A new Batman game has hit the shelves, and with Rocksteady Studios handing off the torch to newcomer WB Montréal, along with a whole new cast, how does Batman: Arkham Origins hold up against its predecessors in Batman’s most successful video game franchise?
Origins joins the dark knight near the start of his career, about two years after he first dons the cape and cowl. The game has a new setting, but anyone who kept the streets clean of crime in Arkham City will feel right at home with this new addition to the Arkham franchise. In fact, the similarities to 2011’s Arkham City are uncanny, with no citizens or cars occupying the streets, just the Bat and thugs as far as the eye can see. The explanation is that everyone in the city is staying indoors for Christmas Eve to honor a city-wide curfew. The decorations lining the rooftops are nice to look at, but with streets and rooftops only patrolled by thugs, Gotham is not really overflowing with Christmas spirit.
That is not to say that Origins does not have its fair share of features that make it stand out from the previous games. The map is much bigger than City’s, with new districts that add several new locales the Bat can roam around, like Dixon Docks, Blackgate Penitentiary and the Gotham City Police Department. The bat cave is also available for the first time in the Arkham series, and Batman can revisit the facility to complete certain tasks. This is made possible by a fast travel system that utilizes the Batwing: players can travel to various drop points around the city.
The story of the Bat’s origins have been told again and again, but Origins is able to put its own spin on things, keeping the story entertaining and interesting, while also adding something to the dark knight mythos. The breakdown is that on Christmas Eve, the villainous Black Mask has placed a $50 million bounty on Batman, and eight of the world’s greatest assassins have come to claim the prize. So most of the fights in the game are decided for the player. However, the game spaces them out well, rising in difficulty evenly.
Branching off from the main story line, like the past Arkham games, there are plenty of side activities that Batman can pursue. One of the new additions in this game are the crime scenes. These CSI-esque sequences have the world’s greatest detective put on his thinking cap and piece together the events that lead to someone’s death. Assembling and finding clues in these side missions make the game consistently interesting and fun.
There are other side missions that are also enjoyable, with characters such as Shiva, Deadshot and the Mad Hatter having their own sub-plots and satisfying side-quests. The GCPD will also occasionally report Crimes in Progress which are good opportunities to gain some extra experience points. Simpler diversions are also present in the form of disabling the Penguin’s arms caches, deactivating Anarky’s bombs or blowing up Black Mask’s drug shipments.
The fluid and rhythmic combat the Arkham games are known for has not been changed much in this latest installment, but the addition of a few new enemy types, such as the martial artists which live to break the flow of combat, certainly add to the variety of ways Batman can beat up people. The combat still feels satisfying and really puts the player into the dark knight’s boots.
New gadgets are also given as the story progresses, such as the remote claw, which can be used to create tight ropes across a pair of points or, more amusingly, tie two targets together.
Along with the new toys, Batman can also upgrade his skills and his suit, and with over two hundred challenge maps and Crimes in Progress constantly being reported, there is no shortage of ways to gain experience points in Arkham Origins.
The multiplayer in Origins, Invisible Predator Online, offers a great challenge and is a fun addition to the series. The one and only game mode pits two gun-wielding teams of three against each other for control over different points on the map, while two players take control of Batman and Robin and stalk the thugs from above and below. Both teams of three work for either the Joker or Bane and start out with 25 Reinforcements, which constitute respawn tickets for either team that tick down as team members die or lose control points. During each round, however, one player on both teams has the chance to open a door and play as their leader, Bane or the Joker, doing some extra damage with their own special abilities.
Batman and Robin achieve victory by filling an intimidation meter that is done by stealth-killing enemies or other attacks. This intimidation meter also drops sharply if either of the Dynamic Duo fall. To play as Batman or Robin, if you had played as a generic thug the previous round, you can opt in for a random drawing for a chance to don the cape and mask.
This new mode feels like a good fit for the series. Although the standard 3v3 setup might seem old and played out, with the added element of Batman and Robin, it makes the player feel tense and self-conscious about where his next step is. Playing as Batman or Robin is also exhilarating, striking from the shadows on an unsuspecting victim is gratifying, but turning the tables on the caped crusaders is perhaps even more satisfying. With just two teams and four maps, there is not much room for variation, so that only points toward some DLC somewhere down the line.
Anyone who is nervous about Origins’s change of cast and developer can put their minds at ease knowing that WB Montréal has put the same level of care and respect as Rocksteady did with their installments. Although the absence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the voices of Batman and the Joker respectively is disappointing, their replacements, Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker, completely own their roles and give impressive performances, especially with Baker as the Joker.
Origins lives up to the high expectations the Arkham series has created. It is a solid game, with fun gameplay, interesting characters and a unique multiplayer mode. However, the game does stick very close to the already established formula.