Also On: PS3, Wii U, PC
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal / Splash Down
It’s hard to deny that Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham formula might be a little long in the tooth already, but that doesn’t mean that what Warner Bros. Montreal and Splash Damage managed to do with Batman: Arkham Origins isn’t somewhat impressive. It’s rare to see a development team take over a beloved franchise and emulate what worked from the previous iterations, but that’s exactly what happens here. Of course it would be nice to see a little more innovation given to this, something comparable to the leap in scope between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City for instance, but I’m willing to bet that Warner Bros. is simply trying to keep the series in a holding pattern for whatever Rocksteady is currently developing at the moment for next-gen.
Arkham Origins, as the name implies, is a prequel to the previous entries in the series. Here we see a younger Batman, before his rogues gallery filled with the likes of Two-Face and Scarecrow, adapting to his life as the protector of Gotham City. His relationship with the Gotham Police Department is antagonistic at best, and throughout this adventure he is constantly at odds with a younger Jim Gordon, prior to his days as Police Commissioner of Gotham City. While we still get to see a lot of familiar villains, most of the encounters are first run introductions, building up the cat and mouse relationships already established in Asylum and City.
This is familiar ground for most Batman fans, but I was glad to see that Warner Bros. Montreal didn’t make some sort of attempt at covering the excellent Year One mini-series by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. Instead they opt to craft a unique tale set against the backdrop of Christmas Eve. Black Mask, one of the largest crime kingpins in Gotham, has put out a bounty for Batman, bringing in various assassins to take down the Dark Knight. This sets up the boss structure for the game, employing villains like Shiva, Bane, Copperhead and more. This might not be the most recognizable cast for non-comic fans, but again you’ll get to see some more familiar faces throughout the game that I won’t spoil here.
Like the last two games, there’s a hefty mix of stealth and action used throughout this adventure. As Batman you’ll grapple across city rooftops, hang from gargoyles and other outcroppings, snag thugs through silent takedowns, and engage in a number of fist fights with incredible odds stacked against you. The fantastic combat system that you know and love returns here, and feels a little quicker and tougher than before but without any major changes or snafus. You’ll acquire upgrades by earning experience, and by participating in story missions that give you access to new gear like glue grenades and frequency jammers. Again, a lot of the tools familiar to series fans return here, with a few newcomers with mixed results.
Batman: Arkham Origins really shines in the various indoor stages that you’ll explore throughout the story. While the open-world city navigation is easy enough and filled with additional content, I felt like I had all that I needed from Arkham City, and Origins doesn’t add much new here. There are certainly different areas from the last game available, but you’ll have a tough time telling the immediate difference between the two worlds. But the interior stages stand out as unique experiences compared to the past two games, and leave the longest lasting impression here. There’s a nice mix of puzzle solving and combat, and the investigative portions of the game that have you piecing together crime scenes provide a neat little break from the rest of the standard mechanics, and show off Batman’s detective abilities quite well.
Another element worth praising is the excellent voice acting on display. We’ve got newcomers in the role of Batman and another iconic character I hate to spoil here, and both do really well in the role. It’s hard to imagine Batman without Kevin Conroy’s voice going in to this, but Roger Craig Smith is a really solid replacement that provides a little more emotion and depth to this younger Bruce Wayne than you might expect. I also really enjoyed the soundtrack, which does a solid enough job of emulating Hans Zimmer from the Nolanverse films, mostly providing some ambience when patrolling Gotham as opposed to taking center stage outside of climactic fights.
The last element I’d like to touch on here is the inventive multiplayer mode introduced by developer Splash Down. This isn’t really a series that needed an MP mode, but I enjoyed the inclusion here, and I think it’s a solid idea for any franchise to branch out MP to a second developer in order to keep the original dev focused on the single player portion of the game. However, multiplayer in Arkham Origins is a bit light mode-wise; you’ll only have the Invisible Predator Online mode to participate in at the moment.
This mode revolves around two teams composed of gangs for Joker and Bane, battling it out on four different maps for supremacy of control points. Each team has limited lives to consume, with the end goal being to capture all points or wipe out the other team. But a third party is thrown into the mix with the inclusion of Batman and Robin, controlled by two characters at random for each round. The Dynamic Duo can throw a massive wrench into any game plan, equipped with a set of skills designed to disable and knock out enemies, slowly building a meter with each successful takedown, making it possible for the two to win the round instead of either gang.
To aid the gang a bit, after a certain point one gang can unlock their gang leader, bringing either Bane or The Joker into the fray. Only one of the villains can be used per round, and whoever unlocks their leader will assume control of them. They add a more expansive and effective host of abilities than typical gang members, making them harder to kill or takedown for either the rival gang or Batman and Robin.
Finally, MP is outfitted in experience, leveling, and customization options culled from other popular titles nowadays. You can level up in a few different manners, with separate levels for the two gangs represented, and then an overall level for you in general. Leveling up gains you additional gear, and there’s a separate leveling system for weapons too. Basically, there’s a lot of stuff here to keep you coming back for more, and leveling occurs quickly enough that you’ll have trouble getting bored if you enjoy the core concept. Again, it’s really light on modes, and hopefully gets expanded upon in later DLC, but the mechanics here are really fun.
The last thing I’d like to note though, and this is currently a major problem that I personally encountered, is that the game has a fair number of awful bugs accompanying it. The one that I ran into, which almost eliminated my forward progress completely, was a freezing bug that occurred any time I began the Firefly focused mission towards the tail end of the game. I’d approach a particular bridge, which would trigger a cutscene, and my entire Xbox 360 console would lock up. Restarting and jumping back in led to a similar freeze, over and over again.
A solution given online by other players was to clear my hard drive cache, which deleted the day one update, and then to decline the update when restarting the game. This forced me to play the remainder of the game offline, but did indeed fix my issue. However, I’ve seen a lot of players report corrupted save files due to similar freezes that happen while the game is saving, literally wiping out all progress. I’m somewhat surprised this hasn’t been addressed via a new patch (at least on 360) as of yet, and I think it’s a serious problem that really needs to be addressed by Warner Bros. Interactive.
Assuming that does get fixed though, this is a really fun entry in the Arkham series despite bringing in a new studio outside of Rocksteady to develop it. Warner Bros. Montreal might not add much of a personal touch to the gameplay, but they do a really fantastic job of emulating what made the previous games so much fun. I’d love to see more innovation here, but I was more than willing to jump back into Gotham City and battle it out with Batman’s iconic villains once again. I had a lot of fun with Arkham Origins, I thought the multiplayer mode was interesting, and I definitely think it’s worth checking out, once some of the more serious bugs are addressed.