Batman: Arkham Origins Review

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Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal, Splash Damage (Multiplayer)
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, Wii U
Version played: Xbox 360
Price: (€49.99/$49.99)
Release Date: Oct 25th 2013 (Worldwide)

First there was Batman: Arkham Asylum, then there was Batman: Arkham City and now, after changing hands from developer Rocksteady Studios to Warner Bros. Games Montreal, we have a prequel tale in Batman: Arkham Origins.

This newest game in the series has a lot to live up to, but as someone who has never played either of the previous two games, does it really matter? Will being put into control of the world’s most famous vigilante help me find my inner bat, or will Batman: Arkham City send me bat-s**t insane?

 

STORY

Gotham City, Christmas Eve, two years into Bruce Wayne’s vigilante career and years before the previous two Arkham games – a prison break orchestrated by criminal mastermind Black Mask calls the attention of the one and only Batman.

But securing the prison is only the start of Batman’s long, festive night as he learns of a $50 million bounty place on his head as well as the eight assassins looking to cash in.

And so it is that players are cast into the dark, snowy depths of Gotham City – a city with murder cases to solve, thugs to immobilise, secrets to uncover and a truly unique psychopath to apprehend.

Synopsis aside, Batman: Arkham Origins has a difficult story to describe. Warner Bros.’s clear insistence on cramming as many recognisable Batman characters into the game as possible results in a narrative that veers and bends inflexibly as it strains to include them all. Black Mask, Bane, Enigma and even Firefly are all confusingly made out to be Origin’s lead villain at one point or another – but none are given enough screen time to flesh out their characters beyond “I’m a bad guy lol”.

Additionally, plot points that are presented at the start of the game rarely make it to the end in one piece. For example, the idea of eight assassins hunting down Batman is barely explored at all aside from some randomly occurring boss battles. The game would have benefited from a vastly reduced cast of characters and one, clear, overriding goal, but ultimately suffers from trying to do too much at once and diluting the final product – an issue that plagues the entirety of the Batman: Arkham Origins experience.

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GAMEPLAY

During the course of Batman: Arkham Origins, numerous side quests will present themselves to be ignored or completed alongside the main missions. Each of these activities are marked on the game’s map of and travelling to them requires the use of Batman’s grappling and gliding skills.

It quickly becomes obvious, however, that Gotham City is far too big for the side missions that it houses – which often involve tedious puzzles, beating up a group of thugs or simple going to a location and destroying a specific item. The only real benefit to completing these side quests at all are for experience points. Experience leads to levelling up, which in turn allows for new combat skills to be purchased as well as gadget upgrades. These upgrades become absolutely essential – albeit for the wrong reasons – as the game progresses and enemies become more deadly.

As stated at the start of this review, I’ve not played either of the previous two games in the Batman: Arkham series and was thus a complete newcomer to Batman’s combat mechanisms. But Batman: Arkham Origins doesn’t seem to account for new players and makes the mistake of assuming everyone knows how its somewhat complicated combat system works.

Although there’s a tutorial level, the combat system isn’t described in enough detail for the average player to understand. I played a good two thirds of the game with absolutely no comprehension of how the combo system worked and the combat bonuses that are granted for high combo multipliers. As such, most battles consisted of fighting, countering and then fleeing so that Batman could catch his breath before starting another round. It wasn’t until later that I found combat instructions littered throughout Batman: Arkham Origins‘ verbose menus, hidden among uninteresting villain profiles and pointless case reports.

Once an understanding of the combo system and the use of gadgets in battle is gained, combat becomes a much more strategic affair and is far more fluid. Even so, an overall clunkiness, poor collision detection and misfiring gadgets render what might have been above average combat mechanics effectively useless.

Clunkiness also rears its ugly head in the underutilised “predator” sections which ask players to take down a room full of enemies as silently as possible using Batman’s patented “Detective Vision” – which highlights enemies and vantage points. But many of the more interesting silent takedowns – such as hanging enemies off gargoyles, smashing through breakable walls and grabbing them through air events – requires both Batman and the enemy to be in a very specific place. A dash of patience never hurt anyone, but enemies are often alerted to a player’s presence for no discernible reason, spoiling the predator sequences completely.

