Batman: Arkham Origins is a somewhat misleading title. Not that it isn’t an origin story, it just doesn’t actually deal with the origins of Gotham’s caped crusader or its infamous asylum. The origins in question are those of the personal relationships between the Dark Knight and his most prominent allies and enemies. It is in these carefully handled relationships that Batman: Arkham Origins finds redemption for its various flaws and shortcomings. Origins’ predecessors, Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City were two games that both broke a substantial amount of ground on arrival. Asylum masterfully distilled the essence of how it feels to be Batman whilst City released players into an open world that was literally bursting with comic book lore. Considering the level of innovation delivered by the series’ first two offerings, Origins feels overwhelmingly parasitic in comparison.
Anyone who has played through Arkham City will feel right at home the second they set foot in Gotham. The gameplay mechanics are identical to City throughout, save for a few minor additions thrown in as you progress. In combat Batman will strike, counter, stun, dodge and work in the occasional gadget or special move as before. The upsetting thing about this is that there is very little to learn from recycled material. Batman’s gadgets are, for the most part, completely identical in function if not in name (keep an eye out for the freeze grenade’s embarrassing cousin) and his hand to hand combat has gone completely untouched. The most prominent changes to combat come from new enemy types, of which I counted a total of three. Whilst these enemies do bring slight variation to the flow of battle, the change is negligible and brings practically nothing to the stellar combat that the series is known for. The second pillar of the Arkham experience known as “Predator mode” also suffers from a noticeable lack of innovation. Besides the inclusion of a few new gadget based takedowns, Batman will swing between platforms, pop out of vents and drop through ceilings in very much the same way he has always done. Learning the ropes has always been key to the appeal of the Arkham series’ mechanics and Origins adds so little room to do so that it noticeably hinders the experience.
There are just a couple of things that Origins does do for itself and they are the revamped detective mode and boss battles. Detective mode now feautres the ability to digitally reconstruct crime scenes for Batman to scrub through in search of evidence. Although visually impressive, Batman’s inner monologue tends to hold the player’s hand through every stage of the investigation, leaving very little up to genuine detective work on the player’s part. The boss battles are a little more interesting. It is clear that new developer Warner Bros. Montreal have taken special care to incorporate the three main tenants of being Batman into the heart of their boss fights. These tenants are of course stealth, combat and gadgets. The most interesting of these battles was an early one on one fight built around the free flow combat system, a system designed for fighting multiple enemies at once. By re purposing free flow combat with a single assailant in mind, Warner Bros. Montreal have crafted an intense, exciting and original multi-tiered boss fight, the likes of which should definitely make a comeback in future Arkham titles. That isn’t to say that the other bosses weren’t fun. Each comes with their own distinct tactics and no two fights feel alike, making for some refreshing breaks in running between rooms and beating on goons. Most side missions are varied enough to complete without getting bored and some lead to some genuinely great final conflicts. That being said, I found that some of these missions had you following a long trail of objectives that ended in absolutely nothing, thankfully this isn’t true for the most part and you will usually be rewarded by some sort of pay off. Predator and Combat challenge maps return for Origins and both remain essentially unchanged, but honing your skills in these arenas remains as fun and challenging as it did in previous games. Alongside Predator and Combat modes is the new addition of Combat Training, a series of exercises that take you through the basics of the rich and diverse freeflow combat system. Whereas series veterans won’t find any challenges here, newer players will no doubt appreciate the helping hand.
As previously mentioned, Origins’ strongest point is its handling of character and story. There was a brief period during the game’s opening hours where I was under the impression that Origins had missed the point entirely, this dark broody Batman seemed to have been ripped straight from the Christopher Nolan films without any of the maturity that made those movies work. As the game progressed however, I witnessed enemies made, alliances forged and stakes raised in a story that feels far more personal than either of its predecessors. One important element that Origins’ delivers on is the insanity of Gotham’s most infamous maniacs. Without revealing too much, some beautiful and surreal set pieces akin to Scarecrow’s fear gas hallucinations or Ra’s Al Ghul’s Trials of the demon from previous games are present and do not disappoint. By the end of the roughly ten hour main game I was convinced that Warner Bros. Montreal had crafted the strongest Arkham story to date. One of the things that lends credence to the story’s more personal approach is the fine voice acting on display. Troy Baker (Bioshock Infinite) turns in a stunning performance as a younger version of Mark Hamill’s Joker but my favourite new addition has to be Roger Craig Smith (Assassin’s Creed) as the world’s greatest detective himself. Though many fans seem scorned at the loss of Bat-veteran Kevin Conroy under the cowl, Smith is able to blend the calm yet stern tones of the “classic” Batman voice with a more tasteful and intimidating gruffness than Christian Bale’s illegible rumbling. This balance lends itself perfectly to a younger, darker Batman and suits the tone of Origins perfectly.
Despite the decision to retread old ground by returning to the yet to be Arkham City region of Gotham, the environment feels both fresh and a lot more spacious than previous games. This doesn’t quite feel like the massive open world Gotham that some fans might have been expecting but it works nonetheless. The biggest design flaw of this open world is without a doubt the Pioneer Bridge connecting the two main islands. This bridge and its surrounding emptiness takes up almost a third of the game’s playable space and only really has one purpose, but I won’t spoil that here. This is treated by the application of a new fast travel feature, in which Batman leaps into the Batwing and drops out at unlocked fast travel stations around the city. The other major injustice plaguing the streets of Gotham is bugs. Two hours into playing I encountered a game breaking glitch that forced me to start the entire game over again. Suffice to say this was infuriating but I didn’t encounter anything quite so serious the second time through. Objective markers and button prompts disappearing were a common issue that resulted in occasionally restarting a specific section but that wasn’t enough to really break the game’s flow. On your travels around Gotham there are various collectibles to snatch up and you’ll never be far from a brawl but there isn’t nearly as much hidden lore as in Arkham City and this really detracts from Gotham’s overall character. Yes this is a prequel and many infamous villains are yet to leave their mark on the city but it’s hard to shake the feeling that there could have been just a little more fan service in this department.
Batman Arkham Origins relies far too strongly on the success of its predecessors but is saved by a well thought out story and the strength of its core mechanics.
Thank you for reading, Expect a multiplayer review in the coming weeks.
Finished main story, Defeated all Assassin’s, completed majority of side quests, played several combat & predator challenges.