Reviews: Batman Arkham Origins
Risk Reaps Rewards
Way back in the day, I was like everyone else; bearing feelings of extreme loathing at the mere idea of the Arkham license being handed over to someone else than series creators Rocksteady. Hell, in the end I decided to forego getting it altogether, as at launch there was scant little to hear about it but ceaseless complaints about glitches and bugs. Through random happenstance, I inevitably wound up with it... and was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it was a bit hard for WB Montreal to entirely fuck up such a rock-solid concept as Rocksteady's already established gameplay, but from the word go, they plainly refuse to rest on them laurels. Maybe as a way of bringing home the point that Batman is still pretty new at this whole borderline-fascist vigilante thing, the fighting requires much more concentration from the player; you can actually lose without trying to, or being placed in a poorly balanced fight situation. Overall, there's a lot more intensity and fun to the fights found in Origins, even if they're ultimately not as satisfying due to inexplicable changes of sounds and stuff like that. WB also basically drop the mic in the boss battle department, their crowning achievement Deathstroke highlighting everything great about the Arkham battle system, as City's Mr. Freeeze encounter did Predator mode. There are no truly anti-climactic fights to be found here, and the few that are less than ideal are against characters that aren't exactly physical threats in the first place. It's also home to probably the only sequel-narrative that manages not to lose its momentum due to an overabundance of shocking swerves or plot threads. While I still don't entirely appreciate its justly maligned Hijacked by Ganon twist, at least it lead to an awesome beginning for Batman's greatest rivalry. Delving heavily into the psychology of both Batman and his human disguise Bruce Wayne, it's as much a story of personal apocalypses as Gotham-threatening ones. No, the true flaws of Origins can be found in technical aspects like character animation; those cheap-looking lip movements are a plain disgrace for a 2013 game. Though the truly game-breaking glitches have long since been stamped out, what remains tends to rear its ugly head at inopportune moments. All in all though, WB did good, and then some!
Good, but it could have been great (SPOILERS)
As a standalone game, Arkham Origins, is pretty good, but as part of the Arkham series, it falls short of greatness. The first major problem is the disconnect between what the trailers promise and we actually get. The trailers imply that Batman will be facing a grueling gauntlet against eight killers, hunting them and being hunted in return, with the assassins interfering with each other in their quest for the bounty and Batman using that to his advantage. Instead two of them are side quests, and four others purely exist as someone who shows up to attack Batman while he's trying to do something else. Only Bane and Firefly's actions directly influence the story (Though Electrocutioner contributes some posthumously). Then there's the fact that Black Mask was played up as the Big Bad, when it turned out to actually be Joker. While Joker is a good villain and it was a nice twist, he's also been the Big Bad for the previous two games, and I was hoping for something new. For gameplay itself, the game clearly needed another month of testing and debugging before being released. Players who got the game right when it came out were hit with several bugs, some of them serious. One addition that was both good and bad was the Dark Knight Challenges. Unlocking tools and abilities through the challenges was a nice idea. Requiring them to be done in a specific order was not, especially with the predator challenges. Some can only be done in an handful of places, so if key challenges haven't been unlocked by certain points, it quickly becomes impossible to advance any further until you play New Game +. This isn't a feature, it's just a way to annoy players. The expanded crime scene investigation was well done, and I hope to see that again in Arkham Knight. Overall, I thought it was a nice game, but it could have been so much better.
Merely Good Amongst Greats
I was skeptical about Arkham Origins right off the bat. It hit two of my major "don't buy" flags (as well as one arbitrary flag that's specific to this series): 1) prequel, 2) different developer, 3) no Mark Hamill or Kevin Conroy. Despite that, I ended up with the game thanks to a holiday bundle PS3, and I'd wanted to give it a try anyway. My first impression of the game was that my preconceptions were wrong, but the more I played the game the more I realized they were actually correct. In the end it's not a bad game, and I'd certainly consider it good, but it falls quite short of its much better predecessors. The story started off very compelling, but the mid-game "twist" that the Joker was behind everything by pretending to be Black Mask really ruined it. While the Joker's introduction is an important part of the series' story, it didn't need to take center stage over an already interesting story concept of Batman vs. the assassins. As for the assassins themselves, too few of them had actual screen time. Half were relegated to sidequests or ridiculously brief appearances, and in the case of Shiva I didn't find her until the post-game. The gameplay was a mixed bag. The fluid, intuitive combat of Arkham City saw timing windows reduced (especially for counter-moves) and enemy interruptions vastly increased, making encounters stressful and filled with arguably unfair combo-breakers rather than satisfying and awesome. The stealth encounters were still good, and the new tools were familiar yet added enough new variety to feel fresh. The Dark Knight challenge system was a decent addition, with the exception of the stealth challenges. Because most were dependent on story-specific predator rooms, and a few of the challenges could only be completed in a very limited number of specific places, either a guide or NG+ is required. I consider this bad because every other challenge tier could be completed in a single playthrough. Even if predator rooms only respawned upon completing the story, allowing completion after the main game, it would have been 100% better. (I completed them on a single playthrough, only because NG+ is something that doesn't interest me but I wanted to have done the challenges.) Ultimately, Arkham Origins is good but not great. Asylum and City are great. I would give this about a 7.5/10.
