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Review: Arkham Origins

Published on November 7, 2013 by in Review

arkham_o_boxRight out of the gate, Arkham Origins is a tough sell.  With a new team, Warner Bros (WB) Montreal, taking the reigns from Rocksteady and a new multiplayer component coming from Splash Damage (developers of Brink) it seemed like the writing was on the wall for an inferior iteration.  It is also very similar to Arkham City with the same engine, city, design, and combat, not to mention it’s the third in the series and a prequel/origin tale, fatigue is starting to set in.  On top of all that, it won’t take you long to find the myriad of bugs that literally plague the game on all platforms, proving that WB Montreal could have used more polish on its first original release.  Despite all these knocks, the big saving point for Arkham Origins is its story, which was strong enough to excuse some (if not all) of the aforementioned faults.  Fans of the series should not pass this one up and newcomers can easily have this be an intro to the series, but make no mistake about it, this is a slow burn with caveats.

Set five years before Arkham Asylum, Origins comes off at first as a cheesy plotline that is indicative of terrible video game writing overall.  It’s Christmas Eve (so no pedestrians on the street) and Black Mask has issued a reward to eight assassins to take out the Dark Knight with a $50 million bounty to whoever can complete the task.  Had WB Montreal used this to create an open world “track the eight bosses as different storylines” or go even less unique and created eight linear levels, this review would read quite different.  Instead Origins has a main campaign that follows an entertaining story mingling through the city like most sandbox-style titles, also allowing you engage in optional side quests to capture some of the assassins, solve crimes, and of course find hidden packages (now hidden by Enigma instead of his later alter ego of The Riddler).  A brunt of your encounters will be the popular brawling sequences started with the first game, although there are stealth sequences sprinkled in at random, and sometimes inappropriate to the story, moments.  The battle system is unchanged for the most part, integrating a few overcomplicated moves and countering abilities that give you the false impression of choice while your best bet is still sticking to the hit or counter in rhythm formula.  A new detective mode allows you to scan crime scenes, recreate them, and use that to solve crimes; I found the CSI-esque missions fun, albeit few and far between.  Batman also has some new devices, ironic considering this is a prequel, but these gadgets now facilitate blocking your path or keeping items and collectibles out of reach.  Avid completionists such as myself may be off-put by this requirement of patience at first, but the MetroidVania traits were refreshing and forced a focus on progressing the campaign instead of getting lost in side quests.  It may be an open world and you may be free to go where you want and do what you please, but the game has an impressive ability to realign you back into the story should you wonder too far for too long.

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Speaking of staying focused on the story, you may want to try doing so thanks to the games two biggest flaws: bugs and pacing.  Arkham Origins is littered with problems in the tech department from falling through floors, combat sequences where niether side can attack, completed quests that remain on the map, screen tearing, sync issues, load problems, freezes, and even some 360s suffering from corrupted save games.  Patches have begun rolling out but currently they seem to focus on game breaking issues – which for the record shouldn’t be present on any game that has gone gold – instead of the minor annoyances that are far more common.  As a result, all players should backup their save games either through external memory or a combination of hard drive and cloud storage just in case you suffer a loss or corruption of save data.  It never happened to me, but it did to my co-host Chris (full disclosure: he played the 360 version, I reviewed the PS3 version).  After encountering some random glitches the second thing you will notice is that this game is poorly paced at the beginning.  It takes hours to get to something substantial and with the game’s difficulty curve leaning to the fully upgraded Batman and an early boss fight that is aggravating to say the least, you’ll be discouraged early on.  If you dismiss this title as nothing more than a rehash clone of Arkham City you’ll miss the wonderful way it not only handles story, but character development and interaction in the back half of the campaign.  With Origins fitting in some hybrid universe where Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series meets with Chris Nolan’s recent Dark Knight movie trilogy, the unique spin from WB Montreal was fantastic.  It may be hard to be invested after the slow start, but once things pick up the pace the game begins to shape into a stronger product that may even have you appreciating the lackluster early points in hindsight.  A good example of this is the aforementioned boss fight; I hated it the first time through, but after tackling the dozen or so the game had to offer I replayed a harder version in New Game+ and found it quite enjoyable.  All in all this is a scattered game that uses engaging storytelling, something drastically missing in this gameplay to quicktime event to cutscene formula of the generation, that can excuse the technical and gameplay flaws experienced on a regular basis.  Your mileage will vary depending on how much of this you can excuse.

