‘Batman: Arkham Origins’ Review

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive 

Developer(s): WB Games Montreal, Splash Damage

Genre: Action Platform Played: PlayStation 3

It’s Christmas Eve; instead of enjoying a relaxing evening feasting on Christmas ham with Alfred, young Bruce Wayne two years into his career as Batman is forced to investigate a riot at Blackgate Prison.

As Batman traverses his way through a hell-driven Blackgate, and eventually to the prison’s rooftop, he engages the reptilian villain known as Killer Croc in combat. Upon Croc’s defeat, Batman learns mobster Roman Sionis – also known as Black Mask – has hired eight assassins to kill him for a jollying reward of $50 million.

Getting to Sionis and through the assassins is proven a difficult task, however. As an origin story, we are shown a Batman early in his career within the Arkham universe through Batman: Arkham Origins, so he’s not quite as adept in multiple ways. He has yet to establish himself as a fearful face among Gotham’s criminals, the corrupt police see him as a vigilante and there’s a new, evil threat unlike anything he’s encountered at that point: the Joker.

The Joker is no joke.

Warner Bros. Montreal handled Batman’s uprising tale well for the most part. In a weird sense, and this is coming from someone whose favorite superhero is the Dark Knight, it’s awesome to see Batman make mistakes as the game progresses. One such example is after defeating an assassin, he doesn’t think to tie them up and call the police to take him in, a mistake which nearly bites him later on. Clusters of criminals exclaiming phrases such as “The Bat is real?!” as he approaches them in the night sky adds extra flavor to the origin story as well. It’s also heart-wrenching to see how corrupt the Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), as they are the only form of “justice” the city has to offer.

While the nine-hour story (or less depending on how side-tracked you get from the side missions) is an engaging one from its genesis, I was disappointed with how it barely explored what Bruce went through psychologically from the time of his parents murder to the start of the game. You could argue how we’ve all heard the story a thousand times, and you wouldn’t be incorrect, but as an origin story in a Batman universe molding many iterations from movies to comics to the animated series into one action-packed video game bundle, it’s a wasted opportunity.

For the first time in the series, players can venture outside the imprisoning walls of an Arkham complex and into the gloriously dark Gotham City. While exciting, Gotham doesn’t feel like, well, Gotham. Due to the riotous events at Blackgate, all citizens are ordered by the GCPD to stay indoors for a mandatory curfew, and the streets are riddled exclusively with thugs. As a result, the open-world metropolis feels like a bigger Arkham City instead of Gotham, especially since the upper half of the map literally is Arkham City in the future.

Batman in the most intense game of hide-and-seek ever: him vs. the citizens of Gotham.

Other newcomer to the series is a multiplayer mode. You play as one of three teams with a total of eight players: three thugs from the Joker’s gang, three mercenaries from Bane’s cadre, and a tag-team with Batman alongside sidekick Robin – which is kind of strange because Robin isn’t in the main story. Players who aren’t one of the two caped heroes play in an over-the-shoulder third-person manner using an assortment of weapons. Both team members also have tailored weapon sets and perks to fit the personality of their gang’s boss. Weapons are also progressed in a Call of Duty manner where you can eventually prestige in level.

Sounds like an interesting idea on paper, right? It certainly is, but its transition to your screen couldn’t be a more average experience, and that’s if you’re lucky enough to get into a group without losing connection, let alone finding anyone else playing. Everything from the shooting mechanics to the perks and the level progression are all things we’ve seen in other games before. That’s not to say it’s necessarily bad. However, seeing as how the multiplayer was not only created by another developer, Splash Damage, but announced less than three months before the game’s launch, I can’t shake the feeling that it was tacked on as a just-because thing for the game.

Aside from these faults, Arkham Origins is everything you would expect from an Arkham game, making it a worthy entry to the series.

The third-person brawler combat is still incredibly enthralling and will constantly keep you on your toes, especially with the new Martial Artist enemy type, who, unlike normal foes, has a better chance of standing toe-to-toe with the Caped Crusader. Stalking criminals covertly and taking them out one-by-one in Predator sequences retain its thrill factors as well. Both the combat and stealth mission are fully fleshed out in the addictive challenge maps, which now include customizable challenges.

The sidequests with Gotham City’s scum and villainy will easily keep you occupied for over a dozen hours once the story is complete. Admittedly, some of them are too akin to one another with the go-here-and-destroy-this formula, but they’re still nonetheless fun, especially with the presence of Batman’s signature nemeses. The boss fight with Deathstroke in the main story is particularly amazing with its incredible choreography. In fact, the fight doesn’t stray too far from the official trailer as seen below.

When you throw these elements in with the new, more in-depth investigative moments, which allows Batman to view crime scenes by rewinding or fast-forwarding time, Warner Bros. Montreal accomplishes what its predecessor developer did before it: making the player feel like Batman.

Although Gotham is an ironically empty utopia brimming solely with criminals, it’s still an impressive spectacle to behold because of how large Origins’ map is. The game manages to not only look fantastic via Unreal Engine, but it runs smoothly minus the occasional, but expected load times.

For those of you fretting over Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill’s absence as the voices of Batman and the Joker respectively, their replacements manage to do a great job, particularly Troy Baker (Bioshock Infinite’s Booker DeWitt and Last of Us’ Joel) taking the Joker’s voice throne. If I had not previously known Mark Hamill would not return to voice the Clown Prince of Crime, I likely wouldn’t have noticed a difference. It’s that good.

Warner Bros. Montreal had a tough task at hand: to deliver a Batman game experience equal to what Rocksteady essentially built from the ground up. While they succeeded in many aspects from the incredibly entertaining gameplay to the visuals and story, there were certainly some things that could’ve been done for the better.

We finally get to trek through the streets of Gotham-freaking City, something players have wanted since Arkham Asylum. Instead, we got what is essentially a larger Arkham City due to non-existent Gotham citizens. Although we’ve heard the story over and over, barely touching upon Bruce Wayne’s trials and endeavors coping with the death of his parents is truly a wasted opportunity for an origin story. And while the multiplayer presents interesting ideas, it could’ve been much better if more time and effort was put into it.

Still, Arkham Origins is well worth your time with all there is to do in Gotham. Though it wasn’t made by Rocksteady, Batman: Arkham Origins deserves your acknowledgement as canon to the franchise.

The Good

+ The game makes you feel like Batman

+ Plenty to do

+ Visually impressive as an open-world title

+ Troy Baker as the Joker

The Bad

– Gotham is just a bigger Arkham City

– Wasted opportunity not psychologically going in-depth with Bruce Wayne/Batman

– Meh multiplayer

The Score: 8