If Batman: Arkham Origins is the best that WB can do without series creator Rocksteady in the pilot’s seat, then fans don’t have much to worry about; it’s a very, very good game. While not perfect, developer WB Games Montreal’s freshman outing is a bold, taut action adventure game that isn’t as ambitious as the first two installments of the series, but remains a fun, compelling experience nonetheless. With excellent graphics, tighter combat, and an interesting story, Arkham Origins will leave players anxious for their next trip to Gotham.
Arkham Origins isn’t a traditional prequel, as neither Batman’s origin nor anyone else’s is examined throughout the course of the game’s narrative. Instead, Arkham Origins lays the foundation of the relationship between Batman and the Joker in the Arkham series’ mythology. Other foes make first time series appearances as well, including the sadistic Roman Sionis, who goes by the moniker Black Mask, and Deathstroke, a mercenary with a twisted personal code of ethics and skills rivaling Batman’s own. The story takes place on Christmas Eve, when the crime lord Black Mask sets eight assassins on a collision course with Batman. Over the course of the night, Batman must defeat the assassins, apprehend Black Mask, and overcome the threat of the Joker. Arkham Originsdoes a very good job of respecting the story established by the two previous Arkham games, while simultaneously establishing its own identity and feel. The plot never feels forced and smoothly positions itself within the Arkham timeline.
Players disappointed by Batman: Arkham City-Armored Edition‘s glitchy visuals can rest at ease, as Arkham Origins is stunning on Wii U. Excellent particle effects and lighting complement the sprawl of Gotham’s innumerable skyscrapers. The environment is rich with details, from a variety of advertising signs, steaming vents, and trash on the streets, to office and building interiors that look truly lived in. For the most part, the game has a steady framerate, but when Batman goes flying through the sky using his grapple, the visuals can start to stutter. It’s the only portion of the game where I found any graphical anomalies, though that’s not to say that Arkham Origins is bereft of other technical hiccups. At one point in my playthrough, Batman was in a conversation with Alfred, when suddenly my control over him was lost and Batman kept walking endlessly into an invisible wall. Still, other than the grappling problem, any other technical issues I encountered were few and far between. Arkham City will definitely see a patch or two over its lifetime, but there’s nothing so wrong that it should prevent anyone from playing it.
As much as I appreciated the game taking place in Gotham proper this time around, Arkham Origins is marred by a frustrating amount of back and forth between objectives. The problem wouldn’t be so obnoxious but for the fact that traveling is limited to Batman’s grappling and gliding. There is a fast-travel option available that lets Batman be shuttled to key points on the map, but there’s a catch; the player has to knock out jamming towers that prevent the feature from being used. This requires not only finding the towers and dismantling the equipment within, but also Batman having the necessary gear to even get inside. I made my way to more than one tower only to find that I didn’t have the tool I needed to make my way in. This all but negated the usefulness of fast-travel and made treks (particularly the ones across the ridiculously long bridge in the game) a frequent torture. Also, Arkham Origin‘s Gotham is a very desolate place. There’s a reason established in the narrative that explains why no one but Batman and the bad guys are out on the streets, but it felt more like a missed opportunity than anything else. Given the girth of the game world, I couldn’t help but feel like I was careening through a massive soundstage at times as opposed to a real city.
The signature Arkham combat is back and more precise than ever. Expect to spend quite a lot of time engaging swarms of thugs in Arkham Origins, as Gotham is laden with wandering packs of criminals for Batman to swoop down and annihilate. Players familiar with the Arkham series’ elaborate, flowing barrages of punches and kicks will be able to get right into the action, but even those who’ve never thrown a Batarang will find the controls easy to learn. The nuances of Arkham Origins‘ fighting system is what makes it so satisfying, as the sheer variety of ways that Batman can approach and defeat enemies is staggering. There’s a good balance between stealth and brawling that keeps the game’s combat from ever growing stale. A couple of new enemy types have also been incorporated, most notable being the martial artists, who’re nearly as adept at countering attacks as Batman himself. The inclusions kept me on my toes and made routine rumbles much more interesting.
