Several months have passed since Batman Arkham Origins was released, and now that it’s clear of launch bugs it’s time for Stanley and Me to give it a fair review.
As a precursor to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Arkham Origins does a amazing job…story wise. It’s a big ask for anyone to take on an iconic role like the Joker but Troy Baker does a pretty damn good job! His voice is similar enough to Mark Hamill’s yet different enough for it to ring true as an earlier Joker than the one from Asylum or City. The story doesn’t have a dull moment going from set piece to set piece and building moments of tension in between. Without giving too much away Batman’s evening just gets worse and worse, initially it’s just a few assassins but it builds to a showdown of operatic proportions.
Putting the main story aside there is still a lot to do in Arkham Origins, of course there are the obligatory Riddler Trophies…sorry “Enigma Datapack” but lots of great side quests as well. One of the most enjoyable new features of Arkham Origins, for me, are the new “case files”. You come across a murder that’s been done and you’re switched instantly to detective mode. Whilst scanning the area you come across clues that help you reconstruct what happens, you rewind and fast forward through the computer simulation to devine what actually happened. It’s fun stuff! Then you go find the perpetrator and beat them up of course. There are also some neat side story lines involving Anarky, The Penguin, Deadshot, Shiva, The Mad Hatter and Bird (Bane’s lesser known lieutenant). The crime in action functionality means that there is always a large group of criminals just waiting for you to beat them up to rack up combo streaks with the free flow combat system and grind some XP.
This game has really taken what was so good about the Mr Freeze fight in Arkham city, which is to really test your skills, and applied it to ever major battle in different forms. Instead of just having one really tasking boss fight and the rest be relatively easy, each requires you to use different skills. One of the first real fights in the game is against deathstroke. Being the master assassin that he is; this fight tests your countering skills and he keeps you on your toes with his flashbang grenades and remote claw, which will attach one end to you, and the other (in this case) to explosive barrels. The battle tries your reaction speed with quickfire batarangs, dodging and countering. Later battles, like the one with Deadshot test your stealth skills as you find yourself in a bank lobby with a group of criminals, Deadshot and a hostage. The real test here is that Deadshot can fire ricochet bullets, so even when he’s facing away from you, you still have to mind your surroundings as he can get you from any angle.
But the fights aren’t the only real tests. During gameplay at any time you can open up 3 lists of challenges. The Worst Nightmare challenges, which revolve around predator encounters, will require you to take down a room of armed thugs without detective vision or being seen. The Shadow Vigilante challenges will test your combat skills with some testing your free flow combat technique “Get 20 critical strikes in one Free Flow Combo”. The Gotham Protector challenges are there to help you with your gliding skills mainly, with AR glide training and challenges to glide 150 meters without using the grapnel boost.
While these challenges were fun, and completing some of the more difficult ones can give a real sense of achievement they are designed terribly. The challenges had to be completed in order making some impossible to complete without starting new game plus. This may not seem like a big flaw but try some examples. “Complete a crime in progress in every district” is the final Gotham Protector challenge, so all crimes you’ve stopped before unlocking this won’t count, I’m looking at you Pioneer bridge C.I.P that only happens once at the very beginning of the game. It’s not even the order that entirely ruins the challenge system because some Worst Nightmare challenges can only be completed in specific rooms, which don’t respawn enemies to allow for easy challenge grinding.
The arkham games have always had little easter eggs scattered around for people to stumble onto. My first experience of them in this instalment was in the penguins base “The final offer” I noticed that all the heavy weaponry/explosives he had got his hands on were inside Queen Industries shipping containers. But some eggs came in the form of walking, talking characters. About a 1/4 of the way into the game you come across a young Barbra Gordon (Oracle) and end up destroying arms caches for her. But one of my favorite cameos leads to probably one of the more left field, yet thrilling sequences. Towards the end of the game the Joker is locked up and has a rather touching conversation with a psychiatrist: Harleen Quinzel. The scene changes from Harley asking Psychological questions, to The Joker playing on her vulnerability and essentially seducing her, yet things are not so black and white. The gameplay kicks back in and we’re in the shoes of the Joker now, as he is tortured as the read hood, fights off angry hecklers and is tormented by a demon batman. Harley may think he’s talking about her, but Batman is the new person in The Jokers life that he can really connect to.
And this in a nutshell is what I found so great about this game. So much of the story was about the character. Where they came from, why they act the way they do. We’ve all seen countless stories of Batman facing off against The Joker, but this was the first time. What started as The Joker just putting out a hit on Batman to get rid of him quickly became the obsession we see from The Joker in every tale. Batman has not come up against someone this insane, unpredictable and reckless yet, and never will after. The Joker hasn’t come across anyone so willing and dedicated to their own set of rules of what is right and he is determined to push those boundaries and he’ll get a kick out of it too.
The Joker straps himself in an electric chair and puts a pace maker on Bane controlling the voltage to the chair. Either Batman kills Bane, or Joker dies.
To bring it smoothly into Batman: Arkham Asylum there is an interview in the credits between Jack Ryder and Quincy Sharp talking about the reopening of Arkham Asylum. We all know how well that turns out. With this games release we now have the Arkham Trilogy, the perfect 3 games to document the start, middle and end of Batman and The Jokers chaotic relationship, I can’t be the only one who played them through that way after completing Origins.
Whilst Arkham Origins isn’t bringing much new to the table it does a fine job just updating a few things and keeping the best of the formula. Though it doesn’t feel like a massive step forward from Arkham City, the story is interesting enough to keep you hooked and the plethora of extras to unlock will keep you busy afterward. The multiplayer, at least on the xbox, is virtually inaccessible which is incredibly annoying. One would presume because no one wants to play it, it seems an unnecessary addition and merely there because many companies feel single player isn’t enough these days. I left the game waiting in the lobby for a few hours whilst i did other things and couldn’t find a single game. In principle it sounds interesting and rather similar to Splinter Cells spies vs mercs scenario which is a fun game mode.
If you are a fan of the previous Arkham games or a fan of Batman in general then Origins is well worth the purchase, even if it’s just to round off your collection. However expecting it to match the big step up from Arkham Asylum to Arkham City is unrealistic as this game does little to the mechanics besides make the map bigger and improving fighting crimes and solving cases. Origins functions as a great prequel but is nothing outstanding.