Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3) Review
Posted by Jeffrey Harris on 11.21.2013
For the latest installment in the Batman Arkham franchise, we take a look back to Batman's early years with the prequel, Batman: Arkham Origins. Did the game meet the lofty standards and expectations of this franchise, or is it a disappointment? Jeffrey Harris checks in with his official review for the PS3 version of the game.
Title: Batman: Arkham Origins
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Warner Bros. Game Montreal; Splash Damage (Multiplayer)
Players: Single-player; Multiplayer
Rated: T for Teen
Warner Bros. Interactive carries on with the Batman Arkham franchise, this time with a prequel installment in Batman: Arkham Origins. However, this also marks the first installment of the franchise that wasnít overseen by Rocksteady Games, a fact that caused trepidation for many fans of what became one of the created comic book superhero turned videogame franchises. Were any of those fears warranted? Letís take a look at the PS3 version of Batman: Arkham Origins.
Arkham Origins pits you in the cape and cowl of Batman earlier in his career. To be exact, this is Batman: Year Two. Batman is still somewhat of an urban legend amongst criminals and the population of Gotham City. The incredibly corrupt GCPD sees Batman as a criminal to be brought to justice rather than an ally. Jim Gordon is not yet commissioner but still a captain on the police force. Batman has also yet to meet and encounter many of the most famous members of Rogues Gallery that have greatly defined his history. Before this game was announced, there were rumors that Rocksteady was perhaps developing a type of Silver Age Batman game that would also involve the Justice League also showcase Batman meeting many of the famous villains of the Arkham franchise and forging their relationships as of were. It appears some of those ideas were what ultimately Arkham Origins became. Yet whether those were originally Rocksteadyís ideas or not, I do not know for sure. In the gameís prologue chapter instead of a slow walk type intro, the game throws you into the action as a suited up Bruce Wayne dives into a prison break at Blackgate. The gangster Roman Sionis aka Black Mask and Killer Croc have started a riot, killed Commissioner Loeb, and started an all-out open war in Gotham City. After dispatching Killer Croc, Batman learns that Black Mask has hired eight assassins to take out Batman on Christmas Eve for a $50 million bounty. Not willing to let innocents be hurt for a bounty on his head, Batman sets out into Gotham to find Black Mask and the assassins that are hunting him.
Iíd say in terms of story, this is the best the franchise has had to offer to date. The writing, character, voice acting, dialogue and relationships in this game are generally amazing, well-written, and very well developed. The character relationships like the one between Alfred and Batman as itís presented here comes off much stronger and more significant than it has in previous games. Since this is Batman earlier in his career, heís more inexperienced, and rough around the edges. We see Batman make more mistakes and get too anxious in certain situations, and thatís interesting. Without giving much away, there is a big plot twist some way into the game that kind of shows the developers were giving us a bait and switch to main story. Itís a plot twist that upset a lot of fans with respects to how the other games turned out. Personally, I thought the twist was well done, and it ultimately led to some of the best moments of game anyway.
The story is not without its flaws. For example, the developers have said this game takes place about 5 or 6 years before Arkham Asylum. That in itself is virtually impossible and makes no sense. There is no way in that time all the things that are supposed to have transpired between this game and Arkham Asylum have had time to take place. The game actually mentions Barbara Gordon as being 15 years old here. So sheís 21 years old in Arkham City, sheís been Batgirl, become paralyzed, and sheís Oracle already? Iím sorry, but no. Gordon also looks incredibly young and healthy here, but heís apparently aged about 20 years in six? Even with a job as stressful as GCPD commissioner, itís not a believable transition. Letís also not forget to mention all the other events that have transpired by Arkham Asylum and City, specifically Dick Grayson becoming Robin and then Nightwing and then Tim Drake becoming Robin as well. Plus, the franchise has also hinted at there being a Jason Todd in this universe as well. All that happening in just five years is absurd. Besides that, the story does cram a lot in what is supposed to be the span of less than a night. For Batman to have his first encounters with almost half of his rogues gallery all on the same night is more than a little contrived. But thatís mostly a nitpick, and in a game itís something I can overlook. However, there is a big momentous event that happens toward the end of the game thatís a reference to a huge event in the comics. The way itís essentially shrugged off is a little disappointing.
There was a lot of trepidation as well over the recasting over two of the lead characters Batman (now voiced by Roger Craig Smith) and The Joker (now voiced by Troy Baker). I think with respects to this being a prequel and the characters being much younger, both actors do a tremendous job, especially Troy Baker. Some aspects of his performance gave me chills, and there elements where it really sounded like I was listening to a young version of Mark Hamillís Joker. And some other cast members also return to play their iterations of characters from the previous games such as Martin Jarvis as Alfred, Peter MacNicol as Mad Hatter, Chris Cox as Deadshot, and of course the excellent Nolan North as The Penguin. There are a couple other cameos Iíd rather not spoil here, but they are incredibly well done in terms of the evolution of certain characters. One of the coolest surprises was to hear Robert Costanzo, who voiced Det. Harvey Bullock for numerous episodes of Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures, returning to voice Bullock. All together, the voice acting and writing are all well cast and generally well done.
