Batman Arkham Origins is by no means a terrible game but it’s a by-the-numbers affair that fails to live up to the high standards set by it’s predecessor. Arkham Origins is a prequel to Batman Arkham Asylum and it’s sequel Batman Arkham City. It was developed by WB Games in place of Rocksteady Studios, who developed the previous Arkham games. Arkham Origins has a few interesting ideas but for the most part, it’s a decent but uninspired experience. There’s nothing this game that does that other games haven’t done better.
Batman is two years into his career and on Christmas Eve, Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on the Dark Knight’s head. Eight assassins, including notable villains such as Bane and Deathstroke come after him and in the middle of the ensuing chaos, the Joker makes his debut. The cast of villains is weaker than in previous games. Famous villains such as Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Scarecrow, Ra’s Al-Ghul, and Hugo Strange are absent. In their place are a bunch of villains you’ve never heard of like Copperhead, Anarky and Firefly.
Just about every aspect of Arkham Origins falls short in comparison to Arkham City. The boss fights are weaker, the story is less interesting and gameplay is more repetitive than ever. The stealth segments are less frequent and the story only gets going when the Joker is introduced. There’s a strong theme of Batman finding his allies and by the end of the game, the Dark Knight is closer to his depiction in Arkham Asylum. There’s a sense of progression to the plot but little meaning behind the individual developments.
The most interesting part of the story is how it depicts the beginning of the relationship between Batman and the Joker. Neither Batman nor the Joker know how to react to the other when they first meet, which makes their dynamic that much more compelling. Their interactions are easily the most enjoyable part of the game and are among the few moments where Arkham Origins reaches the quality that previous games thrived in.
Arkham Origins takes a lot of cues from Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, at least in terms of design. Batman wears armour instead of spandex, Bane is smaller in appearance (much like Tom Hardy) and the plot focuses on organized crime much like Batman Begins. Even the main menu music seems like a call back to the Deshi Basara chant from The Dark Knight Rises. Considering that the gameplay is identical to previous games, one gets the impression that Arkham Origins is cashing in on Batman’s recent popularity instead of trying to do something original.
One interesting change is the cast. Veteran Batman voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are absent in this game. Instead Roger Craig Smith (better known as the voice of Ezio) and Troy Baker take over as Batman and the Joker respectively. Smith does a decent job pulling off a younger version of Conroy’s Batman but as always, it’s the Joker who steals the show. Troy Baker is a dead ringer for Mark Hamill and perfectly fills his shoes.
The gameplay is practically identical to Arkham City. Beating up criminals with your fists (and the occasional gadget) is just as fun as it’s always been. Batman doesn’t have any new moves to show off and the gadgets are the same aside from one or two new toys, though the game grades you after every fight and stealth segment, awarding bonus points to efficient players, which is an interesting form of positive reinforcement. Batman can still upgrade his abilities, though some of his more useful moves are locked away by mission-specific challenges. The stealth segments also return, though there are significantly less this time. This is disappointing because like the combat, the stealth is just as fun as previous games.
Batman can glide around Gotham City in between story missions, just like in Arkham City. There are several reasons to explore Gotham, including collecting Riddler datapacks, completing side missions and discovering the new crime-in-progress feature. This game will keep you busy for a while especially with the ability to carry over your abilites for a second playthrough and a special difficulty for players looking for a sadistic challenge called “I am the Night” which erases your progress after one death.
Arkham Origins sticks with the open-world formula, which to be fair is as good as it gets (especially since Batman can now fast-travel). Gotham City is neither as colourful nor as interesting as Arkham City. A monochromatic colour scheme blankets Gotham City; there plenty of whites, greys and blacks on display. There’s a curfew in effect so don’t expect to run into any civilians.
The detective work has been revamped (though I use that word hesitantly). Batman can fully reconstruct a crime scene and rewind or fast forward the scene to bring up new evidence. These segments are fun but very linear. Little input is required by the player outside of highlighting the next piece of evidence and pressing a button. That in many ways sums up the experience of Arkham Origins. It feels like playing as Batman on a bad day, going from one area to the next, clearing an endless checklist: find this datapack, beat up these bad guys, fight this villain.
There’s sense of dread and not a sense of wonder when playing Batman Arkham Origins. There isn’t as much excitement waiting around the corner to keep you guessing and nothing in Arkham Origins comes close to stellar ending of Arkham City. This isn’t a game we deserved and it most definitely is not a game we needed.
This article originally appeared on Aspie Gaming on 1.23.2014.