Enjoyable but underwhelming
Batman is one of the greatest fictional characters of all time and I am allowed to say this because, as a blogger, I can make unsubstantiated statements that I claim to be absolutes (he is, though). Thus, Batman can be many things: violent, anti-social, heroic, crusading, angst-ridden, driven, and even funny. Never boring. Arkham Origins, the third installment of the popular Arkham Asylum series, is a work painfully driven by corporate desire to capitalize on the previous installment's success. Arkham City was a top contender for Charles Phipps' Best Game of All Time. I say that as an unmitigated Batman fanboy and by no means an unbiased judge. Arkham Origins builds on Arkham City's engine, map, and even storytelling engine to create itself. The results are, unfortunately, underwhelming. Arkham Origins is by no means a bad game, but this is damning with faint praise. So okay, it's average (thank you, TV tropes) would be a good description of how I feel about it. After the tremendous success of Arkham City, Montreal game developers were always going to have a tough act to follow. Still, I think they could have done better as the haste in which this game was pumped out and it's myriad flaws show everywhere. The first problem with Arkham Origins is this premise isn't bad but it's lacking punch. There's also a twist with this premise I won't spoil but proves to be wholly unnecessary. The next problem is Gotham City feels rather lifeless. Travel time is a problem in Gotham City as well. Then there's the fact the game is bugged. Not so bugged as to make it unplayable, at least on my Xbox 360 but enough to be noticeable. So what are the good points of Arkham Origins? The things which stand out as original compared to Arkham City? The first thing is Gotham City is gorgeous. The Boss Battles of Arkham Origins are a massive improvement over Arkham City's own. I also give the game props for excellent voice-acting. Despite the absence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, both Batman and the Joker are still recognizable. In conclusion, Arkham Origins is a game which could have been so much better if it had been edited and tweaked as well as properly play-tested. 7.5/10
Good, not great
Arkham Origins has fine gameplay - basically the same as Arkham City though. The story's okay - but not as good as Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Voice acting's fine. And that's the problem. The last two games were definitely works of art. The gameplay and presentation were innovative, especially for Batman games, and the story in both games was almost perfect. Origins is an approximation of Arkham City that doesn't really do anything new. (The weakest thing is the story. Its flaws are described pretty well by the other reviews on this page.)If you can get past those pesky glitches, you'll get a good game. But this game is merely good when its predecessors were great. P.S. I will now hate Deathstroke for all time.
A Valiant Effort
It's never going to be easy picking up someone else's work, but to their credit Warner Bros. Montreal actually do a decent job replicating the feel of the two original Rocksteady games. Great graphics and atmosphere, that same steady difficulty curve that introduces new threats in both combat and stealth segments. At the very least the basics were left in good shape, so it still feels like an Arkham game. In some ways I'd say the new game improves on Rocksteady's work, while in other areas... well it feels a little lacking. The boss fights, for the most part, are actually pretty damn awesome. They've certainly come a long way from Asylum's rather tame efforts. Character designs... eh, a mixed bag. Some characters like Firefly and Deathstroke look great, the early model of the Bat-suit is also pretty awesome. And Deadshot certainly looks better this time around. Though, Joker's design seems a little too drab, and Bane looks like they made a horrible hybrid of his original Lucha Libre motif and the Tom Hardy look. The result is pretty crap. There's a lot to explore and a good deal of sidequests to complete, though I will say that gliding and grappling is a slow and lackluster way to explore the city compared to something like say, Spider-Man's web swinging. Oh well, it gets the job done. If I had any major gripe, I'd say it's the plot. The premise sounded like a great one at first, a younger and less experienced Batman taking on Black Mask and a group of deadly assassins. Except it's not that at all, because it quickly devolves into the same tired and overdone plot of Batman vs Joker, with Bane taking a major role in the plot just because. Black Mask would have made for a more suitable prequel antagonist, but noooooo. Also some of the assassins aren't even mandatory battles, they're side missions. And for the build-up Deathstroke gets, he seems dealt with far too quickly. Also bringing the Joker straight back in after the incredibly ballsy ending of City... just cheapens it and Mark Hamil's retiring of the character. Oh well, Troy Baker does a spectacular job as the Joker, I daresay he'seven Hamil's peer in some regards while also bringing his own flare to the role. So yeah. Not the high point of the series, but still worth playing and you'll get plenty out of it.
