For a very long time I’ve been waiting to play and experience how Batman was chiseled to become one of the greatest vigilantes that the world has ever seen. Devoid of any superhuman strength except for a phenomenal brain coupled with a trained body, Bruce Wayne’s beginning is forever enchanting; no matter how many versions add up to the record. And Arkham Origins makes no extra effort to get me in the shoes of the world’s greatest detective/superhero.
The title Batman: Arkham Origins may be a misnomer, because it specifically scopes on the early career of Batman, and the myth of the Joker. It is not about Batman’s training with the League of Shadows or his early encounter with the Greysons’ accident. Arkham City exchanges hands in this title with the Christmas themed Gotham City, and via Batman and the goons, you are shown how people are fitting in this troubled city, under one single night. Taking inspiration from famous Batman comic books, like Knightfall, Gotham City is shown to be in the hands of the Crime Lord Roman Sionis, aka the Black Mask. The Black Mask and his men, known as the False Face Society, are lightly threatened by the emerging leader of the underworld, Oswald Cobblepot a.k.a. the Penguin.
From Rocksteady to WB Montreal
From a developer’s perspective, it is a brand new game, but thanks to the existing engine and the Rocksteady defined gameplay parameters, Origins doesn’t feel like anything unusual or something you haven’t seen or done before. And yet, it is not a complete rehash. WB Montreal makes a fine line that sets the classic from the new additions. Instead of a lone island, that was Arkham City, the developers now put two islands into the sandbox, the North and South Gotham, each separated by a connecting bridge – known as the Gotham Pioneer’s Bridge. To add to the player’s abilities to travel across these islands, the new game features a Grapple Gun thrust, aiding long distance gliding.
The Origins Sandbox
What I love about Arkham Origins the most is the open world that they’ve set. They got the Arkham City map and polished it with brand new rooftops, real time side missions, and loads of thugs swarming for your head (believing that the 50 Million bounty will be theirs, LOL!). Edward Nigma returns with his strong stench of self belief of being the most intelligent man on earth, not as the Riddler but as Enigma (Riddler’s prototype career designation) this time. He has dropped what are called Enigma Data Packs all across the map, just like his Riddler trophies in the previous editions. Unlocking them will give you feeds from the storyline. It’s worth every hunt. Apart from those you now have to use your batarang and knock down some network relays that are being fed directly into Enigma’s HQ. Why? Because with Arkham Origins you can now fast travel to some of the districts within the city, and with the Riddler hacking into the system, you cannot fast travel unless you rehack it. Solving his puzzles and intimidating him will be key, as usual. For the first time, restoring Radio Towers seem legit, sorry Far Cry 3!
Your Radio Transmitter will feed a crime scene happening every now and then, countering which will get you Skill Perks from Wayne Tech. The GCPD will also transmit crime scene investigation jobs to each other within the department. You need to locate the scene and pay a visit, using the brand new Detective Mode to find out what happened. It is not a night wherein the people of Gotham City are free roaming on the streets or gathered around the mistletoe. Crime has taken control over the city and the media is already showcasing what the Black Mask is preparing to do, so I guess everyone’s at home, shocked. Surely the bitter cold and misty night has that dark and threatening thing about the game, which I felt was a little lacking in Arkham City.
As history states, Batman’s stories and his encounters with his enemies make up for his legacy. And to top it off, every Batman beginning is as riveting as the one before it. The sound of a Batman prequel was sounding way too much fun to my ears. From the trailers, I was expecting the likes of The Killing Joke, Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, Batman: Earth One, Batman: Knightfall and Nolan’s Batman Begins mixed up in the plot. It was an uphill task to make all ends meet in this epic tale of a Christmas night when 8 of the best DC assassins have hooked up with a single bounty. And no matter how factually or thematically WB Montreal wanted to showcase it, it was always a bit lower than a usual Batfan’s expectations. At times, your instinct just foretells the next big spoiler that is coming your way, at times you will find the theme of the 8 assassins all gone, at times there are either too many things happening or nothing at all. Each time Batman confronted an assassin, it was almost through an accident with no pre-hype (apart from the first Bane encounter). The hype used to be one of the key drugs in building up the stories of Asylum and City, especially The Poison Ivy chase or the Mr. Freeze hunting. Where is it now? Or is it only chasing the Black Mask or identifying the Joker’s motives that matters?!
Even under such immense pressure to reintroduce the Bat, WB Montreal has put some amazing introspective into the vigilante’s reputation. Every time he’d drop from the ceiling or glide across the city you will hear threatened mobsters, rolling on their backs trying to evade the Bat’s shadow. Even though there are no easter eggs in the whole of Gotham City, the radio transmitted dialogues feeding in from the enemies have deep resemblance to some of the events that happened in the Dark Knight’s early career.
Combat, Gadgets and Predator Mode
In Arkham City, I was feeling rather let down by the AI of the enemies who would just wait for me to counter their moves or get hit repeatedly, but thanks to Arkham Origins, the fight sequences have heated up with butter like moves (and easy combo triggers if you can hit your notes well) and better enemy AI. The game doesn’t protest button mashing, but gifts the more tactical gamers with bone crunching critical strikes. The addition of two new brawlers, including the Ninja, adds up to the excitement. The Ninjas are as hard trained as you are (well, almost), and they do counter your moves if you mistime yours. The knife brawlers are tough to counter, and the Cape Stun takes some time, till then you can counter an enemy trying to hit you from the back and resume with the stun again.
New finishers, new punches and uppercuts, it feels anything but exhaustive, even if you fail. Trigger the Bat Claw during a combat session and it will drag an enemy towards you, then fatally bash him into the ground. Run into a scenario and slide kick two thugs before they can even spot you. The Concussion Detonator is another great addition to the Bat’s inventory. The Glue Grenades replace Mr. Freeze’s Freeze Blast from Arkham City. The choice of your combat approach is pure personalized, but repeatedly using a few gadgets, like the Electrocutioner’s Shock Gloves and rope tying an opponent from far off using Deathstroke’s Remote Claw, may mar your pro experience.
What arguably every Arkham fan looks into are its epic boss fights. While Arkham Origins can boast of a holistic Batman open map game, the boss fights seem dragging or repetitive. The Deathstroke fight sequence is arguably one of the finest fight sequences I’ve witnessed in a long, long time (if you aren’t spamming it with the Bat Claw button). The Copperhead fight reminds me of beating Vaas from Far Cry 3.
Visual Effects, Sound and Level Designing
While most of the level designing is borrowed from Arkham City, it does have a certain USP of its own. There are loads of stealth points: vents, gargoyles, etc. The visual effects seem pitch perfect with the dark theme of the franchise. The cold winter night seems like an icing on the cake, reminds me of Tim Burton’s Batman Returns to a great extent. The SFX and the music used are thematically Batman-ly and has that blend of a long Christmas night to it.
The Arkham Series is a legendary franchise, and even though Origins lacks in a proper Rise of the Caped Crusader story, it can still boast of a much polished sandbox, giving you a world full of opportunities. The theme of Assassins seems to fight hard with the rise of The Joker. Troy Baker’s role of the Joker is as exceptional as Mark Hamill’s performances previously. There are minor framerate issues and game freezing moments in Origins, but it surely doesn’t take away its overall charm. Exceptional gameplay, even though boss fights are in the repeat mode of 1-2-3. It is a proper prequel sans the DC storyline.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3