Batman Arkham Origins Review

Formats: Playstation 3 (version tested), Xbox 360, PC, Wii U

Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal, Splash Damage

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Age rating: PEGI 16

Released: Out now

I’m not a big fan of prequels. It takes a lot of effort to keep them interesting. After all, you know what comes next, there’s very little that can surprise, and all too often it simply feels like a case of extending a series following a major plot revelation. If you’ve played Arkham City, then it’s pretty easy to see why this concern could apply to Origins. And in some ways, it’s a fair one. In other ways, however, Origins is a narratively excellent addition to the Arkham canon, and one which fleshes out some of the characters exceptionally well. The conceit is that Black Mask, a popular Batman villain who often gets short thrift outside of the comics, has hired a number of assassins to kill Batman on Christmas Eve. As such, Origins is set to a backdrop of snow and slaughter, shivering goons stalking the streets of Gotham while iconic named villains lurk in the background, cackling, before occasionally reaching out to mess with Batman’s holiday cheer. Black Mask may not be handled quite as well as he could’ve been, but the rest of Batman’s rogues gallery are on top form here. We get to see an early incarnation of The Joker, and his developing relationship with Bats. We get to see Bane before he got hopped up on Venom, and receive tantalising glances of the master strategist behind the mask. Then there are the lesser-knowns; Firefly, Shiva and Copperhead making appearances alongside the likes of Deathstroke and a number of other familiar faces. It’s an excellent, albeit oddly-paced Batman tale. Far closer in feel to the Batman of the DCU canon than previous Arkham games, too. Batman’s relationships with both Alfred and Commissioner Gordon are played up superbly here, with the latter dealing with their first tentative meetings, and the mistrust and defensiveness that accompanies a vigilante meeting a lawman. His jaunts with the assassins aren’t always as well-handled, though, with some of them being relegated to side missions, or simply appearing then disappearing, and all mostly stacked in the second half of the game. The first half in general is somewhat slow, in fact, and the overall progression throughout the game is kind of unusual. You unlock most gadgets early on, and very occasionally return to the batcave to retrieve more, so there isn’t quite the same sense of discoverability that the series previously had. For the most part, areas are simply locked until the plot requires you to access them, and only a handful of optional collectibles require gadgets you don’t have within the first couple of hours. Batmandownpage_2732197a

Origins’ take on Gotham is somewhat hit and miss, too. It successfully captures the moody feel, the run-down streets occasionally dotted with buildings that symbolise excess, that dark contrast of rich and poor that the city’s most (in)famous for. But as a game space, navigating Gotham is at times a bit of a maze, with certain buildings unable to be grapneled, and empty lifeless streets justified by the fact ‘it’s Christmas Eve and also some crimes happened’. Occasionally, one of the villains takes hostages, and you have to wonder just where they found the people in the first place. The cops, too, are unusual, in that seemingly every single member of the GCPD is a brutal, murderous psychopath, primed for a beatdown. Otherwise, it’s very familiar bat-fare. The same fantastic combo system, and directional fisticuffs, the same approaches to Predator mode, the same challenge rooms, the same puzzles. If you’ve played the other two games, there’s nothing here which surprises, and the new enemy type, the martial artist, offers nothing more than an enemy which requires you to press the Counter button twice. That said, it’s carbon copying two excellent games. Less excellent were the technical issues, however, and this is a difficult subject. I played the PS3 version, which started off rather broken, with a lot of clipping issues and some horrendous framerate drops. By the time I finished the game, it had been patched twice and now runs fine, with all the bugs I was encountering stamped out. At the present moment, the PS3 version works well, but the PC version does not. Patches have been coming thick and fast, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. As such, consider this a review of the PS3 version only. Origins’ final disappointment lies with the multiplayer. In the single match I was able to play, it seemed like it could be a fun distraction. Finding matches is next to impossible, however, compounded with some serious lag issues, so at the moment it’s a bit of a write-off. It’s a strange game, then. At its best, it rivals anything in City. At its worst, it’s comfortably the weakest of the three Arkham games. It was a lot harder to recommend a couple weeks ago, when it was a more broken, but now it’s certainly worth checking out if you’re a bat-fan. Just don’t go in expecting anything fresh, new or groundbreaking.   6.5/10


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