gliding from one rooftop to the next with no real reason to explore the streets below.
There is a lack of originality to be found in Batman: Arkham Origins. Following on the heels of back-to-back critically-acclaimed titles, Arkham Origins does its best to stick to what worked in the past, but with a little less polish and refinement this time around. Batman: Arkham City was one of our favorite titles in 2011, but Arkham Origins lacks the same innovation and ambition that made the jump from Arkham Asylum to Arkham City such a bold and fresh leap in terms of overall scope for the series. This does not take away from Arkham Origin, as it still provides the same grand action found in Arkham City, just not nearly as refined as its predecessor. Fans of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City will enjoy Batman: Arkham Origins for the solid, yet familiar, Batman experience that previous titles provided.
(Batman: Arkham Origins does feature a multiplayer component alongside its single-player story though we spent very little time with it. Players will compete as either one of Joker’s henchman, Bane’s cronies, or the team of Batman and Robin. We spent very little time on this aspect of the game due to general inconsistencies and technical issues found on the PC version of this title and thus removed any mention of it from our final review above.)
(Our review was based primarily on the PC version of Batman: Arkham Origins with some testing done on the Playstation 3 version.)