Real Talk By: Cmack the Don
Here at Play Legit, the Batman: Arkham series by Rocksteady has been held in high regard, with 2011’s Arkham City previously winning our game of the year award. In my case particularly, being a lifelong fan of the Caped Crusader in all mediums, the Arkham series of games has a special place in my stone cold pimp’s heart. Asylum laid the groundwork for the series and introduced a well-defined yet contained world of Batman and his rogues gallery, all reinvisioned by the developers at Rocksteady, who obviously have some serious passion and love for the character and his world. Then City opened it up further, improved the features, added new ones, and turned what was good into great, what was a well oiled machine into a polished, fully realized one.
With the bar set so high, any news about this series for me and many in the gaming community has been very anticipated, so it goes without saying expectations were high for the series prequel, Arkham Origins. In the story of Origins, it is set 5 years before the events of Asylum, with this being their take on a younger Batman, a la Batman Begins. Overall, I would say this entry in the series doesn’t live up to the standards set by the other 2 games, and I will elaborate why I think this, but be warned
This review will have spoilers.
Since I try to be positive and optimistic about entertainment in general (it’s something meant for enjoyment after all), let’s look at what was done right with Arkham City Origins. The game has a brand new voice cast from the previous two, leaving out the now legendary Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy and going for younger sounding voices/actors for each, that both sound like they will eventually transition into the sound that we expect from the characters. The rest of the cast really had a great sound to them, and I could picture an entirely new Batman animated series voiced by the actors heard in this game.
The combat and predator portions of the game, the meat of the gameplay, again deliver, and are both satisfying, accessible and easy to pick up and play, but have a lot of opportunity for mastery. The option of choosing how deeply skilled you want to be with the gameplay is one of the best parts about the Arkham series.
Despite still being overall satisfying, the gameplay is lifted from the previous games in a practically cut and paste manner, without too many meaningful changes, but more on that later.
A nice addition I liked was aside from the challenge combat/stealth rooms, they now have training based rooms that allow you to practice and develop a particular skill in stealth or combat, with a certain objective or goal in mind during that room, which not only benefits gameplay, but gives you the feeling of how Batman has to constantly train and better himself, unlike characters with superpowers.
There are a few new enemy types, such as the Armored Enforcer, who is something of a composite of the armored and “big guy” enemies from the previous games, but still fun to take on, and then the more interesting Martial Artist type, who provided an interesting new twist on the counter system that Arkham is famous and imitated for, and something new to adjust to in terms of the flow of combat.
Level design is consistent with the other Arkham games, with new parts of Gotham being shown such as a long bridge and an eerie shipyard, all the locations in the game are right at home with classic Batman, and I could easily see them being live action or animated series, even comic book locations.
Like the other games, the stages have areas that you can’t access til later in the game, and give the world a good sense of curiosity and adventure to it, as well as increasing replay value.
The story is serviceable, with some cool appearances and cameos from some great Batman and DC characters, such as a personal favorite of mine, Deathstroke. There’s a few interesting moments in the story where we see Batman make a mistake where he otherwise wouldn’t have, get a look at how his ideas about improving his gadgets have developed, and some background on the Joker that draws influence from both the comics and animated series.
More or less everything wrong with Batman: Arkham Origins in my opinion stems from one place: lack of devotion to their driving concept. Which is: a younger, more inexperienced Batman. At no point playing the game did I ever feel like I was playing a different version of the character as opposed to the other games, and in fact, due to some parts of what this game offered, was either confused or taken out of the experience entirely. For example: If this is a less experienced Batman, then why don’t we see that factor into any part of the gameplay? If you play properly, this Batman is every bit as powerful, cunning, and efficient as the one seen in Arkham City, who was certainly a step up from Arkham Asylum.