There is a lot to like in this game. WB Games Montreal have carried over the sandbox from Arkham City and remodeled it and given it a fresh coat of paint. The environments and open world of this Gotham City looks fantastic. The game takes place over Christmas time so the city is decked out with Christmas decorations and light. The city is much higher and vertical than in City. The new areas and buildings are very nicely done. Not only that, but getting to visit and go inside areas you could merely glimpse the outside façade of in Arkham City is a lot of fun. Itís also interesting to see areas that became part of the isolated prison colony in City in their former splendor. Seeing parts of Gotham City before they become dilapidated and torn down almost reinforce the idea of if Batman is really helping Gotham City or is his presence actually escalating crime and maniacs that prey on the city? Is he truly making a difference and making things better? And of course, you finally have access to the Batcave which is one of the permanent locations you can visit throughout the game. You can even talk to Alfred to get some words of wisdom for some extra, free bonus XP. Also the level of detail packed into this game is immense. The scenery and environments are packed with easter eggs and visual Easter eggs to the entire DC Universe, even outside of the Batman realm and family. The developers really did their homework and have tied the smallest and tiniest of details into the rest of the DCU. You can find Calendar Manís cell in Blackgate, youíll notice some familiar names on the rejected list of assassins, and even notice some familiar company names taking up shop in Gotham City (Cale-Anderson Pharmaceuticals is a reference to a Wonder Woman villain). Some of the highlight sequences of the game are where you advance through the GCPD and the Royal Hotel. The areas are immense, multi-tiered and a nice sense of scale. The Royal Hotel sequence once it picks up is an amazing event.
In terms of gameplay, there are a lot of things that WG Games have brought to the table I wouldnít mind seeing continue and translated over to the next Arkham Title. Specifically, having the Batcave and now being able to play through the challenge maps as part of the game. As you advance over the course of your play-through, you can unlock new challenge maps and tackle them in the Batcave. Thereís a point system near your life bar now that grades how well you did in your combat areas or predator rooms, which is a nice tough. Thereís also a fast travel feature takes you to quick travel points once youíve unlocked them via the Batwing. Detective Mode has also been upgraded as Batman can now utilize a ďCrime Scene ReconstructionĒ feature that really emphasizes Batman being such a great detective. Itís a nice progression of Batman creating a crime scene from the last game, and itís something I wouldn't mind seeing get played with more as well in the next game.
Now for Gotham City, I was a little disappointed that itís a fairly empty city other than the crooks, criminals, and corrupt police officers that occupy it. Itís not dissimilar from Arkham City in that the rooftops all over the place are covered with crooks and armed guards. In Arkham City, it made a little more sense since it was a closed off prison colony and the prisoners were handed illegal weapons by the warden basically. The game tries to lampshade all this with frequent radio messages about there being a mandatory curfew brought about by the prison break and the assassins being out hunting Batman. I suppose itís OK, but it makes Gotham City feel like less of a living, breathing, open world sandbox.
I really enjoyed the boss fights in the game more than any entry previously in the Arkham franchise. The boss fights are all unique, rewarding experiences that come off as incredibly authentic and satisfying as to how Batman fighting these characters might go. My personal favorite was the boss fight with Deathstroke. The sequence that preceded the Copperhead fight was tense, creepy, and nerve-wracking.
The overall control scheme and approach to the gameplay has not changed, of which I am mostly thankful. Predator rooms, gliding, Batmanís gadgets are all back and are as effective as ever. The new gadgets are fun to discover and use. Now the combat is where I am a little mixed about. For the most part, combat works largely the same, especially once you have unlocked all your moves and upgrades. Unfortunately, the combat just feels slower and just not as smooth and versatile as the last two games. Frequently I will have combos get broken because the game fails to acknowledge where Iím directing my attack. Enemies, even on normal mode, are faster and more relentless than ever before. It seems they can literally jump across wide gaps and interrupt you in the middle of a combo or attack. Some could argue that this is in line with Batman being less experienced and early in his career, but that could go against the developersí mantra of not sacrificing gameplay for story. So yes, the combat has suffered somewhat in this version. Itís simply not as quick and fluid as it was in Asylum and City. One thing I will give the combat system is that in this game, the collision detection works so much better on Batman pulling off a double-counter attack. In City, what would frequently happen is Batman will be between two enemies and start the movement of a double-counter attack while one thug harmlessly avoids it, hits Batman, and breaks up my combo. This was a far less-frequent issue here.
