Some of you out there may love Christmas, some of you may hate it. But picture for a second the worst Christmas you have ever had and I bet it doesn’t hold a candle to the Dark Knight’s in Batman: Arkham Origins. You see, it is December 24th in Gotham City and crime lord Roman Sionis, aka the Black Mask, has put a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head and delivered invitations to eight of the world’s most deadly assassins to try their hands at the score.
Despite being the third game in the Arkham series, Origins is actually a prequel to the prior games, taking place in a ‘year two’ setting when Batman is just finding his feet as a hero. The Gotham City Police Department are still out to get him, including Police Captain James Gordon, he has never even heard of the Joker yet and he is still trying to find the balance between Gotham’s protector and reckless vigilante. This manifests itself in the gameplay in an interesting way, as Batman will be noticeably more forceful when interrogating adversaries and much more intimidating in the way he interacts with both friendly and non-friendly NPC’s. As notedin the opening paragraph, the main plot revolves around fending off the advances of eight of Gotham’s deadliest assassins then tracking down Black Mask and stopping him for good. The assassins range from fairly well-known antagonists such as Bane, Killer Croc and Deathstroke to much more obscure entrants like Copperhead, Firefly and The Electrocutioner. None of Batman’s more famous rivals appear in the assassin list then, but this makes sense on two fronts. Firstly, most of the ‘main’ villains have already appeared in previous games and thus the developers want to keep the experience fresh. Secondly, in order to make the story work, the enemies have to actually be assassins in accordance with the comic book lore. As brilliant as The Joker, Two-Face et al are, they are not gun-for-hire mercenaries, so it would not have made sense in the overarching narrative. Fear not though, as Arkham City did before it, Origins offers a wealth of side activities to loose yourself in and these introduce new and familiar faces in abundance. The Riddler, still named Enigma at this point, returns with his usual array of head scratchers. I wont spoil any others, but rest assured there is plenty to do outside of the story. At one point, I made my way around Gotham City for three hours straight just tying up lose ends and at no point in that stretch did I touch the main narrative.
In graphic and sound design it is virtually identical to Arkham City, which is no bad thing. The character models are, once again, fantastic and the voice work is exemplary throughout. The map is roughly three times the size of Arkham City, which in theory is a good thing but in practice leaves Gotham feeling a bit devoid. Whereas everywhere in Arkham City was visually unique and striking, be it Mr Freezes lab, Wonder City or the Penguins museum, everything in Origins feels a bit… grey. The draw distance in poor and textures can look very murky at times, both likely sacrifices for the increased scale. The Batcave is a let down as well. Built pre-release to be the main hub of the game, the reality is you will only spend a minority of your time there, usually just to pick up a new gadget and have a quick heart to heart with Alfred the butler.
Gameplay follows the same ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ rule. The combat once again revolves around a triangle of attack, counter or evade with variations of these elements depending on the enemy type you are faced with. Outside of combat it is the usual combination of puzzle solving and gliding around the games map. There are a few new gadgets to be acquired, but none shake up the existing formula too significantly. The only really new gameplay aspect of note are the detective quests, which take the investigative elements of the Deadshot side missions from Arkham City and flesh these out into a proper gameplay mechanic. Although only used a handful of times throughout the game they provide a welcome change of pace from punching people in the face and make you feel more like the detective that Bruce Wayne prides himself on being. One of the strongest aspects of Origins is in its boss battles with the games assassins. Each is unique, exhilarating and introduces the player to a new core mechanic without ever insulting the players intelligence. Sadly, outside of the boss battles, the games can become mighty frustrating at times. The cleverly thought out predator rooms of the previous games have pretty much disappeared and been replaced by room after room of about 50 enemies. Origins seems to have left the intelligent, intrinsically rewarding challenges of the previous games in favour of challenge at the hands of overwhelming odds. Whilst initially okay, this soon becomes tedious at best and maddening at worst.
Outside of the main campaign there are two other modes to sink your teeth into. The familiar challenge mode returns for another run out with various ranked and custom challenges to partake in and attempt to earn medals and climbs the leaderboards. It is as addictive and moreish as ever, but does not really do anything new. Multiplayer, on the other hand, is a brand new addition to the Arkham series. Whilst no one was really clamouring for a multiplayer mode given the strength of the singleplayer, it is none the less an enjoyable, if slightly throwaway, mode that will provide a good few hours of fun. The premise is fairly simple, three members of the Jokers gang and three from Banes vie for control of points on the map whilst two players controlling Batman and his sidekick Robin try to pick off players and build up an ‘intimidation’ meter. Playing as members of either gang feels like standard third person shooter fare, but playing as Batman or Robin can be exhilarating as you try to outsmart enemies and sneak in the shadows stalking your prey. It is one thing outfoxing the AI, but there is something extra satisfying about knowing you have outwitted another human being. Only time will tell how popular this mode will become, I suspect it will provide a couple of weekends enjoyment for most player but nothing moreand I do not see it catching on the same way Assassin’s Creed multiplayer did, for instance. We will see.
Overall though, Batman: Arkham Origins is another excellent entry in the series and a fine debut from developers Warner Bros. who took over this instalment from series stalwarts Rocksteady. Whilst it never quite manages to live up the dizzying heights of Arkham City, Batman fans will not be disappointed and will find many an hour lost once again, to Gotham City and its vivid inhabitants.
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Michael is a Harrogate based, predominantly console gamer on both Playstation 4 and Xbox One that has been writing for Zero1Gaming since 2012. Purveyor and lover of all things indie, when he is not playing the latest downloadable titles you will usually find him immersed in a myriad of other genres from RPG’s to FPS’s and other three letter abbreviations. Feel free to add him Xbox at Dowgle or Playstation at Juxta-Dowgle or search Michael Dalgleish on Facebook or LinkedIn.