This causes an inconsistency. If Batman’s combat system and style is taken from City, the furthest down the line chronologically, then how does that explain how he plays/performs in Asylum? Did Batman take a few years off and forget some moves, get sloppy, become less efficient? I doubt it, it doesn’t fit the character. Every part of the game has this kind of inconsistency and flaw. Let’s look at the new Detective Mode. In Origins, Batman can now use his cowl’s sonic based imaging system to actually recreate a mostly accurate holographic image of the crime scene, that he can then pause, rewind, and fast forward. In my opinion, Detective Mode shouldn’t have even existed in this game, with Batman maybe having an “instinct mode” (similar to Hitman Absolution) that would be less refined, as well as having to search crime scenes with nothing but his eyes and wits, no holographic imaging. He didn’t have this technology in Asylum, which was 5 years after this entry.
Think how much technology has advanced in 5 years. By Batman’s standards, which are always years beyond what even the government has, he would have a much, much more advanced system in Asylum and City if he had this type of system available 5 years before either of those.
There’s also his costume and gadgets. In Asylum and City, we get a Batsuit that is refreshingly not like the all-black design of the movies, but a dark blue and grey design that looks like the comics, but a little more armored and practical. It has a nice style of it’s own, and looks like (in the world of the ) that he’s developed it over years.
Why then, in Origins, is Batman wearing an all black, armored type suit like we would see in the Nolan films? These games are set in a more comic book style world, and I’d appreciate the classic colors. A better idea for his costume would’ve been something like the early comics, a kevlar stitched fabric bodysuit with a heavy leather cape that couldn’t even glide. He would only get the idea to then improve on it throughout the game.
In terms of the gadgets, they’re mostly the same, with Batman having a “glue grenade” that replaces what the freeze grenades did in City, but again, this causes a problem. The glue grenades are useful both in puzzle solving and combat, so why wouldn’t he keep these in his arsenal? 5 years later in Asylum, they’re nowhere to be found. Speaking of useful gadgets not showing up, after you defeat the comically underpowered Electrocutioner (whose appearances in the game are hilarious!), you eventually get to take his electrified gauntlets, which ‘tase’ people the second you hit them, making your hits unblockable, even from armored and weapon-bearing enemies. Not only does this overpower Batman in a combat system that’s already easy to navigate (I had the same issue with the Wii-U version of Arkham City, with Batman having those weird pulse gloves), but it also makes you wonder why he wouldn’t keep these gloves and permanently make them apart of his suit.
Everything from the Batclaw to the Decryption device should’ve been lower tech. The gas pellets for example, should slowly fill the room with smoke, gradually, instead of a more efficient design like in City. Or maybe no gas pellets at all, seeing as he didn’t have them in Asylum. He shouldn’t have had a Batclaw/Grapple Gun in this game, but rather a hook/line that he would have to toss by hand, like in the old comics and shows. That would’ve been fun, retro, and given you the idea of how much his equipment has changed.
The only thing close to this the game offers is a gadget from Deathstroke that predates the Line Launcher from the other games, and isn’t as versatile. This is the right idea, but felt like too little, too late.
Something that would’ve strengthened the concept of the game and really made you feel as if you were playing a younger, more inexperienced Batman, would’ve been for the creators to really look at Batman Begins and Frank Miller’s classic Year One graphic novel, that Begins was partially based on, to see what ideas they could’ve had in showing a less refined Dark Knight. I mentioned the moments in the cutscenes were Batman makes mistakes, but there’s really only a few I can imagine, about 2. For the most part, he’s shown to be as capable as always. If they weren’t going to put it in the gameplay, they could’ve thrown his lack of experience in the story for sure.
Speaking of the story, while I mentioned it was serviceable, it’s just that, with the story in Asylum and especially City being very strong, not just for video games, but for just about any medium of Batman entertainment. The writers found great opportunities for villains to show up, and provided good settings and turns of events in each. With Origins and it’s assassination storyline, it’s more or less just an excuse to have a bunch of villains in one game. If you’re going to do that, at least come up with something that makes a little more sense, such as having all the villains and Batman be stuck together in a prison, like the previous games.
