Batman: Arkham Origins Review
Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham games have been celebrated for finally giving gamers the one thing that eluded them for years: a good Batman game. After the success of Arkham City, Rocksteady moved on to other projects, leaving WB Montreal to take up the mantle. Instead of trying to solve the puzzle of where to take the Arkham series next, WB Montreal went back to the beginning. With Batman: Arkham Origins, we get to see a younger, unproven Batman take on many of his famous rogues for the very first time. It might have been a good idea if everything about Origins didn't feel so familiar.
It's Christmas Eve in Gotham City, but the freaks have come out of the woodwork to ruin Batman's holiday. Black Mask has put a bounty on Batman's head, and eight of the most dangerous rogues have come to claim the prize. That's about as much plot as there is. Origins' promotional materials would have had you believe this was just as much about Batman learning how to Batman as it was about foes like Bane, Deathstroke and the Joker taking on the Dark Knight for the very first time. Unfortunately, those moments are few and far between, and the Batman you see here, while slightly more gruff, is basically the same Batman you've seen in the first two Arkham games. His relationship with the villains aren't as well established, but the villains actually get more characterization than Batman does, which is interesting, but doesn't make Origins' story very engaging.
Part of the issue comes from having to fit into this narrow window of opportunity before Arkham Asylum took place, and the other comes from much stronger origin stories already existing in Batman's history. There have been dozens of re-tellings of Batman's formative years that have done a much better job exploring the mythos and what it means to be Batman for Bruce. The Arkham universe exists on its own, separate from other DC Comics properties, but we've seen so many tales of young Batman to this point, there's not a lot of ground left to cover. Still, WB Montreal missed just about every opportunity to scratch the surface of Bruce's transformation into the Batman we know today. When a game is billed as an origin tale, you expect to see some of those thematic and narrative points touched upon. For some reason, WB Montreal glosses over those moments in favor of action sequences, which are impressive, but fail to connect you with the characters on screen.
Fortunately, the core mechanics of the Arkham series return once more to deliver the most impressive and complete Batman experience possible. Rocksteady's combat formula was a revelation just a few years ago, and WB Montreal follows that blueprint perfectly. The action is just as fast and furious as it was in the previous two titles. That said, there's nothing fresh or innovative about what WB Montreal does with the hand-to-hand fighting. Some gadgets add a smidgen of newness, but everything still boils down to stringing together long combos of punches and kicks, while countering enemy attacks. So when much of Origins is about these combat sequences, it's hard for the fighting to not seem repetitive. Still, it's hard to fault WB Montreal for a successful fighting system. Everything just feels so "been there, done that," it's hard to get excited as the game progresses.
It's a good thing WB Montreal didn't try to change things up too drastically, as the new elements added to Origins fail to impress. Fast travel by way of the Batwing serves its purpose well enough, but is wholly unnecessary. This version of Gotham City is undeniably larger than the previous version we saw in Arkham City, but there's no real reason for the world to be this big. A smaller Gotham would have sufficed, and Origins' Gotham just feels big for the sake of being bigger than the last entry. Additionally, there are radio towers you've got to assume control of before you can use the fast travel option in that part of Gotham. It's a very similar tactic that we've seen from another Canadian developer, and even though the tactic is new to this franchise, again it all feels too familiar.
Crime scene investigation has also been expanded this time around, with more in-depth murders to solve. Using Detective Vision, certain key sequences will task you with reconstructing a crime in order to track down the culprit. While the idea is great in concept, the execution is severely lacking. All it boils down to is looking around the local area and highlighting specific points of interest, recognized by Detective Vision. There's hardly any actual work for you to do, and your interactivity is minimal at best. Some of the more elaborate crime scenes will ask you to rewind the virtual construct to figure out a bullet's trajectory or where a particular item fell, but again, your actual input is minimal, and Origins does all the heavy lifting.
Of course, the largest new addition to Origins is the multiplayer mode developed by Splash Damage. You can choose to play as one of the Joker's henchmen, one of Bane's henchmen, or if you're really ambitious, as either Batman or Robin. The two villain teams spend time fending off each other and the heroes trying to control the map, while the heroes just work hard to take enemies out and build up the Intimidation meter. Playing as the bad guys, you'll have access to guns and grenades, all of which are upgradeable when you level up, and all of which control horribly. You'll have the option to play as either the Joker or Bane at certain points in the match, but they too are hardly fun to control. Batman and Robin are a bit more interesting, and feel like a natural extension of the single-player experience with gadgets and combos, but there's a big disconnect between the online and offline modes. That feeling could easily attributed to the fact two different studios worked on both sides. The online just isn't very fun, and serves as another example of tinkering with the franchise and not bringing anything new or worthwhile to the table.
With the success of Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, it was a no-brainer to continue the franchise with Batman: Arkham Origins. Unlike its predecessors, Origins just doesn't do much new or different to set itself apart from what came before. Where Rocksteady built on the foundation laid in Asylum, Origins is just content to reuse the blueprints to build a very similar house to the one next door. There might be a new coat of paint on the walls, but this all-new, all-different Batman is the same one you've already seen before.
This review was completed using a purchased retail copy of Batman: Arkham Origins on the PlayStation 3.