Arkham Asylum and City were among my favorite games during the respective years of their release. They were simple, fun, and provided a great look into the twisted world of Batman and the various facets of his psyche in the form of the each game’s villains. But when a developer change came to light, and the third game in the trilogy, Batman: Arkham Origins, was ousted as a prequel, doubts started to fill the air of this once bullet-proof franchise.
It turns out some of those sneaking suspicious have come to fruition. In the end, Origins merely feels like an expansion pack for City, with a healthy dose of wasted potential.
The basic setup of Arkham Origins is that Batman has a $50 million bounty on his head, and to facilitate the collection of said bounty, Black Mask has hired a number of assassins to take down Gotham’s hero once and for all. When I first heard this concept, I was psyched — Black Mask is a criminally underused villain with an interesting backstory, and seeing how his crime syndicate operated could have made for a different, more grounded take on the series compared to “The Joker Show” oriented narratives of Asylum and City.
But that’s not the reality. Once you start the game and start knocking through the assassins one by one in a short amount of time, you’ll start to see the narrative go down the tubes. Black Mask is instead relegated to the side, as a completely ancillary character that operates as a glorified plot device. Instead, this is once again a Joker oriented joint, and it feels far too familiar to really make an impact. There are flashes of brilliance throughout the narrative involving a few brief moments with The Joker for sure, but as a whole, we’ve literally seen this song and dance for years on end. In terms of voice acting, Troy Baker takes over for Mark Hamill quite valiantly as he puts on his best Hamill impression — but I found myself longing for a fresh take rather than an imitation, like John DiMaggio’s take in the Red Hood film.
But the wasted assets don’t really end at the story itself — the assassin squad is not only comprised of a few B quality (or even C-list) Batman villains, but the ones that are formidable are often designed with brief, soulless encounters in mind. Like Deathstroke — one of Batman’s most dangerous villains, and one of the most interesting characters in Batman-lore, shows up for literally five minutes in an arena style bossfight. Another less interesting villainess, Copperhead, attempts to do her best Scarecrow impression with a hallucinogenic toxin in tow, but she never really comes close. Outside of a few choice encounters, the Origins feels like a paint-by-numbers rendition of “Batman: The Game.”
The good news is the actual gameplay is still solid, and it’s still fun to both sneak around as Batman, or pummel 30 people at once in an all-out brawl session. For the most part, Batman controls how he should, and the stealth-centric “Predator” sections are still the top-notch puzzle rooms they always were. I don’t know if outwitting a ton of unsuspecting goons in a room will ever get old, and given the large amount of gadgets at Batman’s disposal, there’s a ton of ways to go about each puzzle. There are also a ton of secrets, more challenge rooms, and optional sidequests to engage in, including a few brand new (but underutilized) villains like Anarky. If you’re a fan of collectibles, Origins still delivers, and it’s absolutely packed with content.
Everything is basically the same, which is either good or bad depending on your point of view. You’ll still use gadgets as a means to an end (most of which are just re-used from the franchise), free-flow combat operates exactly the same, and even some major bosses and foes return for some rather predictable encounters. The open world also looks relatively the same, but it lacks the sense of charm that was present in Arkham City. This time around an empty city is a bit less forgivable, as it feels incredibly odd that Gotham would be completely devoid of life — especially compared to rather than the believable funhouse that Hugo Strange constructed in the previous game. Thankfully there is a new fast travel system, but it doesn’t change the fact that the city itself isn’t fun to explore.
Multiplayer is also a part of Arkham for the very first time, and it’s not something you’ll want to venture into for long. It’s lifeless, it’s convoluted, and it most likely won’t have a community behind it in a few weeks. The short of it is two factions (Joker and Bane) are warring for points, and a third team of Batman and Robin are tasked with putting them down. It’s a unique concept for sure, but considering none of the teams are any fun to play, it puts a damper on things.
The entire affair feels like a generic third person shooter, with some gadgets mixed in for good measure. Although one player on each team can control Bane or Joker for a brief time, they still don’t make it worth suffering through the mode itself. I doubt many people played the first two games and said to themselves “you know what? I bet it would be really fun to play as that one goon Batman took down in five seconds that one time.” That’s basically what multiplayer is like, and until DLC comes along, you’re forced to play the same mode over and over.
WB’s lack of development prowess also shows quite prominently in Arkham Origins, as I encountered a number of freezes and major bugs throughout my time with the Xbox 360 version. I not only had a ton of soft crashes (which let me quit the game from the 360′s Dashboard), but hard crashes as well, which forced me to turn off my console entirely. But that’s not nearly as bad as the forced WBID (a uPlay-esque login system) mechanic, which loads up on the main menu before anything else, and crashed my system — I had to manually disconnect my internet through my 360′s system menu to proceed and even play the game.
Batman: Arkham Origins could have been so much more. I’m not sure if a rushed development cycle, a new developer, or shoehorned multiplayer is to blame (maybe a combination of all three), but unfortunately, Origins falls short of the high bars the previous games have created. Although I had flashes of greatness playing as the caped crusader once again, that magical spark that kept me invested in the first two games is mostly gone.
This review is based on a physical copy of the Xbox 360 game Batman: Arkham Origins.