Initially, I despised Batman: Arkham Origins. It seemed to be leading the acclaimed series down an unfortunate path all too often bestowed upon games deemed a commercial success