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SOUND

Batman: Arkham Origins‘ voice over work is an interesting beast with performances by Roger Craig Smith as Batman and Troy Baker as The Joker stealing the show, whereas other performances and casting decisions drop the ball. Why is the Penguin and his voluptuous assistant so overbearingly and unconvincingly British? Why can’t Bane decide if he’s fully Russian or fully Spanish, or Mexican, or Portuguese maybe? Why is it that every other “foreign” character also defaults to an uninspired Spanish accent?

Musically, Batman: Arkham Origins doesn’t tread any new ground. While each of the game’s tunes highlight the grim, dank Gotham City on Christmas Eve, none of them are memorable in the slightest – aside from the nondescript, drawn out tune that plays over and over during Batman’s escapades around the city. 

GRAPHICS

The overall aesthetics of Batman: Arkham Origins are spot on for a modern rendition of this particularly noire comic book setting. As Batman’s cape flaps and flutters in the wind and the snowflakes perpetually fall overhead, it’s hard not to empathise with Bruce Wayne’s frozen toes. Character, buildings and environments are all well detailed – albeit uninspired – with special attention being drawn to character faces, which move convincingly and convey emotion appropriately.

But strangely, due to a curfew being in affect, the city is seemingly inhabited only by criminals who are scattered sparsely throughout Gotham’s streets and rooftops. Be it a mistake or by design, Gotham seems unusually empty and desolate considering its status as a industrial metropolis, especially on Christmas Eve. That may not seem like a major issue to some, but the lack of oppressiveness from the city itself reduces the level of threat felt when traversing through it.

RANTS

If you peel away Batman: Arkham Origins‘ dark, moody graphics and the popular Batman brand, a game is revealed that has been created with scope, but with no substance. Traipsing around Gotham City in search of Enigma’s data caches, Penguin’s weapons stashes and other meaningless, non-threatening goals gets very boring very fast. But with a fairly uninteresting storyline that lacks integrity and cohesion, most players will resort to performing such menial tasks so as to have a break from trying to figure out just what the hell is going on – oh, and the game breaking bugs.

On more occasions that I can remember I’ve seen distant enemies whose melee attacks still connect, gadgets that shoot in the wrong direction or simply don’t work and plenty of perfectly flat platforms that I couldn’t grapple onto or even stand on. But those are nothing compared to instances of enemies becoming stuck in walls – which must be beaten to progress – as well as falling through the floor of Gotham itself into infinity. Full motion video sequences also tend to result in a game crash and once I was even killed during an FMV because I was standing near to an enemy when the FMV was initiated.

Throughout my playthrough of Batman: Arkham Origins on the Xbox 360, the game was subjected to not one, but two updates designed to fix these widely reported bugs. Nevertheless, these soul destroying glitches still managed to worm their way out of Batman: Arkham Origin‘s code to torment me.

Needless to say, these kinds of glitches are completely unacceptable.

Oh, and there’s a multiplayer mode that has clearly been added by order of Warner Bros. Interactive because everyone knows that multiplayer games sell better.

I’ve played the multiplayer, in which you either play on one of two teams of goons, or as Batman and Robin. The idea undoubtedly looked good on paper, but the questionable combat controls of the single player game are somehow even worse in multiplayer. Needless to say, Batman: Arkham Origin‘s multiplayer can be completely disregarded.

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FINAL THOUGHTS

Warner Bros. Games Montreal had big boots to fill and a devoted fanbase to please – Batman: Arkham Origins did neither. A good analogy for the game would be an empty house – regardless of the size and the majesty of the house, it remains uninteresting for as long as it remains empty.

Batman: Arkham Origins‘ Gotham City is similarly empty, as is it’s single player storyline and its side quests. It lacks the kind of polish expected of a full retail game despite its pleasing aesthetics and its infrequently excellent voice acting. The combat system has promise, but is let down by a similar lack of polish and a plethora of bugs and glitches that range from annoying to completely game breaking.

PROS:
- Nails “Batman” visually
- Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker’s performances are fantastic

CONS:
- Lacks substance and direction
- Confusing, uninteresting storyline
- Combat mechanics aren’t as good as the game says they are
- Bugs. Lots and lots of bugs.

FINAL RATING: 4.5 OUT OF 10

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About Michael Westgarth

Michael Westgarth is a freelance writer and geneticist for hire who has been writing about video games since 2011. Michael enjoys saving the world and building creeper-proof, vertical sheep farms. Follow him on Twitter @MegaWestgarth, Tumblr and Google+.
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