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Batman: Arkham Origins

Batman: Arkham Origins
Studios: Warner Interactive, WB Games Montreal
Platforms: PS3, XBox360, WiiU, PC
Release Date: October 25th, 2013
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Synopsis: Batman: Arkham Origins features an expanded Gotham City and introduces an original prequel storyline set several years before the events of Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, the first two critically acclaimed games of the franchise; Taking place before the rise of Gotham City's most dangerous criminals, the game showcases a young and unrefined Batman as he faces a defining moment in his early career as a crime fighter that sets his path to becoming the Dark Knight; As the story unfolds, players will meet many important characters for the first time and forge key relationships.

Batman: Arkham Origins Review
By Shawn Hopkins

Did you play Rocksteady Studio's Batman: Arkham City? Were you impressed by the fact that, finally, here was an open world Batman game that really felt like being Batman, with no compromises? Were you excited to see what the next evolution of that would be?

Then Batman: Arkham Origins ... isn't it.

It's a good game, it's a fun game, but Warner Brothers Games Montreal's effort is solidly a placeholder until Rocksteady, or a team as talented as Rocksteady, redefine Batman games again.

Batman: Arkham Origins takes place on Christmas eve, early in Batman's career. Alfred has made a nice dinner, but it's going cold because Black Mask has hired eight of the world's nastiest assassins to kill Batman. And then things get even worse from there.

Where it stands among Arkham games is an interesting question. Calling it an expansion pack wouldn't be fair, there's way too much content here. But it does recycle the setting and much of the same basic open-world map as Arkham City, mostly just re-skinned to not be ruined as it was in Arkham City. There are additions and differences, but if you've played Arkham City you should be almost able to navigate a large part of Batman: Arkham Origins by memory.

Moves, tools, items, weapons, combat, progression, and gameplay ideas are also reused, mostly with minor cosmetic alterations. You aren't collecting green questions marks for Riddler challenges now, you're collecting green boxes. The most egregious example might be the glue bomb Batman gets later in the game. Sure, it can block steam pipes, create rafts, and incapacitate enemies exactly like Arkham City's ice bomb, but it uses glue instead of ice, see. Totally different.

In fact, the change that's most immediately obvious is in the main voice talent.

Batman's voice is now Roger Craig Smith instead of longtime Batman voice actor Kevin Conroy, ostensibly because this is a slightly younger Batman. Also, because the Mark Hamill retired from voicing the Joker, Troy Baker does the Clown Prince of Crime. Both guys do a good job, but neither is really an upgrade. No one can compete with Conroy, and Baker mostly sounds like he's doing a really good Hamill Joker impression, not an especially unique new take.

So what is new here? There's a fun, if kinda short, main campaign, with a cool story. Some side missions of varying quality. A couple of new enemy types, most notably the tough martial artist type. A few new weapons and gadgets. A refined system for investigating crimes using an augmented reality recreation. A fast travel system. A neat achievement system, the Dark Knight System, that encourages you to meet fight, stealth, collection, and other challenges with rewards including useful upgrades. Oh, and you can go to the Batcave and talk to Alfred.

The main story campaign is where the game really shines. It feels very cinematic, it's full of twists and turns, and it does a good job of getting into the heads of the characters psychologically. There's a playable dream sequence that's one of the best things in the series, maybe one of the best things involving the Joker ever released. There's an extremely satisfying conclusion.

Because the storyline of the game is about assassins hunting Batman, there are some really cool boss fights, but the story blurb that Batman is being hunted by eight assassins is a bit misleading. Yes, all eight assassins are in the game, but a couple of them are shunted off to side missions. Shiva suffers the worst in this, she almost feels like a slightly amped version of the game's new martial artist enemy type in her bossfight, which takes place in a dull entranceway. You also dispatch Killer Croc so early in the game and so easily I didn't realize he "counted" as one of the assassins. Another assassin really doesn't come into play for reasons that would be too spoilery for this review.

