Review: Batman: Arkham Origins

Will a new developer and the departure of key voice actors tarnish Arkham’s good record or will Origins be the perfect torchbearer to carry the series forward? Impact Gaming sent loyal gaming keeno Adam to return to Gotham’s streets to find out.

It’s Christmas Eve. Black Mask has placed a bounty of fifty million dollars on Batman’s head, giving 8 assassins one night to “kill the bat”. Of course, this doesn’t faze our hero one bit, and instead of staying in for the night like any sensible man, he heads out to take them head on. Batman’s first port of call is Blackgate Prison, where he investigates a break in by Black Mask and friends. Right off the bat (no pun intended), Batman feels a lot slower than in the previous instalments of the series.

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Eventually, I got to my first boss fight. This was a prospect that I was very much looking forward to, considering WB Montreal had made such a big point of improving on boss fights from previous games. If by “improving”, they meant “adding a lot more of”, great! Good job on that improvement. However I suspect that they actually meant “making better”, which is certainly not the case here. Most of the bosses are just beefed up henchmen, and the more varied battles blatantly steal mechanics from boss fights in Arkham City. The biggest casualty was the much advertised Deathstroke fight, which felt more like a series of QTEs than a boss fight.

Another element that was heavily featured in previews was the new and improved detective mode that allows Batman to reconstruct crime scenes.  While this seemed like a fun idea in theory, the implementation denies the player the ability to actually detect anything for themselves, other than the location of the next big red triangle that needs to be scanned. The result of this is a collection of sequences that act as little more than interactive cut scenes that reveal to the player where in Gotham the game wants you to travel to next.

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The game world in Origins is roughly twice the size of its predecessor. It comprises of a less war torn version of the Arkham City map and another island made up of three new districts. These two areas are connected by a tediously long bridge that makes the implemented fast travel system a must if you intend to play through the entire story without losing your mind. A poorly explained emergency curfew (I’m assuming this is due to the prison break in) means that the only people you’ll meet on the streets are the criminal gangs and the corrupt police force. Even so, I was surprised that I didn’t bump into a single civilian running late or cornered by criminals. It made Gotham seem surprisingly lifeless on a night that would have otherwise been teeming with life.

While the too-big-for-its-own-good overworld doesn’t do Origins any favours, the indoor segments are where the game really shines.  Each environment you enter is wildly different from the last. One moment you’ll be aboard a rundown cruise ship, the next you’ll be working your way up the floors of a grand hotel. On top of this, it seems that each area has been crafted with incredible attention to detail. Often I found myself scouring a room for titbits of information in the form of newspaper articles or scribbles on a whiteboard. At the end of each of these segments is an encounter with one of the many villains in the rogue’s gallery.  Fair enough, the boss fights aren’t great, but the storyline that weaves around them is often fantastic. Having so many villains after Batman’s head means that you’re never really sure who you’re going to be facing next. While I predicted one of the earlier major plot points well before the game’s release, the rest of the game had me guessing right up to the unexpected, yet tidy, ending.

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Of course, the Arkham series is no longer limited to single player. Origins comes with a tacked on multiplayer mode called Arkham Online, created by Splash Damage- the team behind the colossal disappointment that was Brink. Arkham Online only has a single mode, a 3v3v2 deathmatch, pitching Joker’s thugs against Bane’s mercenaries while Batman and Robin try to put an end to the chaos. It sounds like it could be a recipe for disaster if the balancing between heroes and villains is even remotely off. Incredibly, the balancing seems to be pretty perfect. I had a lot of fun running around as a Joker goon, doing my best to hold off Bane’s forces while keeping my back to the wall so that a bat or bird wouldn’t sneak up behind me. At one point I even got to play as the Clown Prince of Crime himself. The gang leaders are both ridiculously powerful but they don’t regenerate health or re-spawn on death, which I think is more than fair. Unfortunately I only got to play a few rounds before I was kicked out of my lobby due to a bug that causes the map to load forever. I’ll return when a patch is released.

Overall, Arkham Origins is a game that fails to escape the shadow of its predecessors. While Splash Damage have done a surprisingly good job on the multiplayer, WB Montreal have thrown a handful of unpolished ideas into Rocksteady’s already perfect formula to create something that’s good, but not great.  Not cool, WB Montreal. Not cool.


 Adam Batchelor

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