I am the night: Batman: Arkham Origins game review

On October 31, 2013

Game: Batman: Arkham Origins

Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3 [Reviewed], Wii U and PC

Released: Oct. 25

Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montreal

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Grade: B+

It's been just two years since players last donned the cape and cowl, put on the utility belt and prowled the streets of Gotham in Batman: Arkham City - the sequel to 2009's critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham Asylum.

With Arkham City in 2011, Rocksteady Studios pushed the boundaries of everything they had done with Asylum. The video game developers made Arkham City open world, filling it with fan fare and side quests and vastly improved the already phenomenal free-flow combat - not to mention the sheer amount of polish and the superb story, which combined to make the game one of 2011's best titles.

Batman: Arkham Origins,on the other hand, is developed by WB Games Montreal - and that isn't necessarily a good thing. Although it sets the stage for the events of its predecessors with an outstanding story, the game feels largely uninspired and rarely lives up to its predecessors.

Origins is set two years into Batman's career and five years before the events of Arkham Asylum. On a snowy Christmas Eve in Gotham, the Dark Knight finds himself hunted by eight elite assassins who are competing for a $50 million bounty placed on Batman's life by Black Mask. Soon, Batman realizes assassins like Deadshot, Bane and Deathstroke aren't the only ones after the bounty. 

In this game, Batman isn't the iconic hero of Gotham with allegiances to Captain Gordon, the Gotham City Police Department and his legendary rogues gallery. He's a vigilante who's hunted just as much as the super villains he helps put behind bars.

This brief but pivotal point in the Caped Crusaders career feels like a refreshing period for the series to explore and allows the game to show off some truly quintessential moments like Batman's first encounter with the maniacal Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. This period also affords the game an opportunity to explore aspects of Batman that previous games haven't and reveal a Batman who feels as defeated as he does triumphant.

These moments, when combined with the game's exceptional script, writing and production values, allow the story to truly stand out amongst its predecessors and feel like the best in the series.

Just like Arkham City, aside from the story,Origins' world is packed with collectibles to grab and side missions to complete. Unfortunately, the side quests never match those of Arkham City, which felt like extensions of the game's narrative and introduced unique game-play elements.

Instead, they feel like, 'Go to this spot on the map and beat up this group of thugs before taking on one of the games' many bosses.'

Boss fights are another aspect that Origins excels in over its predecessor because each encounter builds on knowledge, skills, gadgetry and experience acquired earlier in the game.

Although some boss fights fall into the same faults of previous games when becoming repetitive, fighting a character like Deathstroke feels like a challenging engagement against an adversary with the same physical prowess, slyness and ferocity as the Dark Knight himself.

Unfortunately, boss fights are among the few aspects in the game that are expanded upon over the rest of the series. With the exception of a few new gadgets and an expanded detective mode, the game play of Arkham Origins is identical to that of Arkham City.

The return of the outstanding free-flow combat that made Arkham City so exciting to play makes Origins fun to play at first, but quickly repetitive, routine and uninspired.

Origins attempts to spice things with the addition of new enemy types, like the 'martial artists' and 'enforcers,' which inject new challenges into the game by changing previously established combat dynamics. 'Martial artists,' for instance, can counter Batman's attacks, while 'enforcers' attacks can't be blocked or countered.

Despite the added challenge of the new enemy types, the variety of encounters and the Dark Knight's invigorated prowess in combat, the innumerable fights within the game feel progressively more monotonous than enjoyable.

The tedious and uninspired nature of the game's combat is offset with the introduction of new gadgets like the shock gauntlets, but these gadgets further emphasize the problem, while simultaneously alleviating it.

Once charged by beating enemies into unconsciousness, t­­he shock gauntlets allow Batman to become an unstoppable wrecking ball of punches, ignoring any interesting aspect of the game's combat like riot shields, stun batons or armored foes.

Soaring through the air and beating enemies into oblivion in a hail of electricity may look cool and become necessary toward the end of the game with the largest fights in an Arkham game, but they remove any semblance of challenge from it, turning combat into a race to charge them so the player can progress to the next fight.

Combat isn't the only disappointing feature. Origins lack the unparalleled polish of previous Arkham titles.

The entirety of Gotham city may be at the player's disposal to explore a world nearly twice the size of Arkham City. In Origins, however, the streets of Gotham are void of anyone who doesn't have a criminal record and the innumerable Easter eggs hidden throughout the world of previous Arkham games. Apart from the world feeling lifeless and empty, and the lack of fanfare, visually, the game has quite a few problems with shadows and lighting.

Worst of all, the launch of Batman: Arkham Origins has been marred by a prolific number of bugs and glitches that can make the game unplayable, ranging from audio dropout to freezing and other errors. In the 16 hours that I played the game, I encountered multiple frame-rate issues and freezes. Some of these problems work themselves out over time, but others require restarting the game.

These problems notwithstanding, Batman: Arkham Origins is a great game that carries over the series' remarkable production values and game play. Packed with an outstanding story and boss fights worthy of the Caped Crusader's long-lasting history, the game is worthy of the adventure even though it rarely provides anything that hasn't been seen and done before.


email: arts@ubspectrum.com

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