The assassins that do get main boss fights, however, are showpieces. There's a very intense, difficult fight with Deathstroke full of dodging and countering that might be the best. Unfortunately, it comes very early in the game so some of the other fights feel like a bit of a letdown, but only by comparison. There are neat cinematic moments in some of the fights, such as a fight with Bane that is partially viewed overhead from the video feed of news helicopter. The game does fall to the Arkham series pitfall of having an out-of-place big mutant boss enemy at one point, but at least that encounter is dealt with in a more creative way using stealth.

The levels to get to the bosses are mostly creative and fun to play, although, sometimes a little more annoying or frustrating to traverse than the ones in Arkham City.

Side missions are plentiful. Some are very involved and feel like mini-levels, but a lot of them just involve going from point to point and beating up a person or finding a thing.

The randomly appearing crimes in progress are the most disappointing of the side missions. They always involve finding a group of thugs and fighting them. They also unravel a weird thing about Batman: Arkham Origins. It's pre-destruction, but there are no civilians anywhere.

The story explains this as being because citizens were told to stay in their homes because of the crime wave and a snowstorm, but no one is going to ignore that? Actually, people do, Batman can solve murders that happened during the crime wave and there's a reference to Christmas presents being delivered, but the fact that the crimes in progress only involve things like gang fights, assaults on cops, and ATM knockoffs instead of Batman saving citizens who were dumb enough to go out is a missed opportunity.

And, yes, there are Riddler challenge boxes and stuff to collect all over the place, unfortunately the puzzles to unlock them feel a little more basic this time around. And if you're wondering if it's worth it to collect them all, I would say not to bother unless you are an extreme completist or just like picking up stuff. There's nothing on the level of The Riddler's satisfying comeuppance in Arkham City.

And just like in Arkham City, all of the extras do a lot to lower the intensity of the main plot. For most of the game, no matter how dire or time-limited the situation, you can still make Batman screw around for hours filling out his collections or trying to do a move combo for the Dark Knight System.

The graphics are very well done. Gotham looks better than ever, and its new coat of paint adds a nice contrast between the shininess and light Christmas eve. I do wish there was a little more snow, it's supposed to take place in a snowstorm, but it looks like a light dusting.

Sound is also mostly excellent, from the sort of dark Christmasy music, to sound effects, to voice acting,to the fun enemy chatter Batman can overhear. My only gripe about it is that the radio chatter can get very repetitive. Partly because it simply repeats a lot, but also because it sounds like it's the same two voice actors doing most of it, in stereotypical thug voices that will start to grate after a while.

The control system has been refined over three games, and it's razor sharp at this point. Once you get used to a few changes they become something you never even need to think about as you pummel enemies and swing around Gotham. And you'll need that familiarity, because this game is tough. It throws thugs at you in big, relentless groups, and the boss fights are challenging and multi-layered.

Despite the short main campaign, the game offers a lot of challenge and replay value. Meeting all of the challenges on the Dark Knight System is something only the best players are going to accomplish, and will probably take more than one play-through even for them because you can miss a few. There's a newgame plus mode and "I Am the Night" mode where there's no saving and dying ends the game for good. There are also lots of challenge missions and costumes to unlock.

Finally, I'm not sure how it performs technically on other platforms, but I played Batman: Arkham Origins on PS3 and it was, frankly, rather poor. There are some extremely bad framerate drops at certain places that hamper the experience. There are also lots of glitches. More than once the game sent me to go find a henchman for a sidequest and the henchman simply didn't spawn. This problem always corrected itself a few hours later, but swinging around an area for half an hour looking everywhere for a guy that simply isn't there is time wasted.

So, no, it's not the "next level" Batman game. This is the same level. But this level is pretty darn fun, no harm in messing around in it a little while longer.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Story: 8 out of 10
Controls: 10 out of 10
OverallScore: 8.5 out of 10

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Batman: Arkham Origins is now available to own on Playstation 3, XBox360, WiiU, and for the PC.


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