Batman giving Alfred a stern look.
Batman had been subjected to terrible video game adaptations until Rocksteady released Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City. He officially became the world’s greatest detective, and comic fans rejoiced. After Rocksteady made the first two games, Warner Bros. Montreal had the unfortunate task of creating a third Arkham game that would stay true to the combat mechanics and fantastic stories while avoiding making the fans angry.
Arkham Origins takes place on Christmas Eve during a storm that shuts down Gotham. This doesn’t mean that Bruce Wayne has the night off; he has to race to Blackgate Prison and try to stop Black Mask from murdering Commissioner Loeb. During this rescue, Batman discovers that Black Mask has also offered a ridiculous sum of money to eight assassins for killing Batman before Christmas morning. Batman now has to restore order to Gotham while constantly watching his back for the slightest hint of danger.
This is a fantastic premise, but it doesn’t last for the entire game. Arkham Origins’ story becomes so convoluted with the different story components and side missions that you completely forget about the assassins until one of them shows up to trigger a boss battle. To be fair, the majority of these battles feature large set pieces or special circumstances that make them entertaining. The Deathstroke battle, in particular, is one of the best because it truly feels like two masterful combatants are struggling to gain any advantage.
Sadly, the tone of Arkham Origins completely changes once Joker is introduced. The Clown Prince of Crime immediately takes center stage and proves why he is the focus of the Arkham franchise. The assassins don’t matter anymore, and characters like Shiva and Anarky become distractions during Batman’s quest to figure out who Joker really is.
Batman’s mission takes him all over Gotham which means he is traveling with a combination of glides and grapple pulls. This method of travel feels fantastic until you have to travel across Pioneer Bridge two or three times during a mission. Flying over this bridge gets tedious after the first few times, but WB Montreal included fast travel stations to aid in travel time; however, these stations can only be unlocked after a nearby radio tower has been hacked using Batman’s cryptographic sequencer.
This sequencer is one of the small problems with Arkham Origins. It seems like WB Montreal took the successful aspects from Arkham City and Asylum like the cryptographic sequencer and the grapple hook gun and simply multiplied the amount of times that they were used. Some missions like the battle with Firefly involved using the sequencer to open the same door multiple times, which became frustrating.
Thankfully, WB Montreal kept the combat system from previous Arkham games. Batman is still a master of martial arts, so he can switch between attacks and counters with the greatest of ease. Each battle with a group of thugs soon becomes an artful dance that normally ends with a pile of unconscious enemies. Later battles include gigantic thugs and knife wielders so Batman has to focus on leaping out of harm’s way while still attacking the smaller enemies.
One main change between the Arkham games was the central cast. Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith replaced Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy in the roles of Batman and Joker, and their versions are very well done. Joker is still demented, and Batman still sounds like he gargled concrete. It’s actually difficult to differentiate between the voice actors unless you are listening to each version back to back. Other actors from previous Arkham games make returns as central villains including Nolan North’s glorious version of The Penguin.
These new and returning characters are part of the reason to explore the open environments of Gotham City and take part in the side missions. Side missions are divided into crime scenes, crimes being committed, and most wanted villains. Batman has the opportunity to stop crimes that are being committed while gliding around Gotham and listening to the police radio chatter. Most of these crime missions are completed by going to a certain spot and beating up a group of enemies. These missions are short, sweet, and they help Batman quickly earn XP to purchase upgrades.
The crime scenes are more in-depth, and they become very interesting at times. Batman will normally hear police chatter about a body at a crime scene and how the police are baffled by the death. These crime scenes become an exercise in using Detective Vision to find various clues, recreate the crime, and ultimately find the murderer. Crime scene missions are fairly short and simple, but they are strangely addicting.
The Most Wanted missions are the best side missions available. These missions in which you capture high profile villains interweave with some of the main story beats, but some can only be completed by tracking them down separately. The Mad Hatter mission, for example, combines aspects from the previous Arkham Scarecrow missions with Alice from Wonderland. The result is a very psychedelic mix of platforming and action that Mad Hatter narrates.
The only thing missing is the “Biff” and “Pow”.
Arkham Origins also features collectibles like many open world games, but these are mostly items that have to be destroyed. Penguin and Black Mask both have gun/drug shipments strewn around Gotham that all need to be destroyed. Enigma also has collectibles around Gotham, but his are a mixture of Riddler Trophies to find and network devices to destroy. These collectibles aren’t particularly essential to the experience, but they do provide a good reason to keep spending time in Gotham.
Once the main story is completed, you have the opportunity to play through the campaign again in New Game Plus, or you could spend time with the Challenge Maps. These challenge maps give you a chance to practice your combat skills against large groups of enemies. The enemies aren’t hard to defeat, but the challenge maps are made difficult by the fact that you have to combine multiple combat methods in order to earn the most points. Simply punching and countering attacks will only be good enough for Bronze.
Warner Bros. Montreal had some ridiculous standards to meet when they released Batman: Arkham Origins, but they seemed to be up to the task. They took their cues and mechanics from Rocksteady and found a good way to create a fairly new experience. Arkham Origins isn’t the perfect game created, but it has a mostly great story and fantastic combat that we have grown to love. Gliding around an open Gotham to track down new villains is just an added bonus. Arkham Origins was just enough to scratch the itch from wanting a new Batman game.
Final Score: 8/10