Batman: Arkham Origins — Review

Hello and welcome to the final part of my three-part Batman game review! This review will look at the sequel to Batman: Arkham City and see if it holds up to…well…just to see if it holds up.

Batman: Arkham Origins was developed by Warner Bros. Games Montréal and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment in 2013. The game follows the Dark Knight at the two year mark of his campaign of being Batman, or five years before the events of Batman Arkham Asylum. Black Mask has put a bounty on the Caped Crusader to the sum of a cool $50,000,000 (American, of course) and eight assassins have shown up to collect it. The bounty is for one night only, Christmas Eve, with Batman’s death being a very nice Christmas present indeed for the criminals.

Rather than wait it out, as the Masked Manhunter believes innocents will be used as bait to draw him out, Batman instead decides to tackle the assassins head-on before things become too out of hand. Not only does he have his rogues gallery to contend with, he also must deal with the corrupt police department as well in order to restore some semblance of order to Gotham City.

Gameplay consists of puzzle solving, stealth and brawler fighting, investigation, and exploration. If you have read my past two reviews, then most of the gameplay is self-explanatory. The only thing I will touch upon is the investigative aspect—specifically, the use of Detective Mode: a special scanner integrated into the cowl used to discover and analyze clues and follow trails. This tool has been reworked for this game and allows Batman to create a crime scene reconstruction scenario video, which he uses in order to hunt down additional clues for getting a more accurate picture of how a particular crime happened.

This game has many great elements—the Detective Mode being one of the best. Although you will not use it very often, it is still integral to the gameplay and is a revolutionary game mechanic! I loved having to rewind and fast forward the scenario video in order to find the missing pieces and build up the scenario to work out what happened. This mechanic allowed me to feel even more like a detective than ever before!

Some of his trademark gadgets make their return for this series (batarang, grapnel, explosive gel, et al) along with some new ones to add to his arsenal. Batman gets his hands on a remote claw at one point which allows him to create higher vantage points to grapple up to in order to reach previously inaccessible areas. He also obtains a disruptor that allows him to short circuit speaker boxes (for those extra stealthy predator moments) and jamming devices (which will then allow you to use the cryptographic sequencer). The Dark Knight also has a glue grenade, but it is a stand-in for the freeze grenade from the previous game, as it serves the exact same purposes and nothing more. Making up for that, however, are shock gloves that he steals from the Electrocutioner, which, when correctly activated, allow him to fight his way through every blocked fighting defence, and even armour and riot shields.

Another thing I enjoy about this game is that Montréal is taking its time with building up Harley Quinn’s character. In this game she is a member of the Blackgate prison staff…and that is it! She has a horrible night, visits with the Joker, and by the end of the game she is still Harley, not Harlequin. That was immensely satisfying for me to know that they have enough confidence with the character to do this and I hope we will be able to see the Joker twist her into his favorite puppet over the course of several more games before she finally becomes his sidekick.

Another new and wonderful element is fast travel. Batman is able to use GCN towers as pinpoints for the Batwing to reach a destination faster than he would by using the grapnel boost gliding technique. It should be noted that the player is unable to control the Batwing, as it only appears in cut scenes that disguise game loading. It also makes a tangible appearance in the Batcave, but you still will not control it in any fashion.

If the eight assassins were not enough for Batman to handle, there are a slew of other villains for him to confront, most notably the Penguin, as this game takes place before the fight that inured him to his bottle monocle. The Riddler makes another appearance in two fashions: the first as a disabler of the towers Batman uses for fast travel and the second as a collector of blackmail on corrupted officials who scatters said information all around the city in data packs. Other villains, assassins and otherwise, include Bane, Copperhead, the Mad Hatter, Deathstroke, Deadshot, and Killer Croc, amongst others. The Joker is also in this game, of course, because apparently it is not a Batman game without the Clown Prince of Crime.

But even the greatest of games have bad qualities to them, and this game will make you want to pat Warner Bros. on the back while simultaneously stabbing them in it. Although the creators of this game took risks to bring us different gameplay aspects, they created a safety net for themselves in case those innovations did not pan out. Although that makes incredible financial sense, it makes for a very disappointing play. Sometimes, though, they just plain fixed what was not broken.

Case in point: the grapnel boost gliding technique is practically useless in this game. Every time you want to grapple to a building for the next boost, it turns out you cannot as the building is too far away, causing you to land on another rooftop prematurely. Also, when you can pull off the boost, you will find yourself unable to perform the dive/pull up technique that allows you to continue gliding as there will be a rooftop below you that either impedes your ability to gain distance/altitude or your ability to glide entirely as you will land on it before you can pull back up. Fast travel is a practical necessity and forces you to avoid the beloved traveling method of the previous game. Even having the ability to see what the northern area of Gotham looked like before the wall was put up or how Amusement Mile appeared before the not-labeled-as-an-earthquake hit does not make this change any more pleasant. Montréal ruined gliding in order to promote fast travel. That is egregious. Another fixed thing they broke was making plywood barriers tougher than they were in the last game, necessitating them to be blown up rather than punched or crashed through. That was just stupid.