Now here is where the game is majorly flawed, of which there are unfortunately quite a few. In previous Arkham installments, you had some objective-based challenges you could accomplish in order to unlock some bonus items and achievements. Here, they come in several forms under the Dark Knight System: Shadow Vigilante (combat and gadget challenges), Gotham Protector (physical and glide challenges), Worst Knightmare (predator challenges), and Worldís Greatest Detective (detective and collectible related challenges). I like the idea of physical challenges, but as they were in Arkham City, you could pretty much accomplish them at any point in the game, no matter the order. You could also complete them even after you finished the main story campaign. Here, you have to complete these challenges in an exact order from Rank 1-15. This means that for the predator challenges under Worst Nightmare, some of them can only be accomplished in the main story campaign. But once you complete the main story campaign on your regular game slot or new game plus (also I Am the Knight Mode), there is no other area on the map you can visit to complete these challenges. You can only try again by starting a new game on an empty game slot. Giving the challenges an arbitrary order and no other way to complete them after you finish the main campaign is infinitely frustrating.
The other major issue that holds the game back from becoming an elite title are the glitches and bug. Now thankfully, I've not had any major game-breaking glitches that have affected my gameplay. The game only outright froze on me only once, and it has not happened again since. But besides the issues with the slower combat which I mentioned earlier, the game also has slowdown and frame rate issues. Frequently the game would slow down and jut when you are gliding around the map or are on a timed challenge. Other issues I've had are the sound cutting out entirely when I activate fast travel for the Batwing, not being able to interrogate foes once I've defeated them, enemies getting stuck into doors and walls, and enemies outright stopping dead in their tracks for no apparent reason in predator rooms. There is no easy way to say this, but this is a rough, buggy, glitchy game. It doesn't kill or ruin the entire experience, but it is disappointing. The game is lacking a level of polish, smoothness, and spit shine that helped make Arkham Asylum and Arkham City become such beloved titles. I get the sense that the game was beta-tested very little, and the developers did not have the time they needed to polish up the game ahead of its October 2013 release.
In terms of replay value, I think the game is particularly satisfying. Like Arkham City, there is a heaping amount of side quests and additional story based missions you can go through. The Riddler and Riddler Trophy collectible quests make a return here, but at this point The Riddler calls himself Enigma and the trophies are instead Data Packs filled with information Riddler plans on using to extort and blackmail people. The Challenge Maps are back once again and are still a lot of fun and suitably challenging. I also love getting to play with the alternate skins and as Deathstroke for the challenge maps. Based on his gameplay, I hope Deathstroke is a character we get to play as in future story campaign DLC. Of course, there is also the Knightfall DLC pack that is exclusive to the PS3. This pack features the awesome Knightfall/Az-Bats skin and the 1960's Adam West TV show costume skin, which both look fantastic in action. I especially enjoyed seeing the Knightfall skin in action for the cut scenes.
There is also the multiplayer experience, the first time itís been implemented for the franchise, developed by Splash Damage. The multiplayer mode puts you in the role of a thug in Joker or Baneís gang, Bane himself, or Batman and Robin. The gangs are at war, and Batman and Robin are trying to disrupt their plans. The multiplayer mode is a mixed bag. While Iím glad to see it attempted, in execution itís rather clunky. The maps are very dark and hard to play through. Itís just not an area it seems the franchise was really ready for. I think perhaps some co-op challenge or combat maps would've been a more interesting area for the game to explore, like having Batman and Robin take on a combat arena.
Beautifully designed environments and areas that are packed with Easter eggs and little historic details authentic to the DCU.
There are some fun new gadgets and new elements to the franchise that would nice progressions of the previous game such as quick travel, crime scene reconstruction, the Batcave, and challenge maps accessible through the story mode.
The holiday-themed soundtrack to the game is excellent. The voice talent and soundtrack for the game are top notch.
The main story mode is packed with gameplay and extra story content, plus more fun to be had with the challenge maps and alternate modes.
This is the best storytelling for the franchise to date.
Combat is overall slower and not as fluid and effective as the last two games.
The physical challenges can get frustrating to accomplish since they are in a fixed, arbitrary order where and you have no way to complete them once the main story mode is done.
The game is unfortunately filled with a lot of bugs and glitches, so the game lacks a lot of the polish and smoothness the franchise is known for.
Multiplayer mode is a valiant attempt but overall is not as much fun to play through.
The game does have its issues, but Arkham Origins is still an overall satisfying experience. The biggest drawbacks are really the slower combat and the glitches, which are unfortunate, but still not a deal breaker. The game still has a good amount to offer and is likely a good way to tide you over until Rocksteady returns with the true successor to Arkham City. It's unfortunate the game did not get more time to be polished and get those extra kinks smoothed out, but for Batman fans and fans of the franchise, the game is still worth a look.
Gotham during Christmas time looks awesome. The overall look of the game and new environments are nice and really well done. The frame rate issues though keep me from giving it a higher rating.
There are a lot of nice changes should continue on with the next Arkham title. However, the combat has taken a hit, the challenges are at times very frustrating, and the glitches and lack of polish are bad.
The game boasts an incredible soundtrack and a great voice cast.
The challenge maps and side quests are fun to play through, but multiplayer is a flawed and clunky experience. And the frequent glitches are a chore to deal with at times.
The game is not quite the revelation Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were, but it still has its good points such as the strong storytelling and character development.