So, after we saw 2 of the best Batman games ever made, Warner Bros decided it would be a good idea to create a prequel to the Arkham series. 1 that set the scene (or partly set the scene) of the events that would come by Arkham Asylum. So…Arkham Origins.
Set on Christmas Eve during Bruce Wayne’s 2nd year as the Dark Knight, our focus is on Batman being…a target. Roman “The Black Mask” Sionis (a villain who was more of an easter egg in the other 2 games) has placed a bounty of the head of Batman, and the challenge has been taken up by a group of Assassins (8 in total). Some of whom would go on to be full-blown super villains, including Killer Croc, Deadshot, Deathstroke, Firefly and of course, Bane. As word gets out about the bounty, some members of the Gotham Police decide they want a go at it as well – primarily Lieutenant Howard Brandon and his ruthless SWAT Team. With Commissioner Loeb being killed in Blackgate Prison’s gas chamber early on (during a prison break created by Black Mask), they experience a bit of chaos themselves, and Batman’s only friend in the force, Jim Gordon, isn’t his friend just yet…but his daughter, Barbara (Oracle), thinks he’s an interesting guy. As times goes on, Batman eventually meets a villain who is unlike anybody he has ever seen before…a character who literally came out of nowhere…guess who?
What makes Origins a different kind of game to Asylum and City, is the fact that Rocksteady didn’t work on it. The development of this game was done by Warner Bros Games; Montreal, which will explain a lot of changes:
Story-wise, Origins is good, but it’s not on par, or even in the same league as Asylum or City. It comes across as slow and unfocused on numerous respects, as I thought the riddler challenges really got out of hand (barely any riddles and mostly just collecting packages using gadgets, and making it a chore…although the Blackmail storyline & Riddler’s origins was interesting), and it took a number of hours before anything interesting happened. It also committed a sin that Rocksteady didn’t do, which was to reveal practically all of your baddies within the 1st 20-30 minutes of gameplay and saying “Here are your villains for this evening, and in a Scott Pilgrim fashion, you will eventually meet most of them in the main story and some on side missions.” There were hardly any surprises, and not much of a build-up to the more interesting bosses. But…there was 1 thing they did do very well, I thought…The beginning of the dysfunctional relationship between Batman and Joker. Why? Because Joker, like in the comics, comes out of nowhere, and for some reason, he has an influence and capabilities that Batman has never seen before, which is what makes him such a special case. How many people do you know can build a circus theme park inside a hotel ballroom within a few hours?…and have explosives planted everywhere at the same time? This is what the Joker is capable of. We also see some of Batman’s relationship with Alfred, who clearly doesn’t want Bruce to be killed, and of course, Batman’s relationship with Jim Gordon. It should also be noted that Paul Dini is absent in this instalment, and the writing credits go to Corey May, who wrote every Assassin’s Creed story from 1 to 4. He did a very solid job, but not 1 with as much character or humour as the other 2.
In terms of Graphics, I will say that they’re really good. Perhaps the best that the Arkham series had up to that point. Considering it came out shortly before the release of the PS4, it does look good.
The art direction and level design come across as a combination of continuity, placing your stamp, and possible corner-cutting. The game’s world map is the biggest in the series (at least among the PS3 releases), to the point that you can get around if you reclaim radio towers from the Riddler, which will allow you to fast-travel into different districts using the Bat Wing (Batman’s private plane) There is also the Bat Cave, which would be a necessary part of the game. They clearly demonstrate how big Gotham is, by not only providing you with the area of Gotham that would be turned into Arkham City, but also the other half of Gotham that wasn’t given to the criminals. So you have Arkham City, plus another map on top of it, and a big long bridge to cross. 1 issue that comes with this though, is the fact that the area which will become Arkham City, hasn’t been tweaked very much, and this leads to the game being very “same old stuff”, or “same city, different story”. The “same city, different story” works well in games like Yakuza, but not so much here. Partly because Gotham doesn’t provide shops, restaurants, Golf, hostess bars, and Karaoke. Some of the character designs have also changed – primarily the likes of Joker, Jim Gordon and Killer Croc (Who, as far as I know, is basically mutating more and more into the Lizard from Spiderman and is still in the early stages here).
