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Batman: Arkham Origins

United States, 25 October 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins proves beyond a shadow of doubt that RockSteady Games is an incredibly tough act to follow. Not to pour pressure onto WB Montreal—Lord knows the studio had enough to deal with when they were assigned the Arkham series—but Arkham Origins fails to meet the sky-high standards established by the British developer that helmed both Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Arkham Asylum. The fact that Arkham Origins has been constructed using a lot of the same assets of its predecessors can’t help but throw its shortcomings into sharper relief.

Warning! The following summary contains spoilers.


Anyone who picked up a copy of either of RockSteady’s entries in this series will be in familiar territory here. Like Arkham City, Arkham Origins is set in the open-world map of Gotham City that looks like a metropolis designed by the architects behind Gormenghast. Thanks to the Unreal Engine, Batman and nearly every goon in the city look like they’ve spent an awful lot of time down the gym.

Players navigate the map using Batman’s cape to glide between the rooftops and his BatClaw to give him a boost through the air. The one-button-attack combat is still as sublime as ever and players are able to take on multiple attackers by mixing counters with punches and gradually building up a flow. There are predator rooms. There are puzzles to solve. There’s Batman’s range of wonderful toys and, yes, Batman’s Detective Vision is both present and correct.

So far, so Arkham City, but WB Montreal brings a couple of new kinks to the mix and, naturally, there’s a brand new story. It’s Christmas Eve and Batman has spent the past two years beating up criminals and establishing his credentials as a caped vigilante. Both Gotham’s underworld and the city’s police department—which is as bent as a dog’s hind leg—want to see him strung up, but only one criminal seems to have the stones to do something about it. Black Mask has offered up a $50M contract for anyone who brings him Batman’s head.

This has attracted a group of lethal, costumed bounty hunters and assassins to Gotham in search of the caped crusader. At the same time, every criminal in the city has decided to ignore the citywide curfew in place due to a recent snowstorm and use the fact that Bats is otherwise engaged to launch a bit of a crime spree. Batman has to find Black Mask and get him to cancel the bounty, stay out of the crosshairs of the assassin and put an end to the citywide crime wave. It’s all in a night’s work, really…

Alongside the main story missions, the rooftops of Gotham are filled with collectibles and side-missions. The Riddler’s back—except here he’s called Enigma—and he’s stored data packs around Gotham’s map and protected them with an array of puzzles. He’s also taken control of several radar towers, which Batman has to enter and hack if he hopes to use the Bat Wing jet to fast-travel through the city.

Batman has a couple of new toys as well. The Remote-Claw is a line of cable with two clamps at either end. Fire it between two raised points and it can create an instant tightrope or zipline. Fire it at two objects or enemies and they’re pulled into each other. Batman also gets hold of a pair of Electro-Shock Gloves. These power up his fists, enabling him to knock down enemies and build up his flow combos faster.

Batman’s Detective Vision is also hooked up to the Bat Computer, which allows him to produce 3D reconstructions of crime scenes. It’s a neat gimmick initially, watching a crime play out and being able to rewind and fast-forward sections of it, but really, it’s a mini-game in which players watch animations and then look for the bits marked in red.

There are a couple of new enemies tossed into the mix. The Martial Arts Expert is able to counter Batman’s attacks more than once and they can deflect special attacks such as a limb-break. There’s also the Enforcer, a hulking brute that can only be attacked once they’ve been stunned with a couple of cape-flicks. Both severely impact on the player’s rhythm in combat and when mixed in with a group of weapon-wielding thugs, they can turn any fight into a gruelling encounter.

Every single thug that Batman subdues, every single collectible he picks up and every single puzzle he solves earns XP. The player can then use these points in a couple of tech-trees to unlock new abilities and features such as better armour, new combat abilities and upgrades for Batman’s gadgets.

So changes to RockSteady’s solid formula for success are slight. WB Montreal has added the odd gadget here or the odd visual gimmick there, but Arkham Origins is still the same experience players will remember from Arkham City and Arkham Asylum. The fact that the Origins is so enjoyable is a testament to how good its two predecessor are. It’s also worth noting that unlike its forebears, Origins contains a couple of bugs and glitches. The retail copy I played crashed six times, and there were moments where I was unable to interact with an opponent who I’d beaten into submission and which the game expected me to interrogate. Issues like that aren’t deal-breakers, but they’re concerning nonetheless.

The biggest change to the Arkham template in Origins comes in the form of the multiplayer, which is a largely asynchronous affair. In it, three of Bane’s cult and three of the Joker’s goons shoot it out with each other while another two players take on the role of Batman and Robin. As gang members, players capture territory and shoot their opponents. As Batman or Robin, their job is to take down the gang members; since they’re unarmed, the best way to do this is by leaping from hiding places with quick debilitating attacks. It’s a fair attempt at an online mode based on Arkham’s gameplay, but it’s unlikely to rob shooter heavyweights of any significant numbers. Long-time fans of this series will find it rather perplexing to begin with because it’s not like fans were clamoring for a mode like this.


So Arkham Origins is good but that’s because it’s standing on the shoulders of a pair of giants. Fans of this series will get a kick out of it, but if you’ve never played either Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, I suggest you’d start with one of those.


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