Batman: Arkham Origins

Batman Arkham Origins. Developed by Warner Bros. Games Montreal. Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Batman: Arkham Origins. Developed by Warner Bros. Games Montreal. Published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Batman: Arkham Origins is the third entry in the Batman: Arkham series. The Arkham games have been tremendously successful, and let gamers everywhere know that good Batman video games are possible. We’d been led to believe otherwise for a long, long time (just a warning that the reviewer cusses somewhat in the linked video). Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel to the excellent Batman: Arkham Asylum, and takes place during the early days of Batman’s crusade against crime and prior to his forming a relationship with the future commissioner of the Gotham City Police Department, James Gordon.

The story begins with Batman’s attempt to thwart the escape of the criminal Black Mask from Blackgate Penitentiary on Christmas Eve. Bats nearly succeeds, but falls just short when Black Mask turns Killer Croc loose on the Caped Crusader. After defeating Killer Croc, Batman learns that Black Mask has hired eight of the world’s deadliest assassins to hunt him down. Batman tracks Black Mask to The Penguin‘s hideout, only to learn that Black Mask himself may not be all that he appears, and lurking behind Black Mask’s shadow is a mysterious and dangerous figure known as The Joker.

Black Mask about to do something torturous to a member of the GCPD. Arkham Origins begins with Batman trying to prevent Black Mask's escape from Blackgate Penitentiary, but all may not be as it seems...

Black Mask about to do something torturous to a member of the GCPD. Arkham Origins begins with Batman trying to prevent Black Mask’s escape from Blackgate Penitentiary, but all may not be as it seems…Image from Game Informer.

The story holds a lot of promise, and for the most part it does a good job in keeping with the series’ tight narrative and character driven focus. It doesn’t succeed on the level that its predecessors did as the developers open a lot of narrative threads at the beginning that often distract from the main story and don’t interweave as tightly as those found in Batman: Arkham City. There are also a lot of side missions that are helpful in terms of allowing the player to gain experience points and upgrade Batman’s moves or tech, but don’t add anything to the story and only serve as distractions from the plot. Still, the story does move along at a decent clip, and comes to a satisfying conclusion that is reminiscent of the ending of Batman Begins. The characters themselves are just as round and dynamic as one would hope from a story having anything to do with Batman. Alfred and Bruce, though allies, are often in disagreement, and they gain an understanding of one another’s feelings through the course of the story. The Joker also gets some great, if lunatic, development that helps players to understand his motivations and his fixation on Batman. And, though minimal, the growth of James Gordon and his daughter Barbara are nice additions.

Gameplay in Arkham Origins is akin to that of its predecessors. Batman is faced with an open-ended, sandbox environment that is quite large and offers players plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and baddies to beatdown. The fighting mechanics are still as top-notch and fluid as they’ve been in the previous games and, once again, it is pure joy to kick butt as Batman. Fan-favorite predator encounters have also made a return. They’re still fun and can be intense though it does seem that the developer tried a little too hard to give players unique or additional challenges. The difficulty also seems to curve a little sharply with the enemies having night-vision goggles, and proximity mines pretty early-on.

Batman facing down Deathstroke in Batman: Arkham Origins. The Arkham series has suffered from lackluster boss battles from its inception.

Batman facing down Deathstroke in Batman: Arkham Origins. The Arkham series has suffered from lackluster boss battles from its inception. Image from Dual Shockers.

One criticism that the series has endured is that of lackluster boss battles. The bosses in Arkham Asylum were pretty much awful. Arkham City did a good job improving the bosses, and the fight against Mr. Freeze is one of the most intense and satisfying boss battles I’ve ever played. The rest were definitely an improvement from those found in Arkham Asylum though they ended up being mostly forgettable. Arkham Origins entices players into thinking that these problems have been addressed when facing Deathstroke early-on in the game. Here is an enemy that is just as skilled, if not moreso, than Batman in personal combat, and it is a wonderful fight though perhaps a touch difficult. Of the five boss fights in Arkham Origins, the fight with Deathstroke is the most memorable. Two more definitely leave an impression and are enjoyable experiences (though nothing to write home about), and the other two are just as bland and disappointing as the boss fights in previous entries in the series. One would think that considering the rogue gallery of the Batman comics that developers could offer up more satisfying boss fights, but, with a few exceptions, they have largely not been able to do so.

One issue that must be addressed regarding gameplay in any review of Batman: Arkham Origins is the loading times. Though the gameplay does a good job of living up to the expectations set by its predecessors, it is unfortunately hampered by long and often unexpected loading times. I understand that the Gotham City of Arkham Origins is a pretty expansive world. If I were to guess I’d say it is around two to three times larger than the world of Arkham City. One would hope that this world would be seamless like many other open-world games out there. However, when entering a new area, players are often greeted with a frozen screen and a loading icon that can last for as long as twenty or thirty seconds. Even when players use the Batwing they’ll sit through a long, cinematic scene of the Batwing flying to its destination that one would think is a loading screen in disguise, such as the elevator sequences in Metroid Prime, only to be greeted with additional loading time when they arrive at their destination. These long and interruptive loading times severely disrupt the flow of the gameplay and only serve to irritate players as they wait, unable to do anything, until the game catches up with them.

Batman

Despite some minor flaws, Batman: Arkham Origins largely holds up to the expectations set by its predecessors. The gameplay and story, while not quite as good as the previous games, are still fun and satisfying. If it weren’t for the long load times impeding players’ progress far more often than should be necessary, Arkham Origins would stand nearly on the same level as the other Arkham titles. The last entry of which, Batman: Arkham Night, is due to arrive this Fall.

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