Gaming Nomad vs. Batman: Arkham Origins
As I’ve said before, Batman: Arkham City Is one of my favorite games from the past five years and was my pick for game of the year in 2011. Now the prequel to the successful Batman Arkham series is out: Arkham Origins.
Unlike the previous two Batman games, which were made by Rocksteady Studios, this was instead handled by Warner Bros. Games Montréal, who really haven’t had much experience with work on cross-platform games. This made me skeptical, however, the footage and screen shots we had been seeing all year made Arkham Origins very promising.
Unfortunately, I was very right to be skeptical. Arkham Origins does have a lot of good things going for it but it has many flaws, especially when compared to the previous games. Let’s see what’s good and what is bad about the Dark Knight’s newest outing. No spoilers and please refer to my Arkham City review for some of the basic gameplay elements.
The game is set five years before the events of the first Arkham game. It is Christmas Eve in Gotham City and there has been an attack on Black Gate Prison by the nefarious Gotham crime lord Roman Sionis aka Black Mask. Batman, in only his second year of crime fighting, flies out to investigate the attack to find the prison under siege. Batman is only just now being considered a threat by the crime families in Gotham, is still thought to be an urban myth by most people, and is considered a wanted vigilante by the GCPD.
As Black Mask makes his escape, Batman learns that Black Mask has placed a 50 million dollar bounty on his head and called in 8 of the deadliest assassins in the world to take down him down. Batman heads out into the winter storm that is covering Gotham where, on this faithful Christmas Eve night, he will meet many of the people who will become his long time enemies and allies.
Arkham Origins’ strongest point is its story. It does a great job establishing some of Batman’s most well known characters and some lesser known ones as well.
That said, the game does have a rocky start by just moving too quickly, then slowing down to a grinding halt as soon as the game opens up to you. It takes another couple hours of gameplay before it really picks up again. The characters are the other strong point of the game. We have Bruce Wayne still trying to improve his crime fighting methods while trying to justify his actions and motivations to Alfred (who plays a much bigger role in this game). I was happy to hear that Black Mask was going to be the main bad guy, as he is one of my favorite not-so-well-known Batman villains. However, his role does kind of diminish by the end of the game.
We see how Batman meets Barbra Gordon (who later becomes Batgirl and Oracle). I wish there was more interaction between the two but we do see more interaction and development between Batman and GCPD Captain James Gordon, who by the end of the game come to trust each other. The 8 assassins are interesting but don’t really see much development at all aside from Deathstroke, Shiva, and Bane. Bane is handled very well and is what Bane should have been in The Dark Knight Rises.
Most are reduced to side missions and then exit from the game once they are defeated. We also see the Riddler before he takes the title of Riddler and once again, has the game’s biggest and over reaching side mission.
Of course, stealing the show again and the highlight of the game is Batman’s first encounter with The Joker. The sequence in the Gotham Royal Hotel halfway through the game is epic from beginning to end and we even get a look into what might be Joker’s origin, heavily inspired by The Killing Joke. The game also has an epic final act and a good ending. The game is shorter than the previous two games, I think. If you only do the main missions, you can get through the game in 7 to 8 hours. However, I made sure to do as many side missions as possible, extending the gameplay time greatly and have yet to complete all the side missions 100% at the time I am writing this, but I think it’s still slightly shorter than Arkham City overall. The story and characters do justice to the Batman universe, sadly, the gameplay does not.
First, let’s look at what is good. The game’s size has been almost doubled from Arkham City with an entirely new part of Gotham to visit. The game is divided into two areas, Old Gotham and New Gotham with a large bridge connecting the two. Old Gotham is where Arkham City took place but before it was converted into a mega-prison. If you’re familiar with the layout of Arkham City, it is interesting to see and explore it in this past setting. New Gotham is entirely new and filled with fancy, up class, high rises. Due to its size, quick travel points were added in so you can use the Batwing to travel to and from each city section quickly. However, as soon as you get into the city, you discover that the Riddler has locked all the communication towers in the city. You will not be able use the quick travel spots until you unlock the towers and this causes a problem early in the game. Until you get at least one tower unlocked on each side of the city, you‘ll have to travel by gliding and grappling. It becomes a lot less fun with the large amount of distance you have to travel, especially over that bridge. Plus many of the towers cannot be unlocked till you get some upgrades in the latter half of the game. Speaking of the Riddler, he’s got you collecting green things again. Thankfully, it’s toned way down from the previous game. Instead of collecting 400+ green question marks, you’re collecting extortion files that are limited to 10 per section of the city so totaling out around a little over 100 files to collect.Speaking of side missions, the side missions are one of the big flaws of Arkham Origins. They’re not bad but the majority of them are just rehashes of the side missions from Arkham City, just with different villains.