The voice-acting has changed. Instead of Kevin Conroy voicing Bruce Wayne/Batman, we have Roger Craig Smith. Instead of Mark Hamill as The Joker, we have modern voice-acting heavyweight Troy Baker (Who does a good job). I can understand the concept that “this is a young batman” and “a young Joker”, but voices don’t change that much in 5 years (you don’t go from sounding late 30s to 55-60 unless you crushed your vocal chords, in the case of The Joker). But miraculously, most other returning villains, including Nolan North as Penguin and Wally Wingert as The Riddler, provide some connection to the rest of the series.
The music score was done by Christopher Drake, who has done the scores of numerous batman animated films, including Batman: Under The Red Hood (very good film, I might add) and the animated versions of Frank Miller masterpieces Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. His other major video game credit is Injustice: God Among Us, a DC comic fighting game, so he’s not a stranger to Batman-related material. But he does provide a different feel to this game compared to what Arundel and Fish did. He borrows a lot more from Hans Zimmer’s Dark Knight scores than ArFish. On top of this, Origins decided to borrow a little bit from Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. So in Joker’s back story, there is some Beethoven mixed in as well, which I thought was a nice touch (Possibly comparing Joker to Alex DeLarge somehow…Delarge being 1 of the influences to Heath Ledger’s Joker). Unfortunately, his score for this game didn’t submerge me into the game’s environment to the same degree as Asylum and City, but it was still a very good score. I can also add that this game has a tune called “Skank Tank” by Steven Young and David Felton, which is played in the My Alibi Night Club. I don’t think there’s a more perfect “Villain’s Nightclub” theme.
Gameplay-wise, Arkham Origins maintains much of the quality that came with Asylum and City. It’s more or less just a copy and paste of City’s controls with the shoulder buttons switched around, is in possession of more bugs and glitches, and has an unfortunate disregard for continuity. In Arkham City, the Grapnel Gun Boost was in it’s prototype stages – how is it then featured within the same storyline 6 years earlier? It is also clear that the young Batman had better gadgets than what he had in previous games, which end up making it evident that Rocksteady didn’t work on this. Is there something that Origins does better than Asylum or City in terms of gameplay? Maybe not in individual cases (like Scarecrow or Mr Freeze), but I thought that the boss battles, overall, were better. I found them to be much more of a challenge, even on easier settings. Are there still good bosses and bad bosses? Yes. Killer Croc was your first boss, and he’s not great. But this comes from the fact that his boss fight in Asylum was so unique. The interpretation of Bane in this game is the best in the whole Arkham series, and for good reason. For this design, they borrow a lot more from Tom Hardy’s portrayal of the character in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, where he is presented a both a physical and cerebral force to be reckon with, rather than the steroid-fuelled meathead in Asylum and City (Arkham City came out in 2011, Dark Knight Rises in 2012, this game in 2013). I also got a good challenge from Deathstroke, Deadshot (Optional) and Firefly.
Would I recommend Batman Arkham Origins? Yes. But not to the same degree as Asylum and City. In it’s own way, it’s still a very good video game that does a lot of things right. On a gamer-level of metaphors, I’ll say that Origins is the Assassin’s Creed 3 of the Arkham games. It has more stuff than previous instalments, as well as a bigger geography. But the quality of the stuff to do, as well as the writing behind much of it, leaves a good bit more to be desired. Because when fun becomes a chore, it’s time to do something different.
Overall Rating: ****
UPDATE: I forgot to mention the DLC known as Cold, Cold Night, which is the origins story of Mr Freeze. For what it is, it’s well done, and much like the DLC story in Arkham City, it’s on the short side. It’s roughly as good as Origins for the size of it.