Review: Batman: Arkham Origins

Maintaining a successful series must be a daunting task for any developer, and it’s one that very few have managed to complete successfully. But taking on one of the best series of the current generation from another developer entirely must be the stuff of nightmares. And yet that’s exactly what Warner Brothers Montreal have tried to do with Arkham Origins having had development passed to them from Rocksteady, the guys who made the awesome Arkham Asylum and Arkham City games. Despite some concern from various corners though (including potential issues raised in our preview) they’ve done a very admirable job. While all the right ingredients are in place though, a lack of innovation ultimately makes this ever so slightly less memorable as the previous encounters.

Arkham Origins is set a couple of years after Bruce Wayne’s first foray as Batman, at a time when some bad guys are starting to make themselves known. As more and more weird folk creep out of the woodwork Batman’s job gets tougher, as Bane, Joker, Penguin and Riddler join several others to cause as much chaos over a couple of days as they can. It’s great to see so many popular villains appearing through the game, and despite the voice actors from previous games failing to make a return, the decision to use Troy Baker to voice the Joker was inspired, taking over Mark Hamill’s role with an ease that would only come to a voice actor talented enough to play lead roles in two of the year’s finest games in Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us. Baker’s work, alongside the rest of the well judged cast, make dialogue enjoyable to listen to and left me reluctant to skip conversations to get back to the action quicker.

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That’s not to say the action isn’t worth rushing back for, because it most definitely is. Mixing the previous games’ elements of stealthy sneaking, rooftop gliding and water-tight hand-to-hand combat moving around Arkham is a joy. You might be on your way to a specific mission, leaping between tall buildings with ease when you suddenly overhear some bad guys chatting about what’s been happening lately – in such an instance, there’s only one thing to do: kick some goon ass. At this point fans of the series will instantly feel at home. Whether you choose to dive-bomb the group, subtly take them out one at a time or just jump in and start introducing your fists to some faces the action is very much the same as we’ve come to admire in the Arkham series. There’s a good mixture of bad guys to keep things interesting, and when you arrive at a scene (especially if you arrive at speed from a fair distance out) you’re never totally sure whether you’re going to get a bunch of unarmed muppets or a group of knife and gun-wielding hard-asses with shields, armour and all sorts of other paraphernalia to make life difficult. A nice touch in Origins though is how you’re rewarded for each group you tackle, with the level of danger being converted into a certain amount of XP, which following the unwritten video gaming law counts towards further upgrades to your equipment. This is where you’ll be unlocking new equipment, new gadgets and improving various aspects of your own abilities.

Where does he get those wonderful toys?

Visually it’s easy to get tricked by your surroundings. While the city looks gorgeous in all its night time neon wonder, there’s not a lot going on. Coming to the game from something like Grand Theft Auto it’s quite noticeable that the bad guys and occasional street crime are the only goings on out and about. It’s easy to miss while you’re focussing on the next big building to glide to and hook onto, but once you notice it’s pretty obvious. I get that the streets of Arkham are a dangerous place that people wouldn’t want to be spending time in, but some extra activity wouldn’t go amiss. Compared to GTA or the upcoming Watch_Dogs it’s all rather quiet. But maybe that’s an intentional thing, because what it definitely manages to do is get across how dark, moody and dangerous things are. Despite being Batman there is the odd moment where you’ll feel like you’re the one being hunted, and the blood-hungry nature of the patrols once you’re spotted only goes to enhance that feeling.

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Despite a lot of this feeling much the same as other Batman games you’ve played over the past few years, there’s a big new addition to the series this time round – a multiplayer mode. On the surface it looks like a pretty standard 3 on 3 collection of games, but with one big twist: Batman and Robin. Two other players will take control of the duo, doing everything they can to disrupt the other players in the game, whether that’s taking out gang members, neutralising control points or setting explosive traps to ambush unwitting players in cunning areas. It gives those two players something unique and unusual to do online, and gives the six others something serious to think about on top of just surviving against the opposition. It’s a well thought out mode and has potential to become something pretty special, but it’s a little thin on the ground at the moment. Whether it’ll get padded out via DLC or when a next-gen Arkham game appears remains to be seen, but it’s good fun for a fair while.

But is an online mode enough to warrant another Arkham game? Possibly, but it depends on how much you enjoyed the previous two games. There’s still a lot to do including the new time-bending detective sections, but it neither feels like a huge leap from Arkham City, nor does it leave the same “wow” feeling that the last game managed. It’s a very enjoyable game, make no mistake of that, but if you’ve played the others and have no burning desire for more of the same then it might be worth steering clear. Arkham virgins might also do well to save a few quid and try the previous two titles first, but for anyone who’s a fan of Batman or the Arkham games, or fancies themselves as a rooftop-sneaking stealthy badass then you can’t go wrong. Still a quality game, and worthy of the Arkham title, but it’s starting to need something a bit different.

Reviewed on PS3

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