Hot off the extremely successful heels of Arkham City, Batman: Arkham Origins certainly had some large bat boots to fill. Add to the mix that Rocksteady was no longer in charge and a large amount of warranted hesitation followed. Fans waited with bated breath to see if Warner Bros. Montreal would drop the batarang on the latest entry in the Arkham series. The question therein is whether a clone of the previous game would be considered a success or a failure.
Arkham Origins tells the story of a young Batman, with only two years of masked service under his utility belt. He’s hot headed, full of anger, has a strained relationship with Alfred, and a whole lot of psychopaths are gunning for him in hopes of bagging a $50 million prize. The usual questions of morality of his actions, and whether it’s actually worth it to avoid killing your enemies (and even to go as far as saving them) are present here. The overall story and the twists and turns did not have me at the edge of my seat in the way that Arkham Asylum and City did. The individual characters were very well portrayed in most cases. The Joker exudes some of the most deranged evil that I’ve ever seen. Batman’s anger and overwhelming sense of duty to the citizens of Gotham are well placed. Even some of the other side characters are portrayed well at an individual level.
The problem comes in the plot points (both major and secondary) and tying together of the tapestry of these characters. Much of it either feels forced or rehashed from beats that we’ve seen before, and still more of it never ends up weaving all that well into the tapestry of Origins‘ Christmas Eve story. Again though, I must applaud the solitary characterization. Troy Baker is simply menacing and dark as the Joker, and Roger Craig Smith plays a wonderfully burdened Batman. But this doesn’t hide the fact that many story points seem like the traditional roller coaster of Batman lore with nothing inherently new to show for the latest entry.
Origins‘ gameplay is extremely reminiscent of Arkham City. Having extensively played both of the previous games, I was glad to see that they left the combat mostly unharmed. I say mostly because there were some minor tweaks and annoyances that affected my combos. Some enemies would seem to gravitate towards me even if I evaded out of the way, and other times my combo would just end mid-move, including in the middle of beatdowns which should be increasing my multiplier. These were small issues however, and the near perfect combat system from Arkham City makes a return, with no real changes or improvements to speak of. There are “new” enemies, but these were simply variations of enemies from the prior game that required the same tactics to defeat.
The world map is huge (about double the size of Arkham City) and there is plenty to do, but most of the side missions and collectibles are things that we have seen and done in Arkham City. I was able to get many of the Riddler (or Enigma, as this game calls him) collectibles with little to no effort because they were hidden with the same mentality and puzzles as the previous game. The same goes for the side missions that require finding informants or destroying containers, which look to have come straight from the Riddler informants and the Venom containers in Arkham City. In fact there were even some predator encounters that had nearly identical layouts as Arkham City’s, and these seemed to copy the less inspired ones.
Traversal around this new a larger map seems to be a bit more limited based on the overall layout. I would often find myself at an impasse caused by a building that I simply could not grapple onto, even though it looked like I should be able to. This is further compounded by a large bridge in the middle of the map that made getting back and forth a somewhat tedious affair, especially when going for side missions and collectibles.
Origins‘ online mode is a far cry from its perfectly-cloned single player counterpart. The multiplayer is an incredibly unbalanced and thin experience, and that’s if anyone can even get into it. After hours of trying (and still more as I type out this review), I often find myself sitting in half empty lobbies as the game requires eight people to start a match. When I would back out and try to find a different, more full match, I was met with the message “It is not possible to connect to the chosen game session. Please try again” on more than one occasion. If the matchmaking consistently worked and the threadbare mode and map offerings were beefed up, this could be a mediocre offering, but if you are going to try to jump in as-is, you’d better have a book or something ready for the long wait until you finally manage to get into a match (As of this writing I have spent over two hours waiting in lobbies, suffering server disconnects and only played two and a half matches, which equates to about 20 minutes total).
All in all, it was a hard game to play through because I felt like I had done it all before. That isn’t to say that Arkham Origins is a bad game, not by a long stretch. On its own, Arkham Origins is a good game. But Origins is a good game because Arkham City was a great game, and it does nothing to create its own identity. So I must ask again if being a clone of the previous success would be considered a success in itself or a failure? I cannot give this game the same kind of praise that I would give the original, but what’s that old saying? If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it, and credit must be given to Warner Bros. Montreal for managing to recreate Arkham City’s awesome experience without having ‘fixed’ it in too much of a negative manner, shoddy multiplayer excluded.
*Review copy provided by publisher.