Prequels in any medium are a daunting task. In some cases, you get something great, like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. But sometimes, you get Star Wars’ The Phantom Menace. Now it’s Batman’s turn. After two fantastic showings with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, we’re taken to Batman’s roots in Batman: Arkham Origins. With a new developer at the helm, can the Dark Knight thrive?
What Is It?
Batman: Arkham Origins takes place roughly during the first one or two years of Batman’s career, but officially five years prior to the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum. The Batman we see here is far more brash and his actions more violent as a result of his immaturity. He’s not nearly as refined as he will become, yet he’s not entirely a puppy either. Despite the fact that player’s will be controlling a less experienced Batman, don’t expect that the challenges he face will be any easier. In fact, Batman will be facing an even deadlier threat to himself than in the previous games.
On Christmas Eve, crime lord Black Mask places a $50 million bounty on Batman’s head, drawing out eight assassins from the DC Comics universe. Some of the assassins, like Deadshot, we’ve seen before. The game also introduces newer assassins such as Deathstroke and Copperhead, who are seriously formidable foes. The onslaught of assassins allows other rogues, such as the Joker, Penguin and Anarky, to take advantage of the chaos for their own purposes.
Not only will Batman have to face a variety of assassin threats, he’ll also be going up against the police. Because the setting is so early in Batman’s career, the only ally he’ll truly have is Alfred and that’s a strained relationship in itself. The police force isn’t entirely sure if he’s real or what he truly is. It’s also so deep in corruption that some members are trying to cash in on the bounty. The incorruptible James Gordon is even trying to bring him down, as he and Batman haven’t become acquainted yet.
Arkham Origins unfortunately tends to lose focus on the assassin factor. Without getting too much into spoiler territory, the game predictably pushes Joker more and more into the limelight as the story progresses. This takes its toll on the assassins, some of whom are easily defeated and can’t be considered more than a quick pitstop. There were times where it felt Arkham Origins was made primarily to feature the relationship between Batman and the Joker yet again.
Why Should I Care?
Despite some issues with the story, Arkham Origins does push forward some interesting concepts and makes you take a new approach to the game. As you progress, you do see growth within the character and how Batman will make certain relationships work in order to move forward. He’s no longer an island of a man.
Part of the new approach to playing the game is being given more tools and gadgets at the start. For the most part, that’s a nice element. It takes away some of the busy work to upgrade your toolset and allows you to gather more collectibles sooner than later. However, you need your tools so soon because the game is incredibly difficult even on a normal gameplay mode.
Taking on big groups of enemies in the previous games was usually a chore. In Arkham Origins, though, even directly taking on a group of three can prove difficult. They’ll attack you in bunches and have access to more guns, though I could appreciate the game’s enemy dialogue pointing out that one-by-one attacks don’t make much sense. You’ll also need to fight groups that include multiple elite-level enemies, which can include armored foes and hulking figures. Many fights take place in tight quarters and are incredibly frustrating. One assassin boss battle in particular took me more than an hour to complete because of insane difficulty and lack of space to work with.
The game is made more enjoyable by the amount of detective work and side quests that are included in the story. The detective mode view, a constant throughout the series, is seemingly improved in Arkham Origins. It’s especially useful in unlockable crime scenes found in different areas of Gotham. These multi-part mini quests don’t feel like busy work, but do at times seem a bit too easy when things are pointed out for you. Other side quests include hunting down the city’s most wanted criminals and general assistance with police activities. These quests become important to the game’s value because the story is relatively short. You’ll get most of your gameplay time in during these side quests.
Arkham Origins is also the first game of the series to introduce a multiplayer mode. It’s a three team battle- Joker gangs will battle Bane gangs while two players designated as Batman and Robin will work to stop both other teams. It’s a fine concept but did feel occasionally clunky. The most fun times are when you are able to play as one of the elite characters, such as Batman or Bane.
What Makes it Worth My Time and Money?
The real question here is: does Arkham Origins do anything to push the series forward? For the most part, it does not, though it doesn’t do any particular damage to the series either. The game’s new developer, Warner Bros Games Montreal, had the tough task of replacing original developers Rocksteady Games. Arkham Origins allowed the developers the opportunity to prove themselves worthy of making these higher quality Batman games. They prove they are, and I would be interested in what they can do to move forward, which will be critical if another game is released.
Much of Arkham Origins seemed like more of the same without feeling tedious. Yet, you don’t feel as though you’ve accomplished a whole lot. You don’t become nearly as engrossed with what’s going on as you may have with Arkham City, but the overall quality is at least that of Arkham City Asylum.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Origins is a worthwhile game that can generally hold its own. However, it doesn’t do much to advanced the series and will should be seen as the serviceable game of the bunch.