Another problem with the game is how it handles its own name. Based on its title alone, you would believe that the game is about how Arkham Asylum was created, which of course would not be the case as that would require the game to take place in the 1800s and thus there would be no Batman or any of his rogues gallery. The next logical belief, then, would be that this game would show a culmination of cataclysmic events that would lead to Arkham Asylum being refurbished and used to hold this new criminal class. While that does indeed happen (even though the cataclysm is quite small), the origins of Arkham Asylum takes place in a throw away line by a Quincy Sharp cameo. We all know that “Arkham” is only in the title for the express purpose of keeping it connected to the two games that came out before it and only half a thought went into its creation.

There are two minor things I would like to touch upon before I get to the final problem I have with this game: playability and a continuity error. Concerning playability, there is a flaw with Detective Mode: to the seasoned player, we cannot just go to where all of the evidence is, even though we already know where it is. The player has to to keep on going through the motions as if this were their first time playing the game. As for the continuity error, in the Arkhamverse, Harley is not supposed to meet the Joker until her arrival at Arkham Asylum. Although, technically, the interview tapes in the first game do not explicitly say in which location these interviews took place, it is understood by the player that they happened at the asylum and not Blackgate because we were never given a reason to believe otherwise. Anyone who plays that card is attempting to explain how they could have met before the Joker’s internment at the asylum. While such an explanation technically works, it is hardly satisfying, as it does not really work in and of itself. The interview tape clearly shows that the interview was their first meeting, which is completely ignored by Arkham Origins. Granted, such a detail will not destabilise the Arkhamverse, but it is worth noting regardless, even though this game handled their first meeting much better than the interview tapes did.

One detail about the game itself, however, is enough to destabilise its own foundation. Despite the fact that this game is supposed to take place two years after Batman made his first appearance, it is quite clear that that was never the intent. The game introduces us to a Batman who is new to the crime fighting scene and is making rookie mistakes, while meeting Jim Gordon for the first time. The “origin” part of the title is clearly meant for the titular character, but then someone spoke up saying, “You know what? Let’s not do that.” And for whatever reason everyone indulged him, even if barely.

NOTE: Before proceeding on, I wish to make a few things perfectly clear. When I plan on playing a game, I expose myself as little as possible to outside influences. I watch the game trailers with a grain of salt, I ignore interviews and reviews and I do not listen to any of the hype, thoughts, and speculations that surround it. Thus, I am able to form a mostly unbiased opinion of the game and can judge it with near perfect objectiveness. Also, just like Batman himself, I do not have any expectations for any game I play so I will never be disappointed in that regard. Finally, also note that I do not use “hope” and “expectation” interchangeably.

My final problem with this game is that the narrative continues for too long. The promotional trailers released for this game show that it is solely about Batman fighting assassins as he makes his way to Black Mask. That premise alone is enough to sustain the game. Montréal, however, could not leave well enough alone and took the game further than was necessary, which leads me to my tie-in complaint: the Joker’s presence.

As much as I love the Joker, he was not needed in this game. Go ahead and berate me – I do not care. Mind you, this has nothing to do with Troy Baker voicing the character instead of the legendary Mark Hamill, for I do not have one iota of feeling toward that aspect at all. Many actors, both live and voice, have performed the Joker and many more will come after Mr. Hamill. Mark may be one of the best, but he is not the only one, and thus I will not disregard another person’s performance by comparing it to someone else’s. There is no right way to play this role. My issue here is that the Joker is in this game at all, and it has nothing to do with any desire I may have with wishing to see what happened to the character in the previous game, even though this game takes place beforehand.

Remember that safety net I mentioned earlier? The Joker is the biggest one Montréal gave themselves. Instead of creating a standalone game outside of what Rocksteady has already made, they did not have the courage to see if they could make a successful game without the Clown Prince. This game would have been very successful had they left the Joker out. Sure it would also be much shorter, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. A game does not need to have a long runtime in order to be good. Plus, and worst of all, the Joker was not organically integrated into the story—he was tacked on. That is no way to treat Batman’s greatest adversary.

When you come right down to it, this game, from a pure gameplay standpoint, is fantastic. It continues and improves upon the fighting mechanics of Arkham City, the controls all around feel perfectly natural for those of us who have played the previous game, and we once again get to see the World’s Greatest Detective in all of his glory while finding a few Easter eggs along the way. This game is a great one to pick up and I hope Montréal will be able to do a series of games that take place before Rocksteady’s so we can have a new Batman game released every year between the two studios.

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