When Warner Bros announced the next game in the acclaimed Arkham franchise would be a preequel, the reaction was mixed. When they announced that Rocksteady would not be returning for the prequel, instead handing the reins to Warner Bros Games Montreal, the reaction was negative. It felt like a cash-grab, a stop-gap while Rocksteady worked on whatever would follow the brilliant Arkham City. Was this reaction premature or right on the money? Read on to find out.
Taking place 5 years before Arkham Asylum and starring a Batman that has only been cape crusading for 2 years, Arkham Origins features The Bat’s first encounters with many of the members of his Rogue’s Gallery. The story involves Black Mask putting a bounty on Batman’s head and inviting some of the world’s deadliest assassins to cash in on Christmas Eve. All of this is merely window dressing for the real meat of the game: Batman’s first meeting with The Joker.
Indeed, once Joker appears, Black Mask is all but forgotten, but that’s mainly because The Joker makes a hell of a first impression. The story takes a more epic turn than I originally anticipated and I was heavily invested in the tale they wove. Mark Hamill is no longer voicing the Clown Prince of Crime, instead that job falls to Troy Baker AKA Booker Dewitt and Joel from Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us, respectively. And he owns it. It’s kind of astounding to hear him do a pitch-perfect Joker without directly imitating Hamill. Throw in appearances from The Penguin, Bane, Mad Hatter and even a pre-Riddler Enigma and you won’t be disappointed with the twists and turns the story takes.
This is where the Arkham games truly shine for me and Origins does not slouch here, either. Sure, it doesn’t really make too many advancements in the tried-and-true gameplay, but is that really a bad thing? More of something that I consider to be near-flawless is okay with me. The combat is largely the same, with many of the same tools and weapons, although they throw in a few new ones, such as the over-powered and game-breaking Shock Gloves, but you always have the option to use whatever you want and ignore the rest. Still as satisfying as ever and probably the premiere combat system in video games today.
Navigating the city of Arkham is still just as enjoyable as it was in Arkham City. Rather than exploring a mere section of Gotham, in Origins you get the whole city, but don’t expect to run into any citizens milling about. Thanks to Christmas Eve, a blizzard and the terror of Black Mask, the sensible people of Gotham decided to stay indoors. Which is fine because you have a lot to do: tracking down Enigma’s various collectibles, some of which require a decent amount of puzzle solving, searching for Penguin’s weapon caches, Black Mask’s drug stashes, etc… Gotham is filled with plenty of side-activities to keep you busy for hours and it is all very enjoyable.
One new addition is the crime scenes, which have Batman using his Bat-tech to re-enact various crimes to find clues and, eventually, the culprit. It’s pretty basic and you basically just do what the game wants you to. I can’t imagine anyone not being able to solve all of them rather easily, but it is a nice change of pace. I hope they flesh it out more in future installments, but it didn’t like up to the pre-release hype.
Batman: Arkham Origins is considered the stepchild of the franchise and it is easy to see why. Until you play it. Lost amid the complaining about the lack of forward progress this entry makes is the fact that it is super fun. It’s a great game in an amazing franchise and once it hooked its Batclaws into me, it didn’t let go until I was completely finished with the game. I beat the game late on a Saturday night and spent 4 hours on Sunday finishing up sidequests. The very last hour was spent zipping around Gotham looking for something to do because I wasn’t ready to put the game away.
It’s hard to get me to sit and play a game for more than hour or two these days, but Arkham Origins did so on more than one occasion. Like I said, it doesn’t really innovate in any meaningful way, but it is a blast to play. I am the number one complainer about franchises releasing annually, but this is the one franchise that I wouldn’t mind doing so in the least. If you enjoyed the last two games then you really owe it to yourself to play this one. It’s not a game of the year contender and does nothing you haven’t seen before, but doesn’t stop it from being a can’t miss experience.
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