Game Reviews: Batman: Arkham Origins (Xbox 360)


Having thoroughly enjoyed Batman: Arkham Asylum & loving Batman: Arkham City I was very excited by the announcement of a prequel set during the early years of Batman’s career. The name, Batman: Arkham Origins conjured up images of a rookie Bat meeting his future enemies for the first time while trying to convince the police force that he is on their side. The idea of having the whole of Gotham open to explore at your leisure while dealing with petty crimes alongside the bigger issues was just the sort of thing I was after.

All of this & more was delivered so why does it leave me feeling so deflated?

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Batman: Arkham Origins takes place 5 years before the events of Arkham Asylum. Batman is a fledging hero, green with a serious chip on his shoulder. He is in his 2nd year of ‘protecting Gotham’ & isn’t really getting any appreciation. The GCPD (Gotham City Police Department) are aware of his existence yet see him as a criminal, especially the incorruptible Captain Gordon.

Most criminals don’t even believe he exists let alone actively fear him until Christmas Eve night. Black Mask, sick of the Bat’s interference in his operations, puts a 50 million dollar bounty on his head prompting 8 assassins to come to Gotham to try & claim the reward.

As well as the 8 assassins that want Batman’s head he will also to have deal with other criminals from the Batman universe including his first encounters with some of the more famous super-villains.

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I’m deliberately being vague here as there are a number of moments throughout the game that you may or may not see coming. The strength of Origins comes from its story so I don’t really want to spoil that.

So let’s talk about the 8 assassins…they are mix of interesting & pointless. I’m not a Batman follower beyond these games & the movies so there were a few that went over my head, what really surprised me was that these were often the more interesting boss battles! We have Bane who serves a much larger part of the story & is one of the toughest Arkham game bosses I’ve faced. Killer Croc is a brief yet fun battle & Firefly is probably the best boss battle in the game.

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Then we have Copperhead, Lady Shiva, The Electrocutioner & Deadshot who all serve a section of the story even if their impact is minimal. The final assassin is Deathstroke & I left him to last because of how disappointing a boss battle he is. He is one of the most famous of the group & I expected a pretty exciting hand-to-hand battle with the veteran against the rookie. Instead what I got was a counter-fest, attacking was pointless; countering was the only way to do any real damage. It is horribly scripted & leaves a sour taste in the mouth.

If you’ve played Arkham games of old then you won’t be surprised to see standard enemies are of similar variety to what you’ve seen. The odd different type (armoured, carrying a shield etc) pop up but its nothing fresh. Combat is the same, the free-flowing one button attack system (I used to say I liked this but Origins has kind of put me off it now) with the only real change being enemies that take more to knock down. Eventually you will end up with an upgrade that makes the combat even easier & sees any variety within your attacks because of different enemy types go out the window.

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The same problem exists for the gadgets…seen it all before. They can be upgraded as Batman levels up. Things such as the explosive gel getting a proximity detector or being able to throw several Bat-a-rangs at once. Exciting huh?

Gotham is a fun place to explore…once. Once again it is blighted by the same problem as the combat…we’ve seen most of it before. Half the city will become Arkham City so that area feels awfully familiar. The new areas are fine; in fact some like Penguin’s docked ship & the GCPD are a lot of fun to explore. Moving around the fairly large map is straight-forward enough & there is a fast-travel system that sees you pitting your wits against a pre-Riddler, Edward Nigma.

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There is a lot to do in Gotham such as decoding fast travel points, collecting extortion data packs (this games Riddler trophies), dealing with random crimes, destroying drug caches, destroying gun cases, taking out Anarchy’s bombs & my favourite…studying & solving crime scenes.

These are too few & too brief but while they last they are a lot of fun & it is great to work out exactly what happened involving a hit & run or a fire before flying off to apprehend the criminal involved. It’s a great reminder that they call Bats ‘the world’s greatest detective’ for a reason. This all culminates with a great crime scene that brings back bad memories for Bats…

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With all of this going on as well as gangs of thugs hanging around the streets why does Gotham still feel so empty? I get the lack of civilians on the streets. It’s Christmas Eve, a snow-storm makes for a cold & miserable night as well as the GCPD telling everyone to stay in-doors because of the recent crime waves. That the random crime waves only ever involve gang on gang fights or cops on gang fights is stupid. The odd-civilian crime situation could have added a little more depth to Batman’s character as he interacts with them afterwards.

Even soaring above the streets hearing the conversations of criminals becomes old quickly & you end up blanking most of it out.

What does work really well though is just how grimy Gotham feels even when covered in snow & the lights of Christmas. Some areas are run-down & nasty parts of town that even some decorations can’t improve it. In contrast the richer areas such as the huge hotel are lit up with expensive trees & lights decorating the nearby area. There is no getting away from the fact that Arkham Origins looks pretty nice.

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The thing is Arkham Origins isn’t a bad game at all but it is very difficult to be positive about a game that mirrors the previous so damn much. Even different voice actors for series regulars sound eerily similar although this probably isn’t a bad thing considering just how iconic Mark Hamill’s Joker is.

All positives related to Origins come mainly from its story which is edge of the seat stuff. As an origin story it does a great job of making Batman’s first clashes with some of these super-villains both interesting & exciting. For example his initial dismissal of the Joker & the realisation that there is something ‘different’ about him is hair-raising stuff. Like-wise I loved we also see just what Joker thinks & sees when dealing with Batman & his meeting with Harley Quinn.

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Sadly the game was clearly rushed…most versions came with bugs, serious bugs. My save file got corrupted beyond repair at around 30% of the game completion & I was not alone.

Surprisingly…or un-surprisingly if you’re used to modern day practices Arkham Origins has competitive multi-player. Invisible Predator mode sees 6 players take on the roles of Jokers & Banes grunts, 3 a-pieces with 2 other players randomly selected to be Batman & Robin. The Joker & Bane teams have to shoot it out for dominance over control points while Bats & Robin have to take each member of each team out one-by-one to fill an intimidation meter.

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At some point in the game both Bane & Joker will enter the fray controlled by the player who opened the door first. They are more powerful & tougher to take down & can often even the odds with Batman & Robin.

A 2nd mode was added afterwards via a update called Hunter, Hunted that follows a similar pattern in that it’s 3 Joker things against 3 Bane thugs except this time only Batman is a hero & everyone has 1 life. It’s a little more intense…

Sounds interesting huh? Possibly even fun? Well I hope you like waiting because you’re going to be doing a lot of it. Almost all of brief time I’ve played online has seen me waiting in a lobby for people to join. The multiplayer is dead already & it’s not getting any better over time.

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The problem is that it’s just not that much fun to play. The thugs are killed within a few bullets & it seems to me that the maps are balanced in total favour of the heroes. The thugs are stiff to use & you need to be paying attention to every corner, grate, gargoyle etc. My experience with Hunter, Hunted saw me shooting at an enemy thug while lag wrecked my aim, I died & had to wait until the end of the match where the host disconnected & I got stuck on a ‘migrating host’ screen. Infuriating…

Infuriating…is the best way I can describe the Batman: Arkham Origins multi-player. Another word could be….unnecessary.

I can’t stress this enough…Batman: Arkham Origins is not a bad game by today’s standards. It was clearly rushed & had way too many faults for a full-retail game, it’s multi-player is one of the most unnecessary tacked on multi-players you will ever see & it is far too similar to the 2 games that came before. However it is fun to play, it has an amazing storyline with fun twists & turns, great voice acting, music & a setting I enjoyed (Christmas Eve). Some of the new elements are good but far too many come up short.

Batman: Arkham Origins
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