Batman is back for another round with the villains of Arkham. Gadgets, stealth, fisticuffs all return in this ‘prequel’
Arkham Origins would suggest that the third game in the Arkham series is a full prequel, an origins story. Why the Bruce Wayne became Batman. Yet it falls short of being that, what may have been a very interesting concept ends up being a by the numbers sequel with an excuse to bring back characters that may have been killed off in previous games.
The game starts with Batman trying to hunt down the main villain of the piece ‘Black Mask’. This intro obviously acts as a tutorials for newcomers, but also a way of telling the audience that this is indeed a prequel, with a different commissioner, and lines that suggest that Batman hasn’t yet become as well known as he is in the other games.
This opening segment is actually well done, as it introduces the various gadgets and mechanics of the game in short space of time, leading up to the first boss fight with Killer Croc. Batman has everything at his disposal and you are thrown right into the action.
The gameplay is the same as you will know and love from the other games in the series, with fights flowing in a natural organic way, as you combo from one villain to the other and once again you feel like you are the Dark Knight himself. Brushing off the legions of henchmen as they try to stop from completing your missions. Smashing the faces in of one guy, before vaulting over another, to kick another just never seems to get old and the Batman games have perfected this mechanism over the years, so much so that other games have tried to copy how the team have integrated free flow fighting, but without as much success.
The core concepts of the game remain and are still essentially broken up into traversing around the environment, before entering into glorified arena battles with various numbers of thugs, before reaching a boss fight and progressing the story. Some sections are full on out in the open fights, with others requiring you to take a more stealthy approach. These are arena battles, but the clever use of smoke and mirrors does a wonderful job of drawing you in and making you fully immersed.
Being the Batman means you have a whole arsenal of gadgets at your disposal and whilst most of these have been seen before, there are a couple of variations because of the timeline of the story. No Mr Freeze, means that cryo-grenades are replaced with concussion grenades. There are areas around Gotham that you can see where you need to use these gadgets, whether that be to get to new areas, unlock secrets or more, you know as per previous games that you will only get to these parts after upgrading your toys, which is now part and parcel of the series. It is tedious having to go through the same upgrades again and again, but that thirst for completion, that desire to have what you cannot initially obtain, drives you forward.
The world around you is vast and there is a lot of traversing to get from location to location and despite the use of fast-travel when certain points are unlocked, Origins, as with Arkham City seem to lose something when compared to the tighter quarters of Asylum. It doesn’t make the game tiresome, but the gaps between the real fun parts are far more dragged out. It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the City felt alive, but it is simply a barren wasteland most of the time, bar the interactions with the various groups of thugs are pre-planned story driven moments.
As stated, the game really stands out in the combat sections and away from the main game, there are the challenge rooms, which literally take the best elements of the game and make a whole new game from them. Basically these are target driven scenarios where you attempt to beat the set criteria to earn medals, which in turn earn you XP which can be used for upgrades.
These are where you will have the best time, as the the action is concentrated into bite sized chunks and does away with the exploration side of things. There is a decent amount of variation here too which keeps things really fresh. The only down side is that these are locked until you reach certain points in the game, when it could have been a totally separate part of the game.
This entry into the series is the weakest of them all, but that is like comparing Disney Pixar films to each other. The worst Batman game is still better than most games that see the light of day, but the setting and storyline of Origins just feels like a bit of a misstep. Visually it is as stunning as ever, the combat is like a carefully considered choreography and there is a ton of content to keep you going. It’s never a bad thing to have more Batman in your life.