When it was announced that Batman: Arkham Origins would be passed down from Rocksteady to Warner Bros. Montreal, there was quite a bit of skepticism and outrage. To think that such a critically acclaimed series was being put in the hands of some little-known development studio was something of a travesty. Luckily, Origins meets the quality of City, though maybe a little too closely.
Arkham Origins does a lot of things well. The first thing players are sure to notice is the amazing quality of boss battles. Generally speaking, bosses are not limited to simple battles with a bunch of thugs and cronies added to the mix just to frustrate your life. Here, every boss battle is different and has its own unique strategy required for victory. Killer Croc’s battle was a beautifully realized fight that opens the game, and even that was one of the simpler ones. Deathstroke is one of the best one-on-one, hand-to-hand battles you can find in the entirety of video games. Firefly provides a battle where you need to be particularly creative in order to win, all while being in a fully realized environment. I won’t bog you down with every boss fight; just know that each and each one is unique and creative, inscribed in beautiful environments that provide a great challenge. Given a gameplay system that has the potential of easily falling into monotony, this is a spectacular feat of ingenuity.
Most bosses require you to make use of a gadget earned or a technique just learned in order to win. And upon victory, you sometimes get to take one of their signature gadgets. One such amazing gadget are the Shock Gloves you receive after Electrocutioner’s timely demise. Even though they’re just another gadget in your arsenal, the gloves were phenomenal enough to change the way the game plays. In battle, you have a charge meter right by your health bar, indicating the amount of charge in the gloves. Once fully charged, players can activate them and begin wreak havoc. When active, each individual strike counts as two hits, effectively doubling your combos. This is great because the Arkham series is one that enjoys its combo system and makes sure to reward players who put effort toward it.
Additionally, the gloves make taking enemies out just so much easier. A variety of different enemies exist in Origins, most of which require some special technique to effectively take down. Shield enemies need to be hopped over, armored enemies have to be beat down, titan-like characters need to be dazed and confused. These, like others, are easily taken care of by the shock gloves, as they allow you to bypass all these defenses and just go to town on your enemy. In a mob of thugs that forces you to be vigilant of every enemy, the shock gloves are a very welcome addition to make your day just a little less stressful.
However, the gloves are one of the very few new things added to the gameplay dynamic from previous installments. One or two new enemies aside, the shock gloves are really just about the only new element. And this is one of Origins’ largest problems: it relies on its predecessors way too much. Indeed, it’s hard to tell the difference between Origins and City in almost all respects. Battles play the same, most enemies you find are the same, even the majority of your gadgets are ones you’ve already tinkered with in City and Asylum.
For some this may not be much of a problem, especially had it been Rocksteady behind this game. Here, however, we have an entirely separate studio who created it. Receiving Rocksteady’s engine may have been a blessing for WB, but it left them wide open for criticism on the front of overusing it. Indeed, Origins is almost a carbon copy of City in most things you can imagine. Given that this is a brand new team of people creating this game, I both hoped and expected them to add their own fresh spin to an entry rife with opportunity, especially given the gameplay potential so easily presented by featuring a younger, less experienced Batman.
Though as I’ve pointed out already, it’s not all bad with Origins by any means. Boss battles aren’t the only thing Origins does better than its Arkham brothers. Considering I enjoyed both the stories of Asylum and City, it is a huge thing for me to conclusively and definitively say that Origins boasts the best story in the series. Without divulging the entirety of its contents, I’ll point out some things here that work very well. Reminder that spoilers are ahead. Foremost, story elements (though not necessarily gameplay elements) all show that Bruce Wayne is a young Batman. You seem him lose his cool often enough and he doesn’t seem to figure things out as quickly. Alfred, a main character this time around, is often seen actively arguing with Bruce, advocating against his antics for the sake of his safety, just like the father figure he has become. Indeed, it really makes you feel like you’re in the early stages of the Dark Knight’s career.
