This week sees the release of Batman: Arkham Knight on next-gen game consoles … which means I’m probably a little preoccupied as you read this. Like the Assassin’s Creed series, I’m a sucker for these Arkham titles with their balance of sleuthing, stealthing and fighting, and the top-notch presentation of Gotham City.
And that appreciation extends to the seemingly forgotten prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins. Released in 2014 to shrugs and outsourced to Warner Bros. Games Montreal studio, Origins can certainly be seen as a cheap cash-grab to keep the series alive while series developer Rocksteady worked the next-gen release, but it also has many things going for it. For one: it’s more of the fun people found in Arkham City.
Which … seemed to annoy a lot of critics.
Maybe I’m alone on this, but I don’t find “it’s just more of a previous, but great game” to be a compelling reason to knock a game. There are flaws in Origins, but its similarities to City — even the use of parts of its map — are not remotely near the handful of problems in the game. But before I go there, let’s talk some positives.
Set during a early part of Batman’ career, Arkham Origins tells the roundabout tale of Arkham Asylum’s becoming the house where they keep all of the Batman’s enemies. It’s really, really roundabout as the action focuses mainly on Blackgate Prison’s inability to hold inmates and Black Mask’s plot to assassinate Batman (at least until the Joker shows up). Oh, and the villains one encounters while trying to be the Batman! Which means I gotta grouse about Deadshot.
Thanks to Secret Six and Arrow, I love me some Floyd Lawton, but, man, is he the single most obnoxious villain to take down. I admit I’m not the best Batman to ever crusade in one of these games, but yikes! Oddly enough, the Deadshot mission is also one of the best features of the game, requiring the use of just about every talent, toy and technique the player leans in the course of the Arkham titles. Between intimidation, freezing goons and finally sneaking up behind Deadshot to knock him out, it was a pretty intense objective and it’s actually considered secondary by the mission tracker.
Like the Deadshot mission, a lot of Origins merits are found in the unlikely places it goes, from skulking around the Gotham P.D. garage to illustrating Barbara Gordon’s early interests in crime fighting and electronics, and how she sought out the Batman. Every moment with her is gold.
The game features the top notch fighting mechanics from Asylum and City, that wonderful grapple + glide function to fly about Gotham and fun gadgets like the explosive foam and grapple attack. I’m not the best user of the toys in combat. I just prefer to brawl most of the time, but I do appreciate when I manage to pull off one of those gadget combos successfully — to say nothing of an absurd +50 combo.
A few new interesting features, like detective mode’s ability to recreate crime scenes based on scanned evidence, are welcome addition — chief amongst them is the use of the Batwing as a fast travel system to different parts of the city. I also liked visiting the Batcave at long last, with Alfred offering quips and advice in person, a in-game training room to master combos and the Bat-computer for a handful of clues detective mode could not successfully scan.
Even the DLC story add-on was fun (granted, I got it as a free bonus for buying the game at Gamestop for some reason) in its focus on Batman’s initial encounter with Mr. Freeze. His goons seemed better prepared for me and Freeze himself is no push over, requiring expert timing to outfox his defenses and bring a little heat to the situation.
On, there’s also some multiplayer feature which, to be honest, doesn’t interest in me in the least.
Beyond the notion of sameness, Origins chief issue is an occasional lack of polish. The cutscenes don’t seem as fluid as the previous games in a few instances. The enemy AI is occasionally wonky in certain spots. More evidence of a tight schedule developer WB Games Montreal had to complete the project than a lack of vision.
Which, I suppose adds up to title that is completely satisfying at $20 or less, but would be mildly disappointing as a $60 new release. New releases are fraught with risk these days, from Destiny‘s woeful lack of content to even Arkham Knight‘s troubled release on PCs. Given those metrics, I suppose sameness is a valid reason to find Batman: Arkham Origins a lesser addition to the modern Batman game franchise, but if you avoided it because of the initial lackluster word of mouth, it’s definitely worth its discounted price and trying while you wait for Arkham Knight‘s day-one update to download.