arkham_o_2On the multiplayer front, Splash Damage yet again proves that it has the ability to come up with a unique concept but that the developer still hasn’t found a way to force players to obey the rules.  As the age old “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink” saying goes, Arkham Origins Online has an interesting concept that falls apart thanks to the predictable behavior of gamers.  Currently there is only one game mode that has two teams of three gang members against one another trying to hold certain capture points in a third-person shooter.  While these six gang members on two teams (one Joker, one Bane) duke it out, the heroes Batman & Robin sweep in to muck up everyone’s plans.  As a hero you will be tasked with taking out gang members, preventing points from being captured, and intimidating both sides, all while using the gameplay from the single player to heavily assist in your efforts against ground troops.  Throughout each mission there will be a halfway point where a single gang member can swap out to their boss, allowing them to become the rocket launcher equipped powerhouse Bane or the more meager Joker that has two extremely strong guns and plenty of tricks and traps at his disposal.  Everything seemed to be properly balanced, so a tip of the hat to Splash Damage for coming up with a somewhat unique take on multiplayer that has the draw of other successes like Assassin’s Creed.  Where Arkham Origins and Assassin’s Creed differ is that multiplayer can be dragged to a boring halt if you find yourself in a game where the gang members wish to rack up kills instead of securing capture points. You may win and technically it is a tactical strategy, but this type of multiplayer requires that the gangs be constantly rivaled and moving around to keep the flow of play alive and once a team decides to bear down and camp it all falls apart.  Not only that, but due to the Arkham series roots of being a single player game, many players seem to be avoiding the mode completely resulting in long queues to finally get a room of eight players, which is required to start a game.  Hopefully with the holiday rush a larger population of those that play by the rules will become more commonplace.  If you find a solid room of people having fun and playing by the rules – especially if you can form a group for a private match of eight – then this can very well become the new addictive online game.

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At face value it can be easy to dismiss Arkham Origins as a copycat, cash-in, unimaginative draw to recycle the same content and add multiplayer.  If you are a fan of the series it is a disservice to write this title off so quickly, especially after seeing the credits roll and finding myself jumping right into a New Game+ (which has a different save that doesn’t interfere with your original game and shares leveling and abilities).  At the same time, if you’ve never much cared for the series or found it difficult to move on after a few hours of the previous titles, this is going to be even tougher than it was before.  Still, the strong story, not to mention the easter eggs and characters tossed in for hardcore Batman fans, makes all the gripes worthwhile.  It may not be a game of the year contender, but as a high budget title chock full of content, Arkham Origins is a worthwhile playthrough, especially with the upcoming holidays and the game’s Christmas Eve setting.

Final Score: 3 out of 5
Average: It’s simply a game; no more, no less.  This can be granted to titles that don’t particularly do anything impressive, but stand as an enjoyable means to pass the time.  It may be fun or even at times inventive, but overall offers little to a user hoping to have a fresh experience.  There are many reasons to play a game with this score, but rarely do these titles have a lasting effect or are prone to generate strong nostalgia in hindsight.

This game was provided as a review copy from the publisher on the Playstation 3 format.  It was completed in approximately 15 hours for campaign completion and an additional 6 hours until the reviewer felt they had experienced all the worthwhile content the game had to offer.  5 hours were also spent on the multiplayer mode of the game.  Batman: Arkham Origins is available on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and Wii U for an MSRP of $59.99 as well as PC for an MSRP of $49.99. 

 
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