This is also the first time Batman meets many familiar characters, each of them presented right in the light they should be. Barbara Gordon (Batgirl, Oracle) is shown providing her technical and computerized prowess to help dole out whatever justice the young daughter of a police captain can possibly do, arguing with Batman to allow her to help because she’s just so passionate. Captain James Gordon (not Commissioner just yet) is shown as initially very hesitant and apprehensive towards Batman and his vigilantism, but as the story progresses, an unparalleled respect begins to surface. Here we start to see the beginnings of a relationship not marked by hostility because of incongruous routes to justice, but one marked by mutual respect and dependence that hallmarks the kind of attitudes that are necessary in order to save Gotham.
Batman also faces many of his classic villains for the first time. In particular, Origins features the tragic love-at-first-sight story (note: mocking) that pervades the ever-stormy relationship between Batman and Joker. In one incredible segment of the game, players actually get to play as Joker in a cinematic gameplay sequence, really giving players a glimpse into the inner machinations of Joker’s convoluted mind. We even get a neat introduction to Dr. Harleen Frances Quinzel (Harley Quinn) and see exactly why it is she becomes so obsessed with Joker. And while we never see her become Harley Quinn, it becomes subtly clear how she ends up as his avid admirer. In just about every front, the main characters are presented wonderfully and the story is the most tightly-wound of them all.
One last thing of note for Origins is just how big it is. The world of Gotham in front of players is twice as big as it was in City, which is huge considering that Arkham City was big enough on its own. And with such a large cast of villains to face outside of the main story, the extra space doesn’t feel wasted, as there’s usually somebody hiding somewhere for you to face or criminals to stop. There is an enormous bridge connecting Old Gotham and New Gotham that can be a bit annoying to travel down (it can take you maybe five minutes to glide through the whole thing!), but with the advent of fast travel among all the different locales of Gotham, I don’t think this is a truly notable point of criticism.
On its own, this huge new Gotham playground isn’t gamebreaking, but it’s definitely a plus worth mentioning. This is also the first time in the series that we actually get to enter and explore the Batcave. Indeed, it is everything you’d imagine it to be. There are gadgets, profiles, Alfred, documents, and computers laying around everywhere. Given that this is a fairly young Batman, the Batcave isn’t as fully equipped as you may hope (he doesn’t have a central monitor yet, haha), but it’s definitely more than fun enough to explore and marvel at.
Unfortunately, Origins was launched with quite a few bugs and glitches that really got in the way. More than a few times, I had to restart a battle because an enemy was literally stuck in the wall and I couldn’t take them out. On some predator maps this same thing would happen and I would end up being detected just trying to Batclaw them out of their glitchy surroundings so I could pummel them and get going with the rest of the game. There were times when I wouldn’t even be able to grapple on to things I know I was able to grapple on to or even jump ledges without getting stuck in the ledge itself. In at least two occurrences, certain lines would just replay indefinitely for minutes on end, even after their sequence was done and they became wholly irrelevant.
While I can’t personally testify to some glitches, nor will I knock the game on them, I’ve seen reports of corrupted saves and freezing, among others. I should emphasize that though many of these issues have been rectified, many of these were avoidable and the products of oversight and a rushed launch window. Or, more simply put, they were a disregard for extensive quality control before putting the product on the market just to nab sales that much faster.
All in all, Origins is a pretty darn good game. It saddens me to realize that with some extra creativity and a little bit of fine tuning that this could have been the greatest entry in the series; a huge feat to top considering how acclaimed Arkham City was. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s still a good game, and is worth attention on anybody’s game log, especially for avid Batman or DC Comics fans.
If you’ve been swayed, you can buy a copy of Batman: Arkham Origins for about 20% off right on Amazon!
[+Great Boss Battles][+Shock Gloves][+Fantastic Story][+Huge Gotham to Explore][-Relies too Heavily on Arkham City][-Glitches]