A step down
The story is good, despite them going the lazy and predictable route when it came to villains. The gameplay is where most of the problems lie. Switching the buttons for the gadgets was completely unnecessary, and it's a pain to unlearn the old control scheme, especially with how quick paced the combat in the series is. The enemies seem to cloister around you more, and the areas you fight don't seem as wide as they were in City, making it harder to keep track of what the enemies are doing. I'm really good at the combat system in AC, but I found myself getting hit far more in this game. The game's not as refined technically as the others. I encountered glitches much more than in the previous games and there aren't as many subtitles for enemy chatter. I'm not sure if it's just me, but I also felt that the new environments were designed more confusingly and I found myself having more trouble getting around than I did previously. On the bright side, I thought the crime scene reconstruction was really cool, and I'm a little disappointed that they aren't more difficult. I think the game's biggest strength are the boss fights. They're a lot more nuanced this time around, and quite fun to watch too. There's a lot I like about the story, but some aspects seem underdeveloped, and numerous plot threads aren't followed up on. I realized this game probably wouldn't be as good as Rocksteady's entries, but the gameplay was more irritating, and they wasted a lot of interesting story opportunities. I say give this one a rental.
Weaker than City, but still rather good.
THERE WILL BE SPOILERS Arkham Origins is a very fun game. It may be a bit weaker than it's predecessor, however, I feel that it is still quite fun, and if you liked Asylum and City, Origins is something you should check out, although you may wish to wait for a price drop. I think part of the problem for me was the bait-and-switch. Frankly, the twist that it was Joker impersonating Black Mask the whole time felt kinda unnecessary. Had they advertised it as a Joker story, or had they actually made Black Mask the main villain while somehow also working in the Joker bits, I think the game would have been a lot stronger. Overall, it kinda dredges up complaints about how Hugo Strange was hyped as the villain in City, only to be a flunkie of a midgame boss and then the Joker turn out to be the final foe. I also felt they could have fleshed out the assassins a bit more, namely Deathstroke, who was hyped up in trailers and turns out to be one of the first to be beaten. With that said, the way they handled the Joker was excellent, I thought. The Voice Actor's performance is great (as it Batman's; both do a good job taking over from Conroy and Hammill). The sequence after the Hotel was outright awesome. Like in City, I'm irked that the plot gets hijacked by Joker, however, also like City, the way they dealt with the Joker was very well done in my opinion. Maybe not enough for me to forgive the bait-and-switch, but good nonetheless. I feel the game could've been improved by spending more time in New Gotham and having more stuff to explore there; it did feel like a retread at times. Especially when Batman interrupts the Penguin's mook-fighting tournament in a historic/classy site that the Penguin had converted into his lair and center of his arms-smuggling operation (Complete with Long Halloween nostalgia). They could've used some different gadgets, as well, I thought, though the shock gauntlets were quite fun to mess around with. While I've heard others felt the combat feels worse than the previous games, I didn't notice much of a difference. The boss fights were mostly well done as well. The Crime Scene investigation bits were better this time around as well.
Another Improvement (Spoilers)
I was pretty optimistic regarding this game, but I joined the general consensus that it wouldn't be as good as City. However, unlike the majority not only do I not see it as inferior to both of Rocksteady's entries, but it is my favorite edition of the franchise so far. The gameplay retains its quality and strengths from before and upgrades it to make sure you aren't just play through a milking copy. The Crime Scene recreation is the most notable addition to gameplay, making the detective scenes even better and more in depth as you get to replay what you've discovered so far of the crime. The map is very much enlarged, with all of Gotham City now being explorable. It's also a nice touch being able to head back to the Batcave. The side missions are the biggest improvement. While more than a few of them in City were tedious and the final encounters with the villain anti-climactic, Origins provides enjoyable, interesting side missions that have fun boss battles. They also tie in more with the main story, as 2 of the assassins (Shiva and Deadshot) are faced in side stories. The story is on par with its predecessor. It perfectly presents the raise of The Joker (a very well-executed twist reveals him as the Big Bad, not Black Mask) and the beginning of his feud with the Dark Knight. Speaking of whom, he goes through great Character Development as the game progresses, with the emotionally blocked, angry young man having to evolve into a cooperative true hero. Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker excel as the voices of the old foes, perfectly channeling Conroy and Hamil respectively. Bane also shines in his role as the secondary antagonist and physical threat, giving a truly epic Final Boss. Killer Croc also gets a satisfying boss fight at the beginning, appeasing the many fans who were outraged at how heavily disappointing the very hyped encounter between them in Asylum was. The games is also filled with Foreshadowing to numerous events in the other Arkham games. If it isn't already clear, I absolutely love this game. It is my new favorite game ever. It combines story, gameplay, and voice-acting masterfully. 10/10. A must-buy.