It doesn’t feel like any real progress has been made moving forward from the previous game.
The same can be said even more so with the gadgets. There are only a couple truly new gadgets: the remote line launcher and the electric gauntlets. The new line launcher is cool as you can use it to make tight ropes and use it offensively to string up enemies or make stuff slam into them. Other gadgets are just copies from the previous games, like the glue grenades function exactly the same way as the freeze grenades. It’s the same story with many of the other gadgets. The electric gauntlets are cool but that’s mainly because they’re a life saver during the now flawed combat system.
When I first started playing, right away I noticed something was different about the combat system. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, and then I realized three things. First the punching sound has been changed from the previous games from loud and powerful pounds and cracks to weak puff sounds. I know it seems like a minor thing but it really does take away some of the satisfaction you got from beating the crap out of thugs in the past games.
Second, they swapped the functions of the bumper and trigger buttons. This REALLY messed me up the first couple days I was playing. I’d go to quick fire a gadget during a fight and end up going into detective mode. It pissed me off. Third, and most importantly, the countering function is off. I can’t tell if they increased the speed you need to be able to react or if it just doesn’t register as well, but I found myself taking way more hits than I did in the previous games. Many of the hits felt cheap and should have been countered (I know I was pressing the button). Combat in general just feels less fluent.
The combat is not completely ruined but feels much less fun and more frustrating than the previous games. It is very clear that a different developer worked on Arkham Origins.
UPDATE: The game has since been patched and I am happy to announce that the combat has been improved greatly and is now on par with Arkham City. It is much more fluent and responsive greatly increase the fun of the game. I enjoyed my second play through of the game much more.
Crime Scene Investigations are a new type of side mission that was added and they’re pretty cool. You go to crime scenes, analyze all the evidence by recreating the crime and rewinding and fast forwarding what happened. It is similar to the memory remixes from Remember Me. After gathering the evidence, you go after the suspect. This is one of the few new and improved features. What also have been greatly improved are the boss battles. Arkham Origins has the best boss battles in the franchise. The fight with Deathstroke actually feels like a real martial arts fight. The fight with Bane is challenging and intense but really good, as well is the fight on the bridge with Firefly. I really hope these types of boss fights carry into the next game. However, I do take issue with the new upgrade and Batcomputer screen. First off, you now get graded for your combat performance like in Devil May Cry. It seems completely unnecessary to me. The new upgrade system is set up like branching paths. This seems to limit what order you get your upgrades. You also get some upgrades automatically when you reach certain levels. It’s nice to not have to spend a point to unlock a move but I would like to have the option to choose to upgrade or unlock a move or piece of equipment whenever I wanted like the in the previous games. The Batcomputer screen is also kind of a clutter now and a bit confusing to get used to, plus the text is really small making it difficult to read, especially if you have a small TV screen.
Challenge modes return that can be accessed from both the menu screen and in game from the Batcave. Not much is different here with more brawl and predator maps taken from parts of the main game. There is a new mode that requires you to perform certain moves during combat. This is good for those who are new to the Arkham games. Arkham Origins is also the first game in the series to have a multiplayer feature. It works as a death match between Team Bane and Team Joker. You can also add two other players to play as Batman and Robin who must take out the two other teams. This is interesting and similar to the multiplayer from Metal Gear Solid 4. However, I can’t really see it having a long service life online and, personally, find it unnecessary like the multiplayer from Tomb Raider.
Finally, I must point out that Arkham Origins is filled with glitches and other little errors that just weren’t in Arkham City.
Arkham Origins is just not nearly as well polished as Arkham City was.
