Lots of developers tried their hand at making a worthwhile Batman game over the years, and most of these efforts to place players in the Dark Knight’s boots failed. At least that was true until Rocksteady brought us Batman: Arkham Asylum back in 2009. Asylum was the “Most Critically Acclaimed Superhero Game Ever,” according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Arkham Asylum got the voices right, gave us the gadgets, the Batman look, the moves, and gave us the fearsome reputation to make the bad guys shit their pants! Batman: Arkham City gave us a little more city to play around in, a few more villains, and more puzzles and fetch quests.
Sleigh Bells...and a Touch of Smilex
For those who are unaware, Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel to the other two games, taking place only two years after Bruce Wayne returns from his “sabbatical.” Batman is still considered a vigilante in the eyes of Gotham’s finest, and police corruption is the norm, rather than the exception. It’s Christmas Eve, and Black Mask and Killer Croc took Police Commissioner Loeb hostage inside Blackgate Prison, giving him a tour of the facilities that culminates with a demonstration of the execution chamber. Batman arrives shortly after the break-in. Although Batman misses the opportunity to save Loeb, his interrogation of Killer Croc and recovery of some evidence tip off the fact that Black Mask hired eight assassins to kill Batman for 50 million dollars, but only if they can accomplish the feat on Christmas Eve. The rather hefty prize understandably captures the interests of all eight assassins. The message intercepted by Batman was sent to Deathstroke, Copperhead, Silva, The Electrocutioner, Firefly, Bane, Dead Shot, and the aforementioned Killer Croc.
In addition to assassins swooping in from all directions, Batman must also deal with Anarky placing bombs all over Gotham for “the greater good.” Enigma tries to start his own version of a virtual apocalypse, Penguin passes out space-age weapons like they’re fucking Halloween candy, the Mad Hatter kidnaps “Alice” for some psychedelic fun, Black Mask places large capacity drug cannisters all over the city, and everyone’s favorite psychotic clown leaves a trail of dead bodies all over Gotham City. It’s going to be a long night for the Bat. Why does everyone pick Christmas Eve to start this shit?
The Newest Thing in Gotham
Warner Bros handed the development reins over to its in-house Montreal development team, so Rocksteady is out of the picture for this title. Arkham Origins is relatively kid-friendly...somewhere around a PG-rating if it were a movie. Mark Hamill does not reprise his Joker role in this one, but the new guy does an admirable imitation of the Jedi’s voice work.
Batman doesn’t feature many new tricks this time around. He develops a glue grenade that acts in the identical capacity as the freeze blast from the last game: plugging steam and making rafts. Batman obtains a spear shooter from his encounter with Deathstroke that can be used as a high-wire in situations where the Bat cannot grapple. Fast travel via the Batwing is probably the most useful new addition to Batman’s arsenal, but is only available to the individual boroughs that have been cleared of Enigma’s tower scramblers.
The highlights of the game center around Batman’s assassin battles. Each boss possesses an individual fighting style and weapons and no two encounters are the same. Deathstroke is a capable fighter, so effectively countering his attacks is a necessity. Copperhead uses a deadly poison that causes hallucinations, Deadshot will shoot at you, Bane will try to Venom-crush the Bat, and the Electrocutioner possesses some shock gloves that might be useful if he could be persuaded to part with them.
From the moment I started playing Batman: Arkham Origins, I felt like I was playing DLC for the last game. Nothing much has changed. Players swoop down and fight the same group of guys from Arkham City, using the exact same moves, to obtain nearly identical upgrades. The city looks the same, the enemies are still numerous, repetitive and monotonous, and the animations, like spraying explosive gel, prying ventilation shafts open, and ledge takedowns, are identical to Arkham City. No wonder the development cycle on this game was so short: the cutscenes are the only new feature in the game. I often felt like I was playing a game that I had already finished...and was sick of playing. The only real advancement in this game was an enhancement to Detective Mode, which has a real “who gives a shit” aura about it. I don’t really need to know the exact trajectory of a bullet to know that it was fucking Deadshot, and I don’t need a crystal ball to tell me that we are going to cross paths later anyway. You don’t necessarily have to be the world’s best forensics guy to be the world’s greatest detective.
All the little side shit from Arkham City also returned in a big way. Knocking out Enigma’s relays, interrogating his goons, and collecting his data packets was an unwelcome chore...especially when some little puzzle must be solved in order to obtain the packet or shut down the relay. I never finished Riddler’s stupid side-shit in the last two games, what makes him think that I give a shit this time around. Go ahead and broadcast your blackmail data, I’ve got assassins to deal with, Nerd Boy.
If you haven’t played one of the Rocksteady Batman games, then getting this game is a no-brainer. If you’ve played through the other two games, then this is going to feel like too much of the same too soon. Wait for the price to drop.