Review Platform : PC
Release Date :Oct 2013
Price : £39.99 (Steam) or free with selected Nvidia graphics cards
Batman – Arkham Asylum was a surprise hit of 2009 that put developer Rocksteady on the map. Widely regarded as the best Batman game, if not the best comic book video game, at the time the combination of a Metroidvania style game with Batman worked fantastically well, and follow up Arkham City provided more of the same, though I think it went a bit too far with the number of characters and lost some of the focus.
With Rocksteady rumoured to be working on another game, developer Warner Bros Montreal has stepped in with Arkham Origins, a prequel to the series set several years before Arkham Asylum. With a high bar set before them, are WB Montreal able to do the series proud?
Arkham Origins opens with in Blackgate Prison, Gotham City’s prison for…well, half the population I think. A slightly younger Batman earlier in his career is called into action in the middle of a blizzard on Christmas Eve as gangster Black Mask stages a riot and mass breakout of the prison, and killing the (admittedly corrupt) police commissioner. Batman is then tasked with tracking Black Mask down, all the while being hunted down by 8 assassins who have been called in to take him out.
As with previous games in the series, there is a wide array of enemies from the history of Batman (and from other DC Comics in some cases) including some returning faces from previous games in the series. This is one of the places where the game is somewhat odd, as relative newcomer Killer Croc is already an established villain, yet Batman mainstays the Riddler and the Joker are (at least at the beginning of the game) not yet on the scene. There are a few twists in the story, and I found it quite engaging from start to finish.
Gameplay wise, nothing much has changed from the previous games. This is fine, as those games played just fine, and any attempts by WB Montreal to reinvent the wheel would likely have gone down badly. The combo and countering system is all the same, detective mode, grapnel gun, gadgets etc. There are a few new gadgets added as is standard, though as it’s a prequel it makes you wonder story wise why Batman doesn’t still have these later. Surely the remote grapple might have come in handy at some point in later years? And why would he not use the Shock Gloves forever, as the make fighting significantly easier. This is of course somewhat unavoidable when making a prequel – you still want some new features so people actually have something new to play. One of the most noteworthy new features is the more detailed investigation mode where Batman performs crime scene recreation. While a good idea, it is effectively dumbed down to the point where it might as well be a cutscene as in most cases Batman just tells you what to do and then a big red marker appears telling you what to scan next, making these events slightly disappointing.
I would rather the game had been set at a different time of year. Christmas in Gotham is very snowy, however Arkham City was also quite cold and frosty due to Mister Freeze, so both games have a similar feel. This is particularly pronounced in the northern part of the map, as this is the same area that Arkham City takes place in. Sure, there are differences as the city isn’t as run down or walled off, but I couldn’t help feeling some major déjà vu at times.
Returning also are the various open world activities, very much the same as they were in Arkham City just with new names. The Riddler trophies are now Enigma datapacks, there are the Penguin’s ammo caches and Black Mask’s drugs to track down and destroy are the same as Bane’s Venom tanks and so on. It feels somewhat like WB Montreal were playing it intentionally safe – they know people loved Arkham City, so why not just give them the same again but more?
As well as the New Game + mode from the previous games, Arkham Origins also adds a third playthrough – I Am The Night. This is an even harder difficulty mode featuring no saves and only one life. Yikes.
The version of the game available when I began this review was a tad buggy. While I didn’t encounter the Killer Croc bug where he goes invisible, I did get stuck with the radio tower issue where Batman won’t climb up into a vent meaning he’s unable to complete the objective. This thankfully isn’t part of the main story missions so doesn’t prevent completion of the game, but was keeping me from 100% completion. I also had a couple of occasions where the camera went rather crazy, and one room where I had to take out an armoured enemy who was not affected by any attacks or combos and just stood there – and as the door unlocked when all enemies were defeated I had to restart my last checkpoint. Another one that didn’t affect me but did another member of CCL playing the game, Batman walked through a door and proceeded to fall through the level, and as the game auto-saves each time you walk through the door his save was stuck with Batman falling through the floor indefinitely. Finally, the character profile page for some reason didn’t work with either pad or keyboard input, only through mouse despite having onscreen prompts for both. These issues were patched in just before I submitted this review and so are no longer an issue, however there are reports of this patch causing more issues – I was playing shortly after it came out and a patch of ground in the Bowery section was acting like water instead of the floor. While it is quite surprising how some of these issues made it through testing and as this is one of Warner Brother’s flagship games franchises one would think there would be a greater attention to detail here, it is reassuring that the game has been patched so quickly.
The two main voice actors from Arkham Asylum and City, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker decided not to reprise their roles for this game, though Conroy is said to be recording lines for whatever Rocksteady’s next game will be, leaving their roles recast. Much has been said online about Troy Baker’s Joker being faithful to Hamill’s (and indeed, he is very good) and new Batman Roger Craig Smith (likely best known as the current voice of Sonic the Hedgehog) is also surprisingly good and delivers a kind of cross between Conroy’s Batman and the voice Christian Bale used in the recent films. I’m still very confused why Nolan North is playing the Penguin as a Cockney, and even worse he’s now joined by a whole army of Cockney henchmen, who are all terribly scripted.
Multiplayer on the game was developed by Splash Damage, whose last full game Brink was a bit of a mixed bag. It looked great, the setting was interesting and it had plenty of great ideas but something was a little lacking in the execution. Their work on Batman’s multiplayer however is stronger, and works surprisingly well.
Players are split into three teams – The Joker’s gang, Bane’s gang, and heroes. The gangs are primarily tasked with fighting each other and taking control of command points. These are played in a third person shooter style, with standard sprinting and cover controls. Controlling points prevents the enemy team from gaining extra lives, and wiping them out results in victory. As well as fighting the enemy team they also need to be on the lookout for heroes, who can use the tactics from the main game. The gangs can also call their team leader into play, either The Joker or Bane themselves, who are much more powerful. The hero team are Batman and Robin, unsurprisingly. They have to take out the gang members to max out their intimidation level. If they manage this before either of the gangs wipes the other out, then they win.
The multiplayer is quite fun, and it’s equally as enjoyable as either the gangs or heroes.
Despite not doing very much to differentiate itself from the previous game in the series, I enjoyed Arkham Origins quite a lot, and feel it is a worthy entry in the series. If WB Games are planning to go the Call of Duty route and alternate between releases by Rocksteady and WB Montreal to have games out more often then I’ll quite look forward to their entries too.
Batman – Arkham Origins is out now for PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and the PC version can currently be got for free along with Splinter Cell Blacklist and Assassins Creed 4 with selected Nvidia graphics cards.