I’ve run into checkpoint glitches that prevented me from progressing and forced me to reset the game. I’ve had it freeze once on me so far and the game skips some during cut scenes. Sometimes I’m unable to perform commands like interrogating because the command prompt just won’t appear. Parts of the HUD get stuck on screen when they shouldn’t be or the HUD disappears all together. Xbox 360 and PC gamers have it the worst with reports of corrupt game data and loss of saved game files. WB Games Montréal has some serious patch work to do over the next couple weeks.
UPDATE: The patch has improved many of the glitches but there are several that are still present. Sometimes certain events or actions will not trigger. I found the best way to fix this was to save, exit the game, then re-load it. Usually fixed whatever issue there was.
GRAPHICS & SOUND:
Generally, the graphics for Arkham Origins are good and on par with Arkham City however, they look rather grainy. There is a grain around the edge of characters and environments that makes them look less smooth. This isn’t there in the cut scenes which look amazing but the actual game looks slightly less impressive. It doesn’t help that the game takes place during a snow storm so there is a lot of snow, casting the dark image of Batman and Gotham against a mostly white background, making the grain show up even more. I can’t help but feel the snow storm is there to act as a form of distance fog, something Arkham City didn’t need. I also experienced some really bad frame rate drops and clipping through geometry. Once again, problems that was not present in Arkham City. The character models do look great though. I like Batman’s new suit and the better facial model and animation they gave Bruce Wayne instead of the derpy look he had in Arkham City. The Joker has a younger more classic look to him that works for the past setting the game has. The 8 assassins look awesome, especially Deathstroke.
UPDATE: I have since gotten a HDMI cable for my PS3 and Arkham Origins looks a lot better in 720p. The patch has improved some of the slow down and frame rate drops but not all. I found the most slow down whenever fighting in the streets of the Diamond District of New Gotham.
In the sound department, it’s pretty much a win.
The music is powerful and composed by Christopher Drake. A lot of the music is inspired by the Hans Zimmer music from the Dark Knight Trilogy and from the Die Hard soundtrack, mixing in bits of Christmas music into songs, adding to the Christmas Eve setting. I will probably be buying this soundtrack. The voice acting is once again stellar even though there are some new voices taking over two of the game’s biggest roles. Roger Craig Smith takes over for Kevin Conroy as Batman in this game and, I gotta say, I’m impressed. I guess they were going for a younger sounding Batman and he nails it. He really sounds like a younger Kevin Conroy. Troy Baker (who has been in almost every game I’ve reviewed this year) steals the show and blows everyone away with his performance as the Joker, replacing Mark Hamill. He sounds almost identical to Mark Hamill’s iconic Joker voice. The dude is a mutant. He’s gotten criticism from some people saying he should have tried to make his own Joker voice instead of copying Hamill’s but they can shut up. This is how the Joker should act and sound. Many voice actors reprise their roles from Arkham City such as Nolan North as the Penguin and Martin Jarvis as Alfred, getting a much bigger role. Tara Strong even makes a special cameo that should delight fans.
Overall, Arkham Origins is a good addition to the Arkham franchised but a very flawed one. It has a great story worthy of the Batman universe with great characters and voice talents to back it up but the gameplay has many flaws that are a marked stepped down from Arkham City. I still do recommend this game to Batman fans but not over Arkham City. If you have not played Arkham City, go with that instead. Non-Batman fans I have a much harder time recommending Arkham Origins to. I know I’ve been comparing this game to Arkham City a lot and its greatest crime is ultimately not being nearly as good as the previous game. On its own, it’s an above average game, badly in need of patch work. However, my hopes of the Dark Knight taking the Game of the Year spot again this year are not happening. The good news is Rocksteady Studios is currently working on the next Batman Arkham game and has been since putting out Arkham City in 2011. They’re keeping it a secret as to what will happen in it but I’m definitely looking forward to see what they put out in the future. Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for Grant’s review of Assassin’s Creed 4 in the near future!
- Great story and characters, enjoyable to Batman fans
- Excellent music and voice acting
- Best boss battles in the franchise so far
- Serious glitches and frame rate issues, even more serious on 360 and PC (Improved by patch but still has issues that need to be resolved)
- Combat not as fluent as previous games, but not totally broken (Fixed by patch)
- Very little creative progress in gameplay and side missions