If you ask a child who their favorite superhero is, there is a pretty decent chance that he or she will say Batman. The gadgets, the batcave, the signal in the sky, everything about the Batman universe has this alluring charm about it. Thats the case with a lot of recent Batman media as well, such as the recent films and the two excellent Arkham games developed by Rocksteady. And here we have Batman: Arkham Origins, the prequel to Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. The Arkham series has been passed on from Rocksteady to rookie studio WB Games Montreal, and they have some pretty big shoes to fill.
If you were unaware, the previous Arkham games put you in control of Batman while he tries to fight the Joker on his own terms. The highlight of these games was the stylish combat. Batman generally had two approaches: run in punching or sneak in taking thugs out one at a time. For better or worse, Batman Arkham Origins takes a “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” approach as it plays out nearly the exact same.
The story revolves around a younger Batman who has had a bounty suddenly placed on his head. Several villains show up, such as Firefly, Bane, and Deathstroke, and they plan on killing Batman to claim the 50 million dollar bounty. It’s not exactly spectacular by any means, but it does introduce Batman to some characters which I didn’t even know existed. As a secondary purpose to the plot, Origins also introduces Batman to the Joker, his insane and meniacal archnemesis. In the end, however, I was disappointed with the lack of new characters. There was a lot of potential with all of these new and interesting enemies making an appearance, but the fact is you don’t ever see them or come in contact with them. Instead, we’re left fighting and talking to characters we’ve been fighting in the other Arkham games, such as Bane.
I’m not kidding when I say the gameplay is nearly the exact same as the previous Arkham games. It’s the same engine and everything. The combat is literally the exact same with the exception of two new enemies. There are a few new gadgets Batman has on his toolbelt this time around as well, such as the glue grenade and the remote claw. However, I never really used these too often as they didn’t seem useful in combat situations. Instead of dealing damage, they usually restrict NPCs which limits their usefulness. Another thing I noticed off the bat is AI of enemies is downright stupid. Their cone of vision is extremely narrow, and they have zero peripheral vision. It really makes things easier when you’re sneaking behind some thugs, because there’s pretty much nothing you can do to get their attention besides waltzing out in front of them.
The level design is hit or miss. Gotham City is a very grey, dark, and unmemorable place. There are no civilians, no cars on the street, and only limited activities. The story explains this with a city wide curfew because of a nasty blizzard, but that doesn’t explain why the only people you’ll see in Gotham City are miscellaneous thugs and brutes. When you head inside to the various buildings, there is a pattern that becomes painfully obvious. You will fight a group of thugs in a smaller, enclosed room and then you will move into a large room with lots of hiding places. There’s no inspiration here or creativity, and it feels largely like Arkham City. Fortunately, the combat system is very smooth most of the time or else it would be a chore to even play.
This time around, I guess in an attempt to differentiate this game from Arkham City, there’s a new multiplayer mode. This pits three teams against one another, including Batman and Robin, the Joker’s gang, and Bane’s gang. It plays as King of the Hill, requiring the two gangs to battle it out over control points and Batman and Robin to pick off stranded thugs. It plays as you might expect, the heroes can use their take down moves and the thugs control like a typical third person shooter. It’s nothing to write home about, but it is fun if you’re lucky enough to be the Bat or the boy wonder.
Visually, Batman looks good for the aging consoles. It runs at a solid 30 frames per second with only slight drops every once in awhile. Everything just looks solid when indoors. Unfortunately the same can’t be said for roaming about Gotham because it looks grey, drab, and to be honest, boring. Audio holds up particularly well, however. The vocals are done by different talent than the previous two Arkham games, but the new voice of Batman and the Joker is phenominal. Music is also great; I particularly like Joker’s rendition of Carol of the Bells.
In a way, Arkham Origins is nearly the exact same game as Arkham City. There isn’t enough new content to make Origins feel like a worthy successor to Arkham City. There aren’t enough new characters, takedowns, gadgets, or environments to make it feel like a different experience. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad game, perse, but it is a disappointment to wait 2 years for a new Batman game only to have it seem like an expansion.