Batman:Arkham Origins Review – Batman hits once again
Warner Bros Montreal had a daunting task for a new development studio. Rocksteady single-handedly revived the superhero and Batman games with Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, receiving much praise from critics and customers alike.
Plus, there was the third-in-the-series curse, which is now immediately frown upon from hardcore fans. Admittedly, many games (and movies) suffered from a quality downgrade in the last chapter of a trilogy, but I can happily say that this is not the case with Batman: Arkham Origins. As you may have guessed, this is actually a prequel, taking place in Year Two (since Batman became the Caped Crusader).
This means that he’s not quite a rookie, but at the same time he’s rough around the edges, more aggressive and less self-constrained by years of training. He’s also more prone to self-doubt and the uncertainty of being able to protect Gotham, and all of these elements are nicely portrayed in the plot by WB Montreal; Batman as a character is much more fleshed out than in the previous games, and watching him slowly but steadily overcome the initial distrust of Gordon, or witnessing the very first moments of his unending battle with Joker, is surely a treat for all the long-standing Batman fans. Plus, there’s more Alfred in this game than in Asylum and City combined, and that is absolutely a great thing.
In terms of gameplay, the biggest departure is likely the enhancement of detective mode. Batman is a world-class detective in his own right, but that didn’t really transpire from Asylum or City. There’s a much bigger focus on this part now, from the story missions to secondary dedicated “cases” that Batman needs to solve by carefully searching for clues at the crime scene and then reconstructing the events. Even this seemingly small addition helps in building a more accurate portrait of Batman as we know him.
Another interesting finding is that now, hacking is somewhat more involved than just “tuning” the Cryptographer. For starter, the combination is separated in two parts and there are now multiple words that can be displayed when tuning; this means that you will actually need to pay attention and keep tuning until the two parts form a meaningful sentence. There’s more though, as in a few cases the ticking countdown will really make you sweat (I know I did) since there is a game over waiting for you unless the hacking is done in time; again, this is a peculiar situation for Batman and one that I’m glad the developers decided to introduce in Arkham Origins.
At its core, though, the game is still mainly an action/adventure with an excellent combat system. Bashing criminals has never been fun as in the Arkham series and this one is no exception; I highly recommend to play at the hard setting from the start (unless you’re not familiar with action games in general), since it is ultimately very satisfying to master the multiple techniques, although that will probably cost you a decent number of deaths. This game is no Dark Souls, but it’s no pushover either and I’m glad that it’s this way. The overall feeling is exactly that one I always associated with Batman: an incredible fighter, but human after all, so he needs to be careful.
It doesn’t hurt that graphics, at least on a powerful PC, is really great. Warner Bros partnered with NVIDIA to bring exclusive enhancements to the owners of a “green” GPU, such as TXAA, HBAO+, NVDOF, PCSS and obviously PhysX.
With all these effects activated Gotham City truly comes alive (as you can see in the recording above), with Batman and its foes deforming snow (the game takes place on Christmas’ Eve) in real time, for example, and his signature cape flowing naturally into the wind. I also noticed an improved optimization, something that was sorely lacking at the launch of Arkham City. In terms of dubbing the overall quality is still pretty good, even though Batman and Joker sound slightly different than in the previous titles (the actors have changed), but this is understandable since there is quite the distance in the games’ timeline.
Lastly, for the first time in the saga there is also a multiplayer mode, developed by Splash Damage. It’s a fairly unique asymmetric multiplayer affair, with three factions entering the fray: Bane’s thugs, Joker’s thugs and Batman/Robin as the heroes. The thugs play in a typical and quite decent Gears of War third person shooter with covers, while Batman and Robin can use the grappling hook and need to rely on stealth; the gangs win by killing each other and/or controlling certain points of the map, while the heroes win if they manage to build an intimidation meter by taking down thugs.
Also, depending on which gang is doing better, there’s the chance that Bane or Joker might enter the fray during the match; they’ll be controlled by a player, adding another new element to the fights. It’s a commendable effort as a whole, but I fear it may slip unnoticed while the blockbuster shooters grab all the attention.