Batman: Arkham Origins had a lot, a whole lot, to live up to. In some ways, it stands up to the fantastic pedigree of the first two games, and in others, it falls short. Origins is supposed to act as a prequel, setting up the events of Asylum and City by showing the first time Batman comes into contact with some of the villains that play a part later. It features a young, inexperienced Batman grappling with the life of being a vigilante, long before he has a working relationship with the police and the citizens of the city. The core of what made those previous two games – and this one – great is still here, but it’s clear that these are new developers taking a shot at another team’s record. They don’t hit the mark directly, but they’re still on target.
Arkham Origins‘free flow combat, sliding from enemy to enemy while countering attacks, is still one of the most satisfying experiences in action gaming. The stealthy predator sections still capture the fun of a Batman comic and are, without a doubt, the finest example of a game imitating the feel of its source material that I’ve ever seen. The new enemy types that the game has added – specifically, the martial artists, who can counter your counters – feel like a natural extension of the dynamic, split second decision button mashing that defines Arkham‘s gameplay. The only thing that’s changed here is that the game doesn’t quite understand its strengths enough in some parts. The combats are best when they’re fast and furious, with difficult enemy combinations to master, but the latter parts of the game change out difficulty of enemies for sheer volume. That means a single missed block can sometimes mean having to restart five minutes of combat. The New Game+ mode, unlocked after the game is beaten, seems to understand that variety – not numbers – is where the real challenge is, and difficulty fiends will have an absolute field day with “I Am The Night” mode, so there’s a lot of content to tackle for dedicated players.
The major new addition that the game brings, using Detective Mode abilities find clues, solve, and reconstruct crime scenes, is novel, but ends up serving a purpose more like an interactive cutscene. Batman is supposed to be the “World’s Greatest Detective,” and it’s nice to feel that way while you’re playing, but players here for the action combat and puzzles will likely feel frustrated by the slower pace of these sections. Indeed, I’d often solved the “mystery” of these scenes long before they were over, but was forced to go through the motions and carry out the task of highlighting and scanning evidence anyways. It’s not an unwelcome, unfun, or uninteresting feature, but it’s hardly a revolutionary addition to the game.
Exploring the huge world, probably twice the size of Arkham City‘s overworld, is satisfying, grabbing things with your grapnel and then swooping along by gliding with your cape, but the enjoyment of it turns out to be rather shallow after a while. The city may be larger, but there’s a particular lack of detail when it comes to most areas. Whereas in Arkham City you felt that each street, each building, had a personal touch, areas of Arkham Origins seem like they exist simply to give you more places to punch people. Likewise, many of the puzzles, specifically the ones to progress within missions and retrieve Riddler’s clues, require only very basic use of your gadgets, as opposed to some of the fiendishly difficult and clever ones in previous games. It conspires to make exploration in Arkham Origins swing wildly between enjoyable discovery and easy, checklist item collection and time-filling. For example, the Bowery district has covered streetways in much of the town, making navigation frustrating as you try to go from place to place. Or, say, that you never go inside the power plant, and you can’t grapple over it, but it’s in the middle of the city taking up a huge amount of space nonetheless. The crimes-in-progress and thugs to fight on the overworld are good practice for fighting, but the city is nearly deserted otherwise. It’s justified in the game by setting the night of the Bat’s assassins as Christmas eve with a curfew in effect, but you can’t help but feel like the only three friendly characters in the whole world are Batman, Alfred, and Commander Gordon.
There were plenty of people worried about losing Mark Hamill as The Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman for this game, but both replacements do a great job. Roger Craig Smith does an excellent job melding the Christian Bale bat-growl with Conroy’s more stoic batman into a younger sounding Bruce Wayne. Troy Baker, meanwhile, does a deeply frightening Mark Hamill impersonation, though his Joker has a little more basso profondo that carries into quite terrifyingly shrill laughter. This continues to be one of the best voice-acted series in gaming.
The writing, on the other hand, does not stand up to the standard set in earlier games. Though it doesn’t completely fail, there are some notably bad bits. The Penguin and his assistant are both the most ridiculous parodies I’ve ever heard of how a British person actually speaks , cracking British slang every third word. Alfred has a fantastically one note range of dialogue, and basically completely fails to change as a character until he abruptly flip-flops partway through the game. Those hang-ups don’t significantly detract from the main story, which, while a little contrived at times, is still a pretty solid origin story for the Arkham continuity.
The game also contains multitudes of bugs. While I did not encounter anything game-breaking during my playthrough, some optional areas were completely inaccessible for one reason or another. Likewise, occasional bugs with doors that wouldn’t open or ladders that didn’t work required me to reload from a checkpoint, but I never lost progress from this. Both Batman and enemies occasionally displayed completely bizarre, broken looking behaviors. Some Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 players have reported corrupt save files as far as nine or more hours into the game, as well as worse bugs than those I experienced.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a flawed, but enjoyable game that fails to improve on a winning formula. This is still great core gameplay, solid graphics, great voice acting, and a plot that’s a good ride while it lasts. Just don’t expect anything new.
Bottom Line: If you liked the first two, you can’t complain about more Arkham.
Recommendation: Have you played Batman: Arkham City? Go play that. Otherwise, those hankering for more Batman won’t be disappointed, but might get caught up in the bugs.[rating=3.5]