Another day, another prequel. This year has been saturated with them. Gears of War: Judgment, God of War: Ascension, and now even Rocksteady’s stellar Batman: Arkham series has one. When Arkham Origins was first announced, I immediately wondered why they would follow up Arkham City — one of the greatest games of this generation — with something like this. Was it so they can sneak one more entry in before the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 officially become last generation consoles, or maybe it was to give Rocksteady time to work on the next-gen Batman game they undoubtedly have in the works right now? Possibly a combination of both?
Whether it’s necessary or not, Batman: Arkham Origins is here. Let’s see if it’s worth your time.
I won’t bury the lead. If you enjoyed Arkham City, you’ll like this. The entire time I spent playing Arkham Origins I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was playing canned DLC for Arkham City. That’s not to say it isn’t a meaty game, because there’s plenty to keep you occupied for dozens of hours. It’s more because this feels like an extension of that world, even though it’s supposed to take place before it.
The world looks the same. Gotham City’s gothic architecture is still covered in snow and ice. It’s streets are empty, with the exception of an army of goons that have been scattered about it, ready to take their obligatory beating. The caped crusader is back, and he’s as broody and capable of dishing out violence as he ever was. The gadgets are (mostly) the same, hell, even many of the enemies are recycled from the first two games.
The story is simple: Gotham’s villains despise the masked vigilante, so they’ve placed a bounty upon his head. Whoever slays the Bat gets $50,000,000. This inspired about a dozen of Gotham’s worst to try their damnedest to take him out. Obviously, they don’t succeed, because he’s Batman and we’ve already seen his future — totally not dead — self.
You’ll be spending a majority of your time doing exactly what you did in Arkham City. You’ll scour the city’s streets like a pissed off Roomba, engaging in short bouts of fisticuffs with goons that will only respawn when you move on to the next district. You’ll solve the Riddler’s riddles, because hey, he likes riddles. You’ll solve crimes that randomly occur, forcing you to make the “tough” decision of ignoring a citizen’s pleas or taking the 3-5 minutes it will require to dispatch whatever bad guy (or bad guys) is doing wrong.
Occasionally, this familiar tedium is broken up by showdowns with villains like the Executioner, Deathstroke, Deadshot, Bane, Copperhead and Firefly, among others. Some will be familiar to those who are knowledgeable of the Batman mythos, others, like the Executioner, might not.
I read a lot of complaints about the Deathstroke fight, which is almost entirely comprised of a series of quick time events, where you’re forced to dodge and counter his attacks until his health bar is depleted, but I didn’t mind it. It wasn’t necessarily fun, but it also wasn’t as difficult to me (on normal) as it was for many players.
Possibly the most innovative feature in Arkham Origins is the tweak Warner Bros. introduced into the crime scene investigations. It made me feel more like the world’s greatest detective, even though technically, almost everything is automated. Now you can enter a virtual version of the crime scene where you can actually scrub through the timeline, rewinding it and forwarding it to seek out specific clues. It’s a neat addition that I would’ve liked to see more of, especially since it’s really the only new thing we have to play with outside of a handful of gadgets.
Speaking of gadgets, they’re back, and a few hours into the game they’ll be daunting to sift through on the fly, just as they were in Arkham City. There has to be a better way to go about that. Remove some, combine a few, whatever. This vigilante’s arsenal is in desperate need of some streamlining.
I could continue to criticize this game for lowering its ambitious, but that’d be pointless. This was a filler episode to keep our hunger for more of the Batman’s alley chicanery satiated until Rocksteady returns with their sequel, possibly even next year. I only wish they would’ve priced it as such, because charging full price for a game that is essentially a copy/paste of the last one is more than a little annoying.
It sounds like I didn’t enjoy Arkham Origins, when in fact, I did. Quite a bit. My problem with it is it comes across like a game that was churned out of the Batman manufacturing plant from a developer that knew just enough about the fiction to make a game within it. Arkham Asylum was an unforgettable game that set the foundation for a brilliant follow-up. This is wholly unworthy of the legacy founded by its predecessors.
The Batman brand is too strong right now for something like this to tarnish it, but seriously, try a little harder.
The jist of it is this: if you like series, you’ll want to play this. Hell, you probably already have, seeing as it released nearly two weeks ago. I would only suggest you wait for its price to drop, or give it a rental. Anything more may lead to disappointment.
The Final Word: Arkham Origins is a solid game, but only because it piggybacks on the excellent design of Rocksteady’s previous efforts without adding really anything to the formula.