Batman: Arkham Origins

What's Behind This Grate? It's Batman: Arkham Origins!

Origin you glad you read this review
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: November 11, 2013
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When I hear Origin in regards to video games I get excited. This is mostly because I am old and it immediately brings up memories of trying to free enough extended (or was it enhanced?) memory to run Autoduel or trying to find that piece of paper where I had scrawled the words of the spell Iolo gave me in Ultima 2. I suppose I didn’t have any real expectations that Batman: Arkham Origins would have any relation to my favorite PC publisher of all time, but a man can dream.

Now in the comic milieu “origin” has a whole other connotation. Every hero and villain has an origin story in the comic universe, and more often than not they have multiple origin stories thanks to endless reboots. While it would certainly be amazing to play the game where Batman outfitted the Batmobile with a pair of .50 caliber machineguns and started his autoduelling career in the arena it was far more likely we were seeing the origins of Bruce Wayne becoming the Batman.

In the end though, even that wasn’t quite correct. We’ve definitely gone back in time during this entry to the Arkham series but we still aren’t delving into what made that man into the bat. While series creators Rocksteady have taken up a new project Warner Brothers Montreal is happy to pick up the pieces and build on that well-established foundation.

Right off the bat let me say that I love the story in Origins as much as any in this series. There is a lot going on, as Batman is dealing with a cadre of 8 assassins out to claim a huge bounty from Black Mask. Think of the classic Spider-Man tale The Sinister Six and you’ve got the basic idea. Each assassin is a name you’ll recognize if you have more than a passing interest in Batman and these will often serve as boss battles. They are really just the backdrop to a richer story that sees Batman dealing with villains with their own agendas like Anarky and a very early incarnation of The Joker who take advantage of the chaos created by Black Mask’s plan.

Bats also has to deal with a pre-Commissioner Gordon Gotham police department who don’t take too kindly to masked vigilantes, to say the least. Between all these super villains and a hostile police department there isn’t really any place Batman can go where someone isn’t out to get him. Yes, Alfred is still dutifully waiting back at the cave, but otherwise this is a pretty grim world even by Gotham standards.

In addition to all those story arcs the random street crimes from City are back and Riddler challenges have their own analogue as well (although they are far less intriguing and almost all boil down to “figure out how to access this package using a gadget”) so there is certainly plenty packed into the game to keep you busy. They’ve also (finally!) focused a bit more on the “detecting” side of Batman with sidequests that task you with solving cold cases and other crimes by searching for clues. It’s not especially deep but I still got pretty into trying to hunt down those clues.

Here’s the rub though… the story is great, I liked most of the side missions… but the game really hasn’t evolved one bit from its… umm… origins! When I first laid my hands on Asylum I loved it for two reasons. The melee combat system was a revolution (and has been cloned numerous times in the last 4 years) that was simple enough for a novice to still feel like a badass but just deep enough to reward anyone who wanted to put their time in. Even more than the new combat system I loved the setting. There you were, trapped in the Asylum with the whole “metroidvania” aspect and the claustrophobic feel despite the relatively large environment. I wanted to explore every square inch of that complex and solve every last Riddler riddle and by jove I did just that.

That was followed by City a couple years later which refined the combat a little bit and expanded on the gadgets and also took things out of the asylum and into the open world. That’s where things fell apart for me a little bit. I didn’t find traversing the open world to be very fun or well implemented. I’d always find myself falling too far and having nothing to grapple on to and frankly spending way too much time being frustrated. They took some of the fun out of the riddle aspect and seemed to spend more time on combat than exploration. In short they focused on the side of things that were less interesting to me while gimping the parts that had elevated the series for me. It was still fun and I still beat the game but I never really went after all the side stuff and I can’t say it left much of an impression on me.
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