I really want to like you, Batman: Arkham Origins. We’ve had such a wonderful relationship and your Collector’s Edition had me weak at the knees. But you’ve changed. I think it’s time we just go our separate ways.
It’s not me; it’s you.
The last game in the series, Origins acts as a prequel (funnily enough) to the events Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Introducing lesser known characters like Black Mask, Copperhead (who is portrayed as a woman) and Deadshot, it takes players through the beginning of Batman’s vigilante career.
Origins follows the same formula as the previous two games. It’s part brawler, part investigative story and just a little bit of RPG thrown in for good measure and it’s still successful. Making sure each punch and counter move is well-timed is key to getting your combo metre up to its full potential. However, unless you’re right on target, Bats tends to punch or kick the air which destroys your combo and when you’re hitting 25x combos, you might snap your controller.
The story is an interesting perspective on the beginning of Batman’s career and how he discovers the supervillian called The Joker. Since Joker’s backstory changes depending on what arc you’re reading, series you’re watching or video game you’re playing, introducing everyone’s favourite psychopathic clown into the game is a good way to get people into other areas of the series. With characters like mob boss Black Mask or former Army enlistee-turned mercenary Deathstroke, it brings the wider DC universe into the game and opens up possibilities for other games with other characters. The story feels flat though, it doesn’t feel like it really adds much to the Arkham series overall. There’s the opportunity for a great, in-depth story and exploring some really excellent people but the whole thing feels rushed.
The rushing feeling comes through in elements of the game, too. After playing Origins on two different Xbox 360’s (pre-Jasper chip and Xbox One-design 360), I experienced game crashes, console freezes and the game failing to load parts of the level. The bugs are a part of the game on whatever platform you play it on. Gamers have been reporting similar stories on PC and PS3’s. Bugs like these are what can make or break a game, and these are game-breaking bugs. Frustrating to the point of putting the controller down and making me want to do university homework and that’s not something I ever want to do. I once cleaned out my fridge to get out of doing university work, so wanting to do it over running around Gotham beating up criminals because my console froze is unacceptable.
On a positive note, major kudos to Troy Baker (who also voiced Joel from The Last of Us and Booker DeWitt from Bioshock Infinite) for stepping into some major shoes and absolutely killing it. Baker took over from legendary Jedi and Joker Mark Hamill and knocked it out of the park. Any scepticism anyone had about Baker’s ability to has been slowly eroded after videos of him performing Joker dialogs from various comic conventions have been blowing people’s minds.
Roger Craig Smith takes over for Kevin Conroy as the caped crusader and does an equally excellent job with the acting. His dialog with Alfred is wonderful; it’s exactly the relationship you’ve seen through the years. Alfred is caring and kind, but just a little sarcastic since Batman is missing Christmas dinner and Batman is stoic and somewhat naïve in his youth. Smith is a great choice for younger Batman.
When the game isn’t crashing or failing to load, exploring Gotham (and the newly added Batcave) is great fun. You might not recognise parts of the map from previous games, which is to be expected since Gotham has probably had to rebuild a few times; what with supervillians generally screwing around with the place, but you’ll still get the same thrill of climbing up tall buildings and gliding off to kick bad guys in the butt. Gotham is still dark, gritty and gothic and you’re encouraged to explore more areas with Enigma towers and items to collect. Collecting those items boosts your XP, helping to unlock upgrades for your suit and weapons and unlocking items to help you discover more about people in the game.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a good game, but not a great game. There’s a lot of potential there but it’s let down by some unfortunate bugs and a lacklustre story. Warner Bros. has recognised the need to patch out the bugs and they’re working on releasing something to fix that issue which will make it easier to play, but it’s definitely not my favourite in the series. I think, if the development team had about a year longer to work, they could have had something that stood up to the same level of excellence as the rest of the Arkham series.