Batman’s gadgets make a return, though some might complain that a couple of the new additions make fights too easy; specifically, the Shock Gauntlets and remote grapple. The Shock Gauntlets, in particular, can be painted as instant K.O. machines, as they provide an extra bit of power to Batman’s attacks that’s reminiscent of the B.A.T. mode in Armored Edition. Considering that the game rarely, if ever, forces a player to use a particular item during combat, though, it’s a bit misleading to suggest that there’s anything broken about the implementation of the new items. It’s easy to be judicious about not spamming items that take away from the experience, if one is so inclined. Considering some players might be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of baddies that can attack at once, I think it’s smart to offer these sorts of devices to keep everyone on a level playing field.
A new gameplay element comes in the form of crime scene recreations and investigations, in which the player aims the Wii U GamePad at the TV screen in order to scan the environment for clues (this can also be done using the control sticks, but it feels so much cooler moving the GamePad around and using it like Samus’s Scan Visor in the Metroid Prime series!). Using a mixture of ballistics, DNA, and rationalization, Batman works his way through a few of these investigations over the course of Arkham Origins. Admittedly, these segments are rigidly linear, but the purpose is more to progress the narrative as opposed to playing detective. Had WB Montreal made the mode more interactive, there was definitely the potential to add a cerebral element to the game, but as it stands, crime scene investigating serves as a vivid look into Batman’s sharp analytical skills.
Fans stepping into the cape and cowl will immediately notice the absence of legendary Batman: The Animated Series voice actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, who had played the rolls of Batman and the Joker in both previous Arkham games. Noticing the loss doesn’t necessarily mean lamenting it, though, as Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker fill the two men’s shoes quite nicely. Smith’s voice genuinely sounds like a younger take on Conroy’s version of Batman, and Baker is impressively close at pulling off Hamill’s verve and electricity as the Joker. The remaining actors all play their parts well, and the game is loaded with voice work, including the sound of thugs chattering away on the streets and rooftops as Batman lurks overhead. Arkham Origins maintains the series’ grand cinematic presentation, with well animated cutscenes and an intricate plot. While Arkham Origins isn’t as zealous as Arkham City in terms of scope and story intricacy, the game still provides an entertaining narrative.
Arkham Origins is pleasingly non-linear, as those who prefer to meander the Gotham skyline are rewarded with a huge number of alternative activities to take part in. The Batcave is home to combat training and there is an abundance of predator and combat challenges. At certain points throughout the game, new missions pop up, including ones involving specific villains whose crimes run on the periphery of the campaign but don’t intertwine with it. The Mad Hatter, Anarky, Enigma (who is oh-so familiar), Penguin, and Black Mask all have different missions that take up part of Batman’s night, and all of them are fun ways to kill time between each objective. Beating these missions and challenges unlocks new costumes and provides XP for Batman to upgrade his gear and suit. The more you level up Batman, the more durable and efficient he becomes during combat. This incentivizing of combat and mission completion is perfectly done, as the rewards are appropriately great for those willing to make the commitment.
Arkham Origins is a strong, if imperfect, addition to the series. The story is tight, gameplay is fun and challenging, and the graphics are excellent. The wealth of content will keep players hooked for hours, especially the numerous side missions that provide plenty of fan service. Unfortunately, the visual and gameplay glitches that spring up at times can be intrusive and distracting. The overly-long travel segments betray some poor design choices, especially regarding the fast-travel option, which should have negated the issue, but instead is largely useless until later in the game. Along with a disappointingly barren Gotham, Arkham Origins comes close to the caliber of its older siblings, but falls just short. Regardless, the shortcomings are minimal when compared to how much Arkham Origins gets right. It’s exciting to think that WB Montreal did such a good job in its first attempt at an Arkham game, and I’m looking forward to what they might bring to the series in the future. This is a game that every Wii U owner should take the time to play, Batman fan or not.
NOTE: Batman: Arkham Origins on Wii U does not feature the online multiplayer of the XBox 360 and PS3 versions of the game. The omission of this feature didn’t influence my review, as it did nothing to improve or diminish the quality of the game.
+ Excellent graphics, story, and gameplay. Attacking and countering have never been smoother, and the new enemy types make battles more challenging. Serves well as a foundation for the stories of the two previous Arkham games. Side-quests are well implemented and add more depth to the experience.
– Technical issues that include frequent visual stuttering during grappling and the occasional gameplay glitch. Traveling is far too tedious at times, and the fast-travel option is negated by a complicated unlock. City too barren.