Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montréal | Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment | Played On: Xbox 360 | Price: $59.99 | ESRB: Teen [Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence]
The Arkham series has a wonderful record so far: Arkham Asylum was the first step in proving that superhero-themed videogames have the possibility to be extraordinary, and Arkham City went above and beyond with the Batman lore. Rocksteady Studios laid the groundwork for a fantastic franchise, and it’s time to see if Warner Bros. Montréal is able to deliver the same quality level necessary for the World’s Greatest Detective.
Batman wasn’t always the composed capped crusader we know him as, nor was he always accepted as Gotham’s savior. In Batman: Arkham Origins, the third-person adventure prequel to Arkham Asylum, Batman is only two years into his crime-fighting career; one night Batman learns that there’s a $50 million hit on him, thanks to the vicious Black Mask, and eight assassins are after the bounty. Batman begins a citywide search for the Black Mask whilst the world’s deadliest killers and Gotham’s own police department hunt him down.
This time around, Batman is able to transverse all of Gotham City, a luxury not provided in the first two games for obvious plot reasons. Although the map is much larger than before, it doesn’t take twice as long to reach necessary destinations; gliding around and happening upon random crimes is still quite satisfying. But if you desire a quicker way to get across the Gotham Bridge, Origins introduces fast travel, an appreciated inclusion that comes with a price: in order to use fast travel you need to take down Enigma’s relays that are temporarily blocking the Batcomputer’s signals—and you can be sure Enigma will make it a stimulating challenge.
The brawler mechanics we’ve come to expect from the franchise are present: you can still beat down multiple enemies in a seamless flow of punches and high kicks. There are a few moments combat is jagged, namely fights with Bane in an enclosed spaces, but heavy one-on-one knuckle brawls with the likes of Deathstroke—which test your reaction skills with little room to breathe—highlight what makes the Arkham series so great.
There are new gadgets, but a majority of them are iterations on what we’ve seen before. The glue grenade is an exact copy of Arkham City’s Freeze Blast, and the same can be said for the Remote Claw’s similarity to the Line Launcher, though it does give Batman the ability to tie two objects together for supplementary stealth options. The Shock Gloves are a welcome addition, giving Batman an edge when fighting multiple ninjas and goons wearing body armor.
Origins’ story is excellent, but it doesn’t pick up pace until about half way through. Facing classic villains in their “infancy” is great, though these named villains aren’t introduced as fluidly as they were in Arkham City; Batman happens upon villain side missions from random encounters and intercepted distress calls, and the same happens in Origins, but the flow is less organic.
Furthermore, the female enemies are pretty lackluster: Copperhead acts like a rehashed Catwoman with a Latin accent, and Shiva is an optional assassin that grabs Batman’s attention with a fake baby. Nevertheless, the side missions embody the Arkham series’ open world formula, adding hours of extra content to the thirteen hour-stretch of a story—an incredible character story at that—by stopping criminals like the Penguin and Deadshot from causing more damage to Gotham.
The leveling system in Origins functions the same, which is not a complaint. New to the combat, however, is the implementation of a grading system. You earn XP with every fight as usual, but ridding your enemies efficiently earns you a top grade for extra XP. This rewards strategic players who actually plan their combat approach, versus button mashing until something good happens. Detective mode is alive and well, but now plays a different role when investigating a crime scene referred to as the case file system.
By scanning certain items in a designated crime scene, Batman is able to reconstruct events and rewind the event to spot evidence the police missed. It’s a nice concept, but doesn’t add much to the gameplay. Detective mode did something similar in Arkham City, and much of the investigation work is already done for you by the game’s glaring red arrows instructing you where to scan. The case file system ultimately is just extra steps to keep you occupied as Batman talks to himself.
Then there’s multiplayer, termed Invisible Predator Online—a new feature for the Arkham series that raised some eyebrows on its initial announcement. Splash Damage, the developer behind Brink, accomplished introducing multiplayer without resorting to multiple Batmans running around trying to kill one another. You’re randomly assigned to play as Batman and Robin—a good choice but odd when Robin makes no other appearance in Origins—or three of Joker’s goons and three of Bane’s men, for a total of eight players per match.
Batman and Robin have more stealth-oriented techniques compared to the firepower the criminals carry. Gangs kill each other and dominate points of interest, with super-villains Bane and Joker available as options if the right conditions are met, while the heroes knock out and sabotage opponents. Multiplayer is a more fast-paced entertaining alternative, even with the occasional clipping, to Origins’ open world, but with only one mode it is likely to quickly lose its appeal. Arkham fans won’t despise its inclusion but are likely to be left wanting more.
Visually, Origins remains a top contender. Though there’s the obvious quality difference between HD cutscenes and in-game footage, graphics are still spectacular and effectively convey the gritty darkened-feel of Gotham and its inhabitants.
Batman himself changes as the game progresses: his Batsuit slowly shows signs of wear and tear, from holes in his cape to scratches all over his chest plate where blades have cut and bullets have ricocheted. That said there is something odd about the characters’ mouths; it was hard to watch Alfred talk with his gums flapping unnaturally. There was also a long stretch where the hostages I was saving all had the same character skin, which I rationalized as saving quadruplets working for the same hotel.
Rocksteady certainly raised the bar, leaving Warner Bros. Montréal with big shoes to fill. Nonetheless, they manage to deliver a gripping adventure worthy of the dark knight, even if the starting hours leave a bit to be desired. A stubborn and arrogant Batman is a perfect segue for the series, and one that’s sure to appease fans’ appetite for costume-themed justice.
+ Combat we all love still in full effect
+ Great character development, though the story takes time to pick up
— New implementations don’t add much to the experience
— Multiplayer doesn’t suck, but there’s no variety
7.5 / 10