I didn’t buy that the cast of villains would really be convinced to work together on this single contract against Batman, or even have competition from others. Almost each of the 7 villains featured in the story are strong enough villains on their own. You could’ve made an entire game of Batman versus Bane or Deathstroke, with side villains added in, for example.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the story however, is that while Black Mask was hyped and advertised as being the villain, the entire assassination plot was contrived by the Joker, who is masquerading as Black Mask for most of the game. A peeve of mine with Batman material is an over-focus on the Joker, who, while Batman’s eternal arch-enemy, is definitely overused, and overshadows other great enemies that Batman has. If they had taken their cues from Batman Begins or Year One like they should have, they would’ve only had 2 or 3 major villains at most, with The Joker being totally absent and teased at the very end instead, building the anticipation. I find it hard to believe that a rookie Batman could even beat Deathstroke (who has beaten Batman at his best before in the comics), let alone Bane, Lady Shiva, Black Mask, The Joker, and more all in a single night.
But all of those flaws would’ve still made Arkham Origins a fun, worthwhile game for the most part. If the original dish is excellent, then re-heated leftovers a day later are still going to be pretty good. But not when someone didn’t wrap the leftovers properly and let them spoil. The absence of Rocksteady is very obvious in Origins, and while it borrows from the superior programming of the previous games, it has less precision in control than City, which is crucial when you’re trying to rack up a high score with many enemies all around you. The graphics don’t have the same smooth, excellent texture that City has, which in my opinion has some of the best in-game graphics of any game on current-gen consoles. The graphics in Origins aren’t atrocious, but I can see from many hours of City that they aren’t quite as defined and polished, the visuals just aren’t as engrossing. I would’ve put this amongst the bad, but to me it’s odd, since the rest of the program code was obviously copied. Why not copy the graphics too?
I’m no expert on why that would be, as I only play video games, not design them, but I can say for sure that despite not knowing programming, that the glitches this game has are completely unacceptable for a completed product going at 60 dollars and maybe more with a pre-order.
In my time playing Origins for this review, I saw punches pass through enemies, Batman not respond to control in combat at all, enemies get back up and run in place, unable to be hit (after being defeated), enemies stuck within the background, and worst of all, within the week I had rented it, 2 separate save games totally corrupted at 2 different points. I know this has been a big issue with this game, and that WB Games is releasing a supposed patch to fix the problem, but in my 2 years of playing Arkham City, I have never once had anything beyond a very minor glitch or slowdown, after playing it on multiple consoles and discs from myself and friends.
I actually was at 90% completion for the main story, and couldn’t finish it for this review, so I actually don’t know how the game ends because I’d have to get the patch for that. The patch that should be necessary. After the first save game was ruined, on my play through before my other file got corrupted, I really looked at Origins and it’s programming as I was playing it, and saw a lot of sloppiness on the details. Rocksteady didn’t have direct involvement in this game and that was a mistake.
Everything good about Origins is recycled, and has been done better elsewhere. There’s a few new novel features, but nothing that truly innovates and adds to the gameplay, like the difference between Asylum and City. I think that’s why people responded to Arkham City so much, it fleshed out the potential of what was developed in the first game. Think of how they added double, even triple counters, armored and melee weapon possessing enemies, minibosses, double stealth takedowns, new combat gadgets, etc. Then think of the innovations this game had: a new enemy meshed together from two previous, another totally new one (which was good), and then overpowered shock gauntlets, with a few minor changes in the combat system, nothing totally new and different.
The poor programming and glitches make playing the game a risk, and the lack of precision takes away the thrill of mastering Batman’s skills like in the other games. The story is sub-par, and overall the game is a place holder for the next true entry in the Arkham series, this is a rental or used purchase at absolute best. You really wouldn’t be missing much if you just played through Arkham City and did some challenge maps either.
Batman: Arkham Origins Gets
Out of five
+ Good Voicework
+ Challenge rooms are still fun
-Copy and paste mechanics