EXCLUSIVE GAME REVIEW: Batman: Arkham Origins

In Batman: Arkham Origins, the role of The Dark Knight is played by actor Roger Craig Smith, who previously voiced Ezio in Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations. But while Smith’s take on The Caped Crusader is largely cribbed from Kevin Conroy, who masterfully voiced Batman in 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and 2011’s Batman: Arkham City (with a little Christian Bale thrown in for good measure), at the very least, Smith’s imitation of Conroy’s Batman is still pretty spot on.

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In a way, it’s the perfect metaphor for this game. Unlike Asylum and City, which were made by Rocksteady Games, Batman: Arkham Origins was instead built by Warner Bros. Games Montréal. And while they didn’t add much to the established formula of the first two games (and what little they did doesn’t work all that well), they still managed to make a solid Arkham game that’s very reminiscent of the originals.

Published by Warner Bros. Interactive for the Xbox 360 (which is what I played it on), PlayStation 3, WiiU, and PC, Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel set five years before Asylum, when Batman was only in his second year as a masked vigilante. But it’s been such a productive two years that he’s managed to piss off the notorious crime boss Black Mask. Which is why Batman now has a fifty million dollar price tag on his head, and Gotham is rife with assassins.

Hmmm…maybe this Smith thing makes sense after all.

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At first, it seems like Batman: Arkham Origins more than lives up to the Arkham pedigree. It has the same dark, dingy look as the other ones, has The Caped Crusader using all of his wonderful toys to get around, and is set in an open world that’s lousy with bad guys (the latter of which is kind of weird, since Gotham hasn’t been turned into part prison yet, but there’s no civilians on the streets, only criminals).

More importantly, it has the same great combat. Using a combination of punches, kicks, counter-attacks, and this Dracula-like distraction move he does with his cape, Batman knocks out huge groups of henchmen who’ve clearly never seen a kung-fu movie and thus don’t know they’re supposed to take turns attacking the good guy. And it’s all tied together by an effortless ability to hop from one guy to the next, fists first. It’s like watching a violent ballet. Or the ball on a pinball table full of bumpers.

But while Batman: Arkham Origins was built using the same technology as Asylum and City, it wasn’t made with the same technical skills. There are far more glitches than you usually see in a game of this caliber, such as some stuttering visuals in the cutscenes and a moment when a guy get so stuck to a column that I had to punch him loose. Batman also likes to keep walking even if you’re not moving the thumbstick…or even holding the controller.

Boss fights are also not this game’s strong suit. The one with Deathstroke, for instance, isn’t a test of all you’ve learned up that point as much as it like the kind of “hit the right button at the right time” brawl you get in a God Of War game at the end of a boss fight (which is why it took me so many tries to defeat him, since I suck at those things).

Even when Batman: Arkham Origins does bring something new to the table, though, it’s typically something that should’ve been left in the cupboard. The most notable of these are the Shock Gloves, which are basically electrified mittens. While they do come in handy when it comes to solving certain problems — i.e., problems devised to be solved with the Shock Gloves — they’re rather overpowered when used in combat. As a result, using them to bash skulls makes this way too easy.

Batman Arkham Origins shock glove

Batman can also now analyze crime scenes with a scanner, but while doing so advances the plot, it doesn’t really add anything to the game itself. There’s very little challenge involved, nothing really to figure out, which makes these brief moments seem like distractions more than anything substantial.

Batman: Arkham Origins also has a problem so prominent in gaming these days I feel like I could cut and paste the following paragraph into every review I do: the type is too small. Unless you sit as close to the TV as your mom told you not to, it’s impossible to read anything when you go into any of the menus.

Despite these problems, though, Batman: Arkham Origins still manages to be engaging because, quite frankly, of all the work Rocksteady did on Asylum and City. The game’s mix of brutal and acrobatic beatdowns, Splinter Cell-esque stealth action, and Spider-Man-style traveling still work as well together as they did when Asylum came out four years ago.

But because of its problems, Batman: Arkham Origins ends up feeling more like a spin-off than a proper sequel. It reminds me of 2010’s Fallout: New Vegas. It too was fraught with technical issues and added only a handful of new features, but because it was built with the same great tech as its predecessor, 2008’s Fallout 3, New Vegas still managed to be a lot of fun.

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Batman: Arkham Origins is, by no means, a bad game. It’s actually quite good; one of the better things I’ve played this year (though that probably says more about the dismal year we’ve been having). Especially if you using his new gadgets sparingly and aren’t easily annoyed when you experience technical difficulties, please stand by. But when compared to the previous two, it seems — much like Roger Craig Smith’s take on Batman — like just a really good copy of an impressive original.

SCORE: 8.0

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