The third installment of the critically acclaimed Batman Arkham game franchise has arrived with what feels like little fanfare. After establishing the fact that comic book games can be done well with the original Arkham Asylum and then giving a bigger open world in Game of the Year candidate Arkham City we get a third installment that tries to copy the formula from the first two games without briging anything insanely fresh to the table much like City brought a vast open GTA esque world where Batman could zip around fighting crime as he chooses, but what we get is most of the same game that we have played before, but is that really all there is to Arkham Origins?
Arkham Origins is a bit slow to start off, while like most games there is that boring and bland tutorial that teaches you how to play the game this one has it as well, but most of the players who have picked up Origins are already familiar with the way the game plays seeing as they really haven’t changed too much. The basic commands are all the same and that is both a good thing and a bad thing. Batman has the gadgets that he had in the first two encounters as well as several new ones which begs the question of why does these weapons or gadgets never appear in the following games? While that question is one that I am sure the team at Warner Montreal didn’t really think all the way through it’s tough to ignore but at the same time if you invest yourself into the game itself you can forget it even happened.
I guess we start with the gameplay here seeing as I already started going in on it. The game handles well, there are several quirks that I still don’t like. For instance why can’t I grapple everything? This should be something that is already worked out by this point in the series but it isn’t. Batman handles smoothly, there are shortcuts for most of the gadgets so instead of finding yourself switching with the D-Pad in combat you just hit the corresponding button combination to use the gadget. I found myself not really using as many of the gadgets in combat as I did in City which is either a testament to the usefulness of them in City or the fact that it is easy to just strike and counter in this game.
The game features a grading system that grades you on your encounters, the more Batman like your fights are the higher the score and the bigger the bonus you get on your experience. These points are used to upgrade items and moves and this is a huge improvement because this time there is a set skill tree unlike to my recollection in the previous installments. While this isn’t enough of an improvement to write home about the gameplay from the first two games really doesn’t need too much tweaking but some minor adjustments here and there would have been pretty solid.
At times Batman didn’t respond the way I wanted to and combat does get old if you play for too long. It isn’t as much as the mainly two button system but also the combat animations, you pull off a larger combo the more points you get but then they throw in guys with guns and knives and you begin to get frustrated. Sure that is all well and good and the more like Batman you play the less this is a problem that is of course if you are playing like Batman. This is also a challenge because there are times where you just want to blow through and area because you don’t have much time to play or because your patience is very thin because you keep dying. Which brings me to the difficulty curve.
At times Origins feels exceedingly easy and you blow through chunks of the game in one go but then you reach a challenge that you keep dying on, a fight or a boss where you can’t pick up the pattern. Of course most of the time the game tells you what to do for instance see the Firefly fight near the endgame and you will know exactly what I am talking about, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing but for these prompts to come up while you are actually not struggling to figure it out it does make for an easier time that doesn’t feel like you accomplished anything.
Visually Origins isn’t much improved from City in the least. There are no citizens wandering the streets late at night just criminals and cops. Both of whom are fair game for the Dark Knight to just wail on. The layout also feels very copy and paste seeing as the map is almost identical to that of City. The city isn’t necessarily the same as it isn’t as run down or covered in walls like it was last time around but a little variety would do it some good. The character models look solid as long as they are an actual character and not some random criminal who you see at least thirty times if not more throughout the duration of the game. At times there are graphical hiccups that confuse you and leave you scratching your head but you can ignore those most of the time. I am not quite sure why there are pre rendered cut scenes scattered throughout the game, I really don’t remember those in the other two games at all or even being as frequent either.
The voice acting is quite solid. Gone are Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil and their replacements do adequate. Keep in mind that this is a prequel and you can see how they could be not in the game at all. I have to say Troy Baker does a phenomenal Joker that almost makes you think that he is the very talented Mark Hamil. The soundtrack is well done but at times feels very redundant but it is a minor quip as you zip around Gotham Batmaning it up. Once again the entire presentation is well done and something you would expect from a Triple A title.
The story is another one of the strong suits of the game. At first I was suspect of the Black Mask (a relatively lesser villain) hiring assassins to take down Batman on Christmas eve but it grew on me, and so did the characters but when you get to the big reveal it feels not really as shocking as it should be. I love how the game does do the Origins fairly well and that the game was advertised as the first time Bats met the Joker and that whole confrontation is so well played out mainly on Baker’s part that it leaves you wanted more. When I finished the story I didn’t keep track of who I hadn’t seen or even beaten but I do realize that there were several left off the Batman beating list so yeah I am definitely confused.
The ultimate verdict though is this, Arkham Origins is yet another fun romp as the Dark Knight himself but this time in a prequel setting and that isn’t all that bad. A new voice cast and concept come to a new studio that doesn’t quite fill Rocksteady’s shoes, but admittedly those shoes were freaking huge. I’d recommend Origins to almost anyone who has played the first two or die hard fans of Batman. New comers I would suggest play Asylum first and then go to City so it doesn’t quite ruin the game at all in that regards. Origins does feel short and at times not as easy to sit back and play large chunks of but all in all it’s worth purchasing this holiday season. 85/100