Developed by WB Games Montréal, Batman: Arkham Origins features an expanded Gotham City and introduces an original prequel storyline set several years before the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City.
Taking place before the rise of Gotham City’s most dangerous criminals, the game showcases a young and unrefined Batman as he faces a defining moment in his early career as a crime fighter that sets his path to becoming the Dark Knight. As the story unfolds, players will meet many important characters for the first time and forge key relationships.
WB Games Montreal take over from Rocksteady for this prequel game in the Arkham series. It’s Christmas Eve and rather than hanging upside down beside his stockings waiting for Santa (who let’s face it, Bruce Wayne’d probably beat up for breaking and entering), Batman is out on the streets taking on criminals. You see, a 50 million dollar bounty has been placed on the caped crusader’s head and eight of the world’s deadliest assassins are after him.
Dead or Dead
Firstly, the story for this game is great (and trust me, this will become very important later in the review). We see a younger, more headstrong Bruce Wayne face off against some of his greatest foes , and we even get a new introduction to an old favourite. A bounty has been placed on his head and Batman must get through the night whilst also taking out the various parties wanting to get their hands on the money.
The bounty aspect is a nice way to bring in old and new faces, with Deadshot, Deathstroke, The Penguin, The Mad Hatter (and even a few villains I’d never heard of, like Copperhead and Firefly) showing up to claim the prize. The main focus of the story is, however, given over to Bane and The Joker and those two don’t disappoint. Even going so far as to actually come up with a pretty clever ‘game’ to test Batman’s resolve when it comes to killing. Considering what I’m about to highlight next, I thought I’d point out just how important the story progression is to your enjoyment.
Haven’t I played this before?
There’s a major flaw in Batman: Arkham Origins, and it’s not just the fact that Arkham never appears… though that is slightly weird. If you’ve played either Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, then you have played this game. The combat mechanics haven’t been changed. You’ll run into the same standard enemies you ran into before. You’ll even use the same gadgets to help you solve puzzles, traverse the city and to take down bad guys silently. And though there are a few additions here and there, enemy and gadget wise, they are few and far between.
This means that when you start the game you feel slightly overpowered as the enemies suffer the effects of the combo building skills you’ve learnt across the former games and are taken out using stealth tactics you’d mastered a game or two ago. There are still extra missions to do throughout Gotham, crime scenes to investigate, riddles to solve and even a few sections dedicated to villains who don’t appear in the game’s story. All of these are fun (and perfectionists will no doubt have a great time completing all the odd jobs) because let’s face it, it’s always cool being Batman and getting into fistfights, striking silently from the rafters, getting involved in deadly battles of wills and solving frustrating riddles are what made the previous games so good. I just can’t help but feel that, for a sequel (well, prequel), there really should have been more variety on offer.
All of this isn’t helped by the fact that the game decided to randomly freeze numerous times during my play-through. Fortunately, the auto save feature means you never lose too much progress but it’s still very annoying.
Who’s the Boss?
All is not lost however, as the game has a massive ace up it’s sleeve, and that comes in the form of Boss fights. The Boss fights are brilliant. When you finally take on one of the assassins, you will be forced to put all of your gadgets, your combat ability and your reflexes to the test. In fact, it’s probably these sections that are the most rewarding and, like the storyline of the game itself, will make you want to play on to get to the next showdown. Each will require you to adapt to the situation/enemy you’re facing and provides the challenge that you’re expecting and that is so sorely lacking in the rest of the game.
I won’t give too much away but whilst facing off against Bane, Copperhead, Firefly and Deadshot are all great fun, my personal favourite was a reflex testing mano-a-mano showdown with Deathstroke, even if it does happen quite early on in the game. Mainly because it was so well designed that you really felt like Deathstroke was truly Batman’s equal… and in a few cases when I wasn’t quite fast enough, his better.
I feel I need to address the absence of Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy, who don’t return to voice The Joker and Batman. Instead, they are replaced by Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith respectively. Baker, as always, is great, to the point where you could easily forget it’s not Hamill, and excels during sections involving The Joker’s past and his new-found obsession with Bats. Smith does a good job and whilst I did miss Conroy (he is the Batman voice I grew up with after all), he does bring it as Batman and even holds his own during more emotional and personal scenes involving Alfred and his worry that Bruce isn’t up to the task he has imposed upon himself.
Batman: Arkham City isn’t a bad game, it’s just a game that you’ll feel you’ve played before. Thankfully, the story is great and the Boss fights add just enough variety to keep you playing until the next one. If you liked the previous titles in the series, then I’d say you’ll definitely enjoy this. However, as it feels slightly more like DLC for Batman: Arkham City rather than a game in it’s own right, I’d maybe recommend waiting until it drops in price a bit.