Batman: Arkham Origins
- Street Date:
- October 25th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Brian Hoss
- Review Date:1
- November 14th, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- Warner Bros.
- Warner Bros.
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
PC version reviewed minus the multiplayer mode.
The third installment of the 'Batman: Arkham' series is upon us, and with the Unreal 3-powered series not ready to make the jump to the Xbox One and PS4, the next best thing is PC version. After 'Arkham Asylum' and 'Akrham City,' Rocksteady Studios has moved on for now to another likely related project leaving Warner Bros. Games Montréal to move the franchise forward. Somehow though, the big WB decided to dial the story back to something along the lines of 'Batman: Year Two and Change,' and along for the ride are eight much ballyhooed assassins. Up for grabs on a Christmas Eve in Gotham is a $50 million bounty for bringing down Batman, but as is typical for the series, the simple premise hides a much larger set of Batman problems.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
There's no way to escape it, 'Batman: Arkham Origins' starts off on the wrong foot. And I am of course referring to the single player campaign, which is the heart of the game, the marketing, etc. That said, I can easily state that if you are new to the series, by all means go play the 'Batman: Arkham Origins.' For those who have played 'Batman: Arkham City' as some point in the last two years, the situation is lot less clear.
Unlike the incredible starts of the two previous games, 'Origins' puts players through a tutorial in Blackgate prison that quickly takes the air out of the tires. I found myself wishing for one those Kojima like "I've played a game in this series before" options. The Blackgate sequence ends with something of a staple for the game, a boss fight that is hard to quantify against a villain that isn't the one you are seeking.
From there, we have the introduction of the awkward new Bruce Wayne, the homely the Alfred, and the Batcave, much of which echoes a similar set of issues in 'Splinter Cell: Blacklist.' A partially rebooted character in an questionable 'Mass Effect' like central hub.
After a fake-out where the game compels you into a side mission, (restoring access to one of the games 'Assassin's Creed' like comm towers,) the city of Gotham opens to reveal a map roughly twice the size of 'Arkham City,' full of Riddler bits, endless thugs, and crooked cops.
Fortunately, the 'Arkham' series has not yet been annualized. With around a year and year since 'Harley's Revenge' was released, the carried over systems of 'Arkaham City' are still fun, and some of that game's problems have been fixed. (Like not having the compass obscured by the level up prompt.) With half the map ripped from 'Arkham City,' I was still relieved to find that either by using the fast travel system or through new paths, the map is no longer an annoying u shape filled with snipers.
Still, the over familiarity of many of the game's aspects, which often prompts internet screams of "this should be DLC" (see 'Left for Dead 2') tarnishes the game, even where there are major changes. (Did anyone finish 'Arkham City' or its DLC and wish for yet another trip into the Steel Mill?)
Offsetting the weak beginning and the ever-present bits of the past games (like Batman's vent tearing animation and press 'A" repeatedly prompt) is a massive list of side objectives. These range from the extreme 'Donkey Kong 64' Enigma related data packs (200 total!), info nodes, and comm tower collection tasks, to missions that have Batman foiling major villains and low level, specific street thugs alike. There's even a danger room like training system in the Batcave that's full of challenges that are separate from the challenge rooms.
The combat system is at its best yet, and clearly was refined by new blood for the franchise. The grading system is fascinating and addicting, and rewards flawless, more varied attacks. These grades, along with Batman's WayneTech upgrade system, tie into a four tree Dark Knight system, which present sixty challenges that pepper the campaign.
Unfortunately, with so much side-content, the decision was made to interweave each secondary objective. In essence, as much as acquiring Riddler trophies in 'Arkham City' required specific gadgets, almost none of these things can be completed without progressing in all of them. The rewards, which include XP, upgrades, achievements, concept art and character trophies, all blend together into one unsatiating experience. To make a crummy thing worse, the interconnected nature of these objectives means that a single hiccup can obstruct hours of progress.
Some objectives can only be completed in or two instances in an entire playthrough. While the central campaign feels reasonably polished, the side objectives feature progression stopping bugs at regular interval, many of which can be reproduced with ease (and are thereby hard to avoid). Several patches have been released, but the vast number of bugs make it obvious that the side objectives were not finalized until the last minute.
