No video game fanatic can deny the importance of the Arkham franchise. Not only are both Asylum and City absolutely stellar games in their own right, they also mark the first time a comic book license has been done true justice in the video game industry. What’s fantastic about these titles is that every single mechanic is designed to make you feel like Batman, and they’re all executed flawlessly. With today’s technology, it’s easy to make a video game look and sound like the source material, but the trickiest part is making the gameplay feel like the source material. Arkham is no Ghostbusters: The Video Game, for example, where the gameplay is just a no-thrills run of the mill third person shooter with every weapon you could find in any Gears of Halo, but disguised in a proton pack fashion and the generic levels covered in a Ghostbusters coat of paint. That is the real beauty of these games. From the unique “one man versus many thugs” combat system that has been borrowed by a lot of other games since Asylum, to the copious amount of gadgets the dark knight has at his disposal (the versatility and opportunities for fun and back-tracking these provide rival Metroid power-ups in this reviewer’s eyes), to the predator mode where our hero picks off armed thugs one by one. Top that with the best Batman and Joker voices ever, and you got a fantastic Batman simulator and one of the top franchises of this generation.
It’s in this environment of great gaming design that Batman: Arkham Origins steps foot in. Arkham Asylum established the basics and delivered a classic, but still very appealing Batman vs. Joker storyline. City improved on every aspect of its predecessor, with a more unique tale (with a flawless intro and a shocking finale), it added a very fun, gritty-looking open world, more gadgets, more creative gameplay, more diverse combat, anything any fan could want in a sequel. It even featured Catwoman as a playable character, which is all kinds of awesome. Origins instead of upping the ante decided to be a little less ambitious and do an origin story. At first glance, everything seems to indicate that this game would not live up to City’s greatness. The developer is different, the voice actors are different, Wayne’s bat suit looks more generic and bland, the city does not look as great as it previously did and there don’t seem to be many improvements in the gameplay department. The cards are on the table for Origins to be a cash-in and a disappointment for fans. Yet, while some of these accusations are definitely true the game finds a heart of its own. Maybe a slightly weaker heart, but it can still pump plenty of blood for the body to be satisfied.
Batman has an armor and a ship he doesn't have in the future, because video games.
The best part of Origins is easily the story and characters. In this department, it wouldn’t be unfair to say Origins is the best in the series. This is an origin story, but it doesn’t waste time telling us what we already know. Instead, it focuses on the first years of Batman’s career. So while he’s already Batman, he’s not quite the level-headed expert he is in Asylum. So what we’re left with is a dark knight that acts like we’d expect, but shows more humanity, more emotion, and the best part, more weakness. The game is constantly testing this novice Bruce Wayne and it works great. This makes the story interesting. It’s nothing amazing, but it never was; it’s a nice change of pace from the previous games. The change in voice actors drives this point home and is actually a welcome change. These sound like legitimate young versions of the Batman and Joker we see in Asylum and City. Troy Baker’s Joker in particular is fantastic. I’m honestly impressed - he absolutely nails it. The story deals with every “origin” aspect of Batman you’d want it to, and does so well. Batman meeting Joker, Gordon trusting Batman, Joker meeting Harleen Quinzell, Alfred not always approving of the whole Batman thing, it’s all here, and it’s good stuff. Fans of the source material will get hooked by this storyline.
Batman fans will get hooked by this storyline.
The gameplay is a different story. While it seems that developer WB Montreal isn’t as creative as Rocksteady, they did get very familiar with Rocksteady’s coding when they developed the Armored Edition port of City for the Wii U, and it shows. Origins controls flawlessly, everything works exactly like any fan of the franchise would want. No complaints here. The problem is that there’s absolutely nothing new, and some things are even a bit worse than before. The worst offender is Gotham City. Since Arkham was its own open world in City, I always wanted the third installment to finally let us freely cruise Gotham City itself, and this game does that. And it’s disappointing. It looks gray, generic, boring, and not gothic in the slightest. The design is also poor, with a long bridge dividing two equal parts of the city and it’s not that fun to be in overall. It’s still fun to fly around, pick up Riddler things (sorry, Enigma) and beat up thugs, but this is not the Gotham City that this franchise deserved. Beyond Gotham, pretty much every environment lacks the artistic talent that this franchise provided before. Everything looks alright, but it’s too generic and even too colorful at times. I do miss those dark caverns and twisted Joker decorations from the previous games. There’s nothing even remotely as interesting as Poison Ivy’s Botanical Gardens. The only thing that comes close is the Joker’s amusement park, and that’s just in one mission. And when I said the gameplay offers nothing new, I meant it. Sidequests are exactly the same as before (crime scenes mostly, and a few minor level villains to apprehend), and the design in the main missions offers no surprises. There’s a few new gadgets, but they do things you already did before. The Remote Claw is just an easier way to fire wires, and you can use it to throw things at enemies but it’s not that great. The Glue Grenade is the same thing as the Freeze Blast, literally. They even use the whole “Glue Grenade to form raft in river and then Batclaw to sail around” mechanic from City, and it’s worse here. The only new addition, the Shock Gloves, suck. They do nothing except power up some things (gameplay translation: hold the A button) and make combat easier. I hate it when power-ups do nothing but make me have to work less hard at honing my gameplay skills. They should add new gameplay opportunities, not make things easier. The Master Sword of course gets a pass here, but I digress.
Gotham is big, but not that interesting to be in, and it looks generic and non-gothic.
What it comes down to is this; Origins is a fantastic formula handled by slightly less talented people. It’s the Batman equivalent of Jesse Pinkman cooking meth using Walter White’s recipe. If you’ve grown tired of the Arkham gameplay (why?), this will not pull you in… except for the story. That’s the one thing that launches this game into “great” territory to me and makes it worth existing, and being in my collection. I thoroughly enjoyed this take on a younger Batman and hope more superhero origin stories follow this game’s footsteps instead of having us sit through Uncle Ben dying or the baby Kal-El flying in the spaceship for the millionth time. Besides, I still can’t get enough of this fantastic Batman simulator. The Rocksteady foundation is too good not to be thankful to have a third installment of it, even if it doesn’t soar to greater heights. It might not be a bacon cheeseburger, but it’s a cheeseburger with barbecue sauce.
Alrighty, GE, I haven't played Arkham Asylum at all, so you may've been through this song and dance more than I have, but it looks like I definitely liked Arkham Origins a lot more than you did. I think I scored it a 9.2 (to City's 9.6), and I pretty much had a good time with it. I completed the Main Story, did a lot of the sidequests (everything but finish the Pinkney/Anarky stuff), and I haven't messed around with I Am The Night Mode at all.
You only mentioned Joker's place as an exciting time, really. What did you think of the Hotel area as a whole? The videocamera shot from the helicopter while fighting Bane was one of the coolest things I've EVER seen in a videogame. I also enjoyed the Mad Hatter area again. Did you not? What did you think of the upgrade trees compared to Arkham City? I think I liked them better here.
You're right about the "fans of Batman" (comics); I'm one of the few people who really like the New52 stuff, and getting to play as RedHood Joker was confusing/STARTLING to me. I'm not 100% sure what that was all about, but I'd like to know more, surely. I mean, I hope the series I'm reading now explains it. A lot of the stuff that was going on in the game was going on in the comics at the same time (specifically Alfred v. Bruce, and lots of Red Hood stuff). Pretty neat.