Batman: Arkham Origins
The biggest strength of the Arkham trilogy is that it really makes you feel like The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, the latest Batman game, Arkham Origins, constantly distracts you with gameplay gimmicks and technical issues so you never really have a chance to be Batman this time around.
Warner Bros. has shifted development from Rocksteady Games to its own in-house studio in Montreal, presumably to give Rocksteady a longer development cycle for whatever its first next-gen project will be. As a result, Origins feels like those first Treyarch Call of Duty titles, with a developer chasing the incredible success of a sister studio, without the experience to pull it off.
Arkham Origins’ story takes place years before Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Batman has only been around in Gotham City for two years and there are plenty of criminals and police who still don’t believe that he exists. “The Bat” is an urban myth to most Gothamites. Even Captain James Gordon refuses to believe that Batman is a force for good in Gotham. However, his presence in the city is beginning to make life much more difficult for its crime lords and Black Mask has put a price on Batman’s head, prompting famous assassins from the DC universe to hunt him down.
This is a great premise, especially because you get to play a younger, less experienced, less confident and more aggressive Batman for the first time. Some of the gameplay contradicts this though, with the Caped Crusader seemingly having more advanced gadgets than he does in the other Arkham games, including the Batwing jet. Many of the gadgets also come from equipment Batman takes from the villains, rather than any Wayne Enterprises or Batcave engineering.
The Batcave itself plays a much more prominent role than in the previous games. Warner Bros. Montreal has done a great job with Batman’s HQ, creating a large, imposing environment that reminds you of some of the best Batman stories. The Batcomputer in particular, is very reminiscent of the one in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. You can also visit the training area here to access the returning Challenge mode, launching stealth or combat scenarios of increasing difficulty which require you to use all of your skills to win up to three medals from each event. There’s nothing new here mechanically compared to the previous games, besides one or two new gadgets, but it still adds a lot of replay value.
Once you head out into Gotham City, you’ll see some familiar areas from Arkham City and some that are completely new. Arkham Origins doubles the size of the open-world and completely changes the atmosphere. This games takes place long before parts of Gotham were sectioned off into a huge outdoor prison, so you finally get to see Gotham City in its prime, with gleaming skyscrapers and intimidating statues. To compare it to previous versions of Gotham City, it’s most similar to Batman: The Animated Series and Batman Forever, though thankfully without the neon lights.
Sadly, the open world is where this game’s awful technical problems are at their worst. In doubling the size of the city, Warner Bros. Montreal has bitten off more they could chew. The PS3 version struggles horribly with streaming the environment. The framerate sometimes gets so low while gliding that you might as well be looking at a static page from a real comic book. There’s also some horrible texture pop-in and the game crashes frequently. Most of the story missions take place in indoor locations, which are much more stable for the most part, unless you’re fighting a large group of enemies as that also hurts the framerate.
The usually sublime Arkham combat also suffers and not just because of the framerate in large groups. The counter system has somehow become less intuitive, with the controls feeling less responsive than in previous Arkham games. There were several times when it felt like I had been hit despite timing the counter correctly and this was never the case in Asylum or City. Using Batman’s wonderful toys in combat also feels sluggish. The combat just doesn’t flow as well as it used to. New enemies like a martial artist that can counter your counters and giant armoured thugs only add to the frustration and feel like gimmicks rather than meaningful additions.
There are other problems as well, such as the grapple gun not always working correctly while you’re gliding in the city, to the fast travel cut-scenes playing without any sound. Arkham Origins simply is not as well made as either of Rocksteady’s Batman games.
The most interesting addition that Warner Bros. Montreal has brought to the series is multiplayer, although this was actually created separately by Splash Damage, the studio behind Brink. This is a mixture of a typical third person shooter and the series’ main Batman gameplay. The shooter portion of the multiplayer places two teams of three into a map and has them grind each other down through kills, which reduce the rival team’s number of respawns, and controlling command posts on the map. Each team is made of criminal thugs, one supporting The Joker and one supporting Bane. While this battle is happening, two other players play as Batman and Robin and try to pick off the criminals. If the Dynamic Duo fill their Intimidation Meter, then they win the match. This is a really neat idea and it’s genuinely scary as a criminal to be taken out from the shadows by the heroes. Unfortunately the shooting doesn’t feel great with quite loose controls and weapon accuracy, so you’re really just treading water as a criminal until you get an opportunity to be Batman or Robin.
Arkham Origins is a huge disappointment. From the first minutes of the game, you can tell that this is never going to reach the incredibly high standards set by Rocksteady in the previous Batman titles. This game doesn’t move the series forwards in any meaningful ways and in some ways it takes significant steps backwards. The technical issues in particular are pretty unforgivable. If you really must have more Batman, then you will find some satisfaction from the story and the indoor areas, but if you’re planning to get into this series for the first time, you’d be better off playing Arkham Asylum or Arkham City.