Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (360)

The caped-crusader returns for his third open-world video game, but has the Dark Knight sharpened his crime-fighting skills since Arkham City, or is this just a cash-in on the franchise?

Batman: Arkham Origins
Score: 8.5/10
Release Date: 10/25/2013 (USA)
Platform: 360,PS3, Wii U, PC
Developed by WB Montreal, Splash Damage
Published by WB Interactive Entertainment

Excluding mobile titles and Arkham Origins – Blackgate, Batman: Arkham Origins is the third installment in the darker, grittier take of the Batman universe in the Arkham saga of video games; being a pseudo-prequel, there’s no need for players to have previously experienced Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, except for a better understanding of the “free-flow” combat system.

Origins is a prequel to the Arkham saga, not the actual Batman DC Comics universe: Set five years prior to the events of Arkham Asylum, Gotham City is overrun with crime led by Black Mask and a crooked section of GCPD (Gotham City Police Dept.) under command of Commissioner Loeb; the well-known “Commissioner Gordon” is portrayed as a “Captain”, who distrusts the actions of the vigilante known as “the Bat Man”. With rising tension across the city in regards to sightings of a caped crime-fighter, Black Mask puts a bounty of $50 mil. on the Dark Knight’s head, and enlists eight assassins with the task of killing the caped-crusader. As this is one of Batman’s first adventures- Origins is set one year after Wayne becomes Batman- players are treated to a Wayne that isn’t quite the battle-hardened hero that fans are familiar with; he questions his ability to protect the citizens of Gotham, and at times succumbs to the actions of Black Mask, “the Joker” and others- Bruce Wayne/Batman is given a very “human” portrayal in Origins, which could loosely be compared to that of Samus Aran in Metroid: Other Mvery loosely compared.

Much like its predecessor, Origins is an open-world action title set in Gotham City- actual Gotham, not the closed-off prison community of City; all of Gotham is available to explore, from the sewers, to Blackgate, even the Batcave. Due to the larger scale of the environment, a Fast-Travel system has been added to the Map, allowing players to warp between various places in Gotham City, as shown by a brief cutscene with the Batwing, followed by a dive back into the game. In order to unlock more of these Fast-Travel waypoints, jamming-devices and towers in the surrounding area must be disabled as part of an ongoing, passive side-mission.

Apart from the larger environment, some character redesigns and gender-bending (Copperhead was originally a man, and depending on which Batman saga fans are familiar with, “Enigma” is the daughter of The Riddler), Arkham Origins doesn’t have many new features to offer; the basic combat system remains unchanged, still relying on combo strings and well-timed counter-attacks. While the basic combat sequences are simply reminiscent of previous Arkham titles, Origins shines with its Boss encounters, as each one is unique and well-crafted to suit each character; Firefly for example, isn’t fought simply by mashing “Strike”- the player needs to dodge an onslaught of napalm strikes, then yank him out of the air with the Batclaw. With very few exceptions, Akrham Origins contains some of the most entertaining Boss fights of the current series.

Outside of the main storyline, several other side-missions are at the player’s disposal, including scavenger hunts, diffusing bombs, additional Bosses not included within the main quest, and the infamous Riddler Trophies- this time as “Enigma Datapacks”; players can expect to contribute at least 10 hrs towards a play-through of Arkham Origins– roughly double for those who are “completionists”.

A first for the series, Arkham Origins includes an online multi-player mode; the “DC-heroes VS criminals” multi-player is entertaining for those few initial matches, but it feels more like something merely “tacked on” to the final product to adhere to the “every-game-must-feature-multi-player” rule.

Even though it’s the third chapter of the saga, Origins isn’t the most polished of the trilogy: The playground of Gotham City is the most expansive by far, but the snowy atmosphere and light fog tend to create the impression of a muddy environment; where Arkham City featured clear skies and a “clean” world that showcased the finer details of the city, the weather in Origins obscures most of the textures and unique aspects of buildings. While this is done to reflect the overall mood of the game, some players may find that all of the structures within Gotham will look the same after a few hours. When weather effects aren’t in the way, Arkham Origins has plenty to offer in the form of highly detailed character models (which can be unlocked and viewed individually by progressing through the story mode), stunning action sequences complimented by a frame-rate that never drops, and a plethora of indoor environments- from sewers to the surreal.

Batman: Arkham Origins is a worthy addition to the Arkham saga, but it fails do bring anything that’s new and memorable: Asylum¬†established the mature theme that would continue through later installments; City took the caped-crusader into the vast, open environment of a prison-based Gotham City; Origins takes us back to the Dark Knight’s first encounter with “the Joker”, but from a gameplay standpoint, there’s nothing else- it’s more of a mechanical continuation of Arkham City.

For those who are looking for a solid Batman title, Batman: Arkham Origins certainly delivers, but the lack of innovation between it and its successor may leave fans with a slightly underwhelming experience.

Image courtesy of WB Interactive Entertainment

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