'Arkham Origins' Holy redundancy, Batman!
October 31, 2013
Batman is dark and brooding, as usual. Gotham City is overrun by criminals, as usual. The storyline is intriguing, as usual. And the gameplay is exciting, as usual.
The problem with “Batman: Arkham Origins” is that almost everything is a little too much “as usual.” The new game could almost be an expansion of “Batman: Arkham City,” which was released two years ago. That was definitely a good game, so it’s not a major slam. However, it’s hard to escape the feeling that you’ve played this game before.
The T-rated game from Warner Bros. is a prequel to “Arkham City” and “Arkham Asylum,” which launched the well-respected series. It is set two years after Bruce Wayne decided to don his cape and cowl. But this isn’t a Batman origins story. Instead, it delves into the origins of Batman’s adversarial relationship with several of his archenemies.
The story begins with the villain Black Mask putting a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head. Seven of the world’s most effective assassins take him up on the offer and try to kill the caped hero before sunrise on Christmas morning. As you step into Batman’s boots, it’s your job to eliminate the assassins in a wide variety of exciting encounters. As a result, the tale is quite good — even better than the storyline of “Arkham City.”
However, it’s the gameplay, setting and encounters in the game’s large, open world that make the game seem overly familiar.
The single-player campaign has three major components: fighting bad guys; solving puzzles to thwart bad guys’ plans; and soaring, climbing and jumping around the immense cityscape between encounters with bad guys. That’s to be expected in any Batman game. The question is how much more “Arkham Origins” delivers than previous games in the franchise and how it compares to its competitors in the category of open-world games.
If you’ve played the previous games, you won’t notice much difference in the fighting. The basics involve punching, kicking, vaulting over foes and stunning them with your cape. As you progress in the game, you acquire a few new moves and the ability to use a grappling hook, electrified gauntlets and other gadgets. Boss battles get a little more complex, but only a little.
Occasionally, you are presented with a large room filled with well-armed enemies. These rooms generally have plenty of ducts and grates to crawl through and gargoyles and ledges to perch upon. You can use these to snare unsuspecting foes from below or swoop down on them from above. These encounters are terrifically fun, and “Arkham Origins” offers more of them than either of the previous games, which is one of the things that makes the primary storyline so fun.
The best addition to the game is an enhanced detective mode, which lets you scan for evidence and build a reconstruction of the crime. You can run this replay forward and back to obtain additional clues. Unfortunately, you get to use it only a few times during the game.
While you’ll need to solve a few other puzzles as you track down the assassins, most of the game’s puzzles are found in the side quests. In these, you’ll endeavor to foil plots by a variety of second-tier villains, such as the bomber Anarky and the hacker/blackmailer Enigma. Your gadgets will be vital to solving the puzzles presented during some of these quests. For example, you’ll use a glue grenade to seal leaking steam pipes and your electrified gauntlets to supply power to generators. And you’ll hack computers, blast holes in floors with explosive gel and fry circuits with your disrupter.
The problem lies in the fact that these quests are rarely very exciting, which is a major issue when you stack “Arkham Origins” against other open-world games. Franchises such as “Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout” have set a high bar by offering worlds containing a wide variety of interesting people, quests and encounters. Within recent weeks, new editions of “Grand Theft Auto” and “Saints Row” delivered large maps packed with worthwhile content. And even “Assassin’s Creed,” which had fallen into a bit of a rut, upped the ante with the “Black Flag” pirate adventure.
It doesn’t help that Gotham City is a relentlessly drab metropolis with very little real variety in its cityscape. And it’s filled with an incredibly large number of nameless thugs who want nothing more than to engage in meaningless fist fights. Both issues tend to create tedium rather than excitement.
In addition to the campaign, “Arkham Origins” offers an excellent challenge mode in which you can fight waves of attackers or clear rooms filled with enemies. Many of the settings are based on environments found in the game. Since these events are scored, it can be a lot of fun seeing how you compare to your friends. The game also offers a lively multiplayer mode, which pits Batman and Robin against two different gangs who are also fighting each other.
The graphics are very good, offering realistic settings and character renderings. And the controls scheme is efficient and responsive.
The game is rated “teen,” so there isn’t any sex, gore or vulgarity. However, there’s definitely plenty of violence, and some of the villains tend to leave the bodies of their victims in disturbing poses.
Bottom line: “Batman: Arkham Origins” offers an excellent storyline, but spending a lot of time in Gotham City can get tedious.
Platforms: Xbox 360 (tested), PlayStation 3, Wii U, PC Online: batmanarkhamorigins.com