If there’s one complaint that is consistently leveled at Batman: Arkham Origins, it’s that it is more of the same. That is not wholly unfounded, yet it does the third entry of the franchise a great disservice. Just like Arkham City, you\’re fighting bad guys with an immensely satisfying combat system, taking them down in Predator Mode, one of the most brilliant stealth systems ever, and it’s all wrapped up in a huge open world, a great story, fun puzzles, a great soundtrack and a dark, ambient visual style.
Yet what Arkham Origins does with those elements is different than its predecessors. In some respects, it achieves highs Arkham City never even attempted. It unfortunately lacks polish and offers an empty world that at times feels too scattered out. There is a general lack of change for too many elements of the game — but somehow, the issues never feel significant. The experience as a whole comes together to create an experience unlike that of the games before, delivering a game that truly shows how great being Batman can be.
The most popular feature of the Arkham games is the combat system, which is simple to use and understand while remaining challenging and fun. Arkham Origins leaves it relatively intact with only a few changes and additions, the biggest being that the enemy A.I. is now more responsive. In Arkham City, you had time after every attack before another enemy comes in swinging, but now, the moment you take out an enemy, another is already almost done with their attack.
It causes the combat to move a lot faster — to survive, you have to think, react, and move quicker than your enemies. It challenges without ever feeling like the game maintains an unfair advantage. The other fundamental change to the combat is that ground takedowns now have to be more precise — that is, you must be directly over the enemy for it to work. It doesn\’t change much, but it can be a bit surprising when you expect to take out an enemy and Batman just stands there. The rest of the combat is as great as before — Batman punches and parries with the occasional combo and special move thrown in and there are extensive upgrades to help make taking down increasingly tough sets of baddies less brutal.
Three other enemy types were added in addition to Arkham City‘s imported roster, though two exist merely to make up for what couldn\’t be brought over. The third is where the combat really feels improved: the martial artist. These guys can parry your own attacks and, while that may seem like an insignificant addition, it adds a surprising amount. They\’re easily the most satisfying to take down, as it feels like a real one-on-one battle. It’s the best part of the adjusted combat system, no question —after the bosses, that is.
And while we\’re on the subject: the bosses are spectacular. Aside from Mr Freeze, the bosses in previous Arkham games had never been anything to write home about, but every single one in Origins is notable. They really put your combat skills to the test and somehow, the developers managed to make each fight feel like scenes ripped straight from action movies without sacrificing anything to gameplay. Deathstroke, in particular, blew me away and is currently in the running for my favorite boss of all time. The bosses are a big part of what makes this game so memorable: delivering mind-blowing set pieces while still retaining the same excellent gameplay, a feat few games have accomplished.
The other major gameplay element in the game is the stealth. Unfortunately, the developers seemed to have a focus on the combat and as such, the stealth has few, if any, improvements. There are far fewer Predator Challenge Rooms this time around. That said, when they do show up, they\’re top-notch. Level design is great as always and franchise veterans who are experts at this sort of thing will be pleased to know that these portions won\’t be pushovers. They are just as welcoming to new players via thorough tutorials.
High enemy counts will give experienced players a healthy challenge nonetheless and a lack of perches later on adds more excitement and thrills to the main game that previously was only seen in Challenge Mode, which is a pleasant part of the game that isn\’t much to discuss, but is still a nice addition nonetheless. The only other addition is the Remote Claw, but aside from being able to launch a nearby canister of smoke or fire at enemies, it doesn\’t change much for better or worse.
The open world this time around is twice as big as Arkham City, as you\’re now able to explore the entirety of Gotham on a cold, sinister Christmas Eve. Though the lack of Easter eggs and references at every corner is something of a disappointment, the world is filled to the brim with collectibles to find and side quests to complete. Some might find the world to be too empty to their liking, but I never found that to be a problem. The fast travel system makes certain that you rarely have to travel excessive distances at a time.
For the first time, I really found the side quests to be worthwhile for more than just their reward. Deadshot and Mad Hatter could have fit into the main storyline easily — they were that engaging — and the Riddler Towers are brilliantly designed and hugely satisfying, thanks to the extensive rewards you receive upon completion.
A new feature Arkham Origins brings to the table is the \”Crime in Progress\” side mission. Occasionally, you\’ll happen upon a group of criminals and exact justice for terrorizing innocents. It may be a small addition, but it helps the world feel alive and dynamic. Sure, it’s Christmas Eve, but people who aren\’t either criminals or cops still exist and it helps show that it’s a living, breathing city, even if it does feel a bit like a super prison at times.
Unfortunately, the game is a prequel, meaning that tension is lost at times because you know most of the characters have no chance of dying. Fortunately, it manages to be a fantastic story with several nice twists and some truly great moments. It’s addicting and enrapturing all the way through and is quite possibly the best written in the series, one or two characters related to The Penguin excluded. That there are only a few new baddies is something of a disappointment, but it’s not much of an issue because of how well the ones that do show up are handled.
Visually, the game is beautiful: it’s very dark, darker than others in the series, yet that lends very well to the atmosphere. It runs on the exact same engine as Arkham City and it shows in how similar so many of the elements of the game look. It still somehow manages to look even better and the strong contrast of light and dark gives it an eerie beauty. Cutscenes are done exceptionally well, looking sharp enough to have been taken straight out of a movie. Unfortunately, the visuals are the clearest examples of this game’s most glaring issues: glitches.
Glitches run rampant in the game: characters often don\’t sync up with their voices, there’s some light screen tearing, etc. There are also some that require resetting the console or game; however — on Wii U, at least — these are few and far between. It does detract from the experience, even though it’s not necessarily intrusive. It makes the game feel cheap and rushed, almost as if the developers didn\’t truly care about the product — even if the other elements of the game prove that they clearly did.
GamePad features are stripped down to a bare minimum compared to Arkham City Armored Edition. There’s no gyroscope or quick item-switching, unfortunately, but the real-time map on the controller is still helpful, letting the game feel cinematic without detracting. Item-switching is frustrating at first; you have to figure out the exact direction to push the control pad from every different starting placement, and it’s infuriating. Eventually, it comes naturally, but it wasn\’t until my second playthrough that it happened. After the ability to quickly switch on the GamePad for Armored Edition, it’s a huge step back. Thankfully, Off-TV Play still makes an appearance, though the helpfulness of that feature will vary depending on the player’s situation.
The soundtrack is one of Batman’s best ever. Christopher Drake came in and did a fantastic job, creating an intense, thrilling soundtrack that fits every situation it’s placed in. Similarly, the voice acting is superb. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill both left their roles as Bruce Wayne and The Joker, leaving mighty big shoes to fill, but Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker took on the challenge and passed with flying colors. I never even noticed a difference my first time hearing them; they fit the roles so perfectly. A few of the other performances left something to be desired, but at the very least, they got the job done — even the average criminals sounded great.
In the end, it’s an incredible game. It’s one that, while it does take its entire core from others in the series before it, manages to stand out by giving incredible boss battles, an improved combat system, an excellent, massive open world, and a story that easily lives up to the Arkham name. At times, it even surpasses its predecessors — but the excessive glitches and lack of many innovations and changes in structure hold it back from being truly spectacular. Nevertheless, it’s not only another Batman game, it’s another excellent Batman game — and that means it is, without a doubt, worth a try for not only fans of the franchise, but any gaming fan out there.