Meanwhile, this Gotham is more civil than the radical Gotham turned 'Escape from New York' of the last game. Still, without moving cars or NPCs beyond the occasional mugging victim, the snowy city feels static and lifeless. While the game is not so small in nature that it should have been DLC, the various missions convey the isolated feel of DLC. Batman, it seems, never stumbles upon anything more important than a street fight, with everything else occurring whenever he is headed for it specifically.
The disconnected feel extends to the story as well, which once again devolves into being focused on the Joker. Really though, get rid of the corrupted police force, and the story would suit a Batman that had been around for ten years. Characters supposedly meeting for the first time act much the same as if Batman were the veteran from the two past titles.
Batman's investigating at the year two level now means that he can just scan one or two things in a crime scene, and then be able to view an entire virtual recreation. These recreations look very cool, but while dazzling visually lack in terms of gameplay.
The real shame (aside from the plethora of bugs) is that along with the best version of combat system, the game features several boss fights that put the prior games to shame. Oftentimes, the camera is taken from its accustomed third person view in order to deliver a boss fight that challenges even while it confounds. Many boss fights are dreadful, but the better ones are easily the best part of the game.
Finally, some aspects just take time and progress to gel, while others seem lost in gameplay that works but hardly seems like anyone's dream of a Batman game. Making ice platforms in 'Arkham City' and then bat clawing around the water... does this need to really become a permanent Batman feature? The same goes for conducting electricity, something that works in small doses but is taken to a ridiculous level.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
I played through the game on two different rigs (go Steam cloud!), and the game spoils with the continued good looks of the series. The game seems better optimized than its predecessor, and the PhysX are amazing with the right setup. I marveled as a busted armored car allowed individual bills to float around the room not as dissipating particles but as physicable objects. The character designs fall well short of highwater marks of the previous titles, but still look good. The static nature of many environments hurt the game, as does the occasional low quality pre-rendered cutscene.
The frequent industrial vibe of sewers, warehouses, and dilapidated buildings, sometimes makes for a monochrome feel that begs for extra detail, but there is a bigger problem. The interior environments while pretty can make for some awkward progression. Batman can only walk through closed doors 'Resident Evil' style, and usually has to find a Batman-sized vent to crawl through. Since the game's side quests demand backtracking through areas like the Gotham City Police Station, the room to room vis-blocking becomes a stifling chore, and has the player looking in every ugly nook and cranny.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
While the sound design retains much of what has made the past games stellar sound wise, the disparity between go here, blown up this poison gas container side missions, and actual campaign content, means that there is comparatively little in the soundscape to impress. No vehicle noises, or murmuring citizens, or Bruce's own haunted thoughts, instead the game provides a constant stream of street thug chatter, and stilted Alfred/stubborn Bruce conversations wired directly to the Batman ears. The sizzle of electronics, as when the player levels up is nice, but I never ever found a predator room or boss fight or stoop in the city that was an auditory joy.
The replay factor is hard to judge, with New Game Plus, and I Am the Knight modes seeming more attractive than previous games. After 'Arkham Origins,' returning to the older combat systems of the previous games would be an unhappy experience, but this game's nonstory lacks for replay appeal. As multiplayer, I only played long enough to know that it wasn't for me.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Warner Brothers has teased the young Bruce Wayne/Batman in training as future DLC, but that is content that seems like it should have been part of the base game, and worked into the story. As it is, the PC version includes Deathstroke as playable for the challenge modes as well as some unlockable costumes that hardcore Batman comic fans would recognize. Unlike previous playable characters, (Joker, Catwoman, Robin, etc.) Deathstroke looks to feature as an important playable character in the future.
The half-hearted prequel treatment, buggy side content, and minor story arc hold back what could have been a must-play title in spite of the familiar trappings. Completing the the data pack collection filled me with a sense of self-loathing strong enough to recommend that most stay away from that aspect altogether. The handful of great boss fights, predator encounters, and still fun combat make the game worth playing, but the formula appears to be wearing thin while plans for DLC and future projects further dilute the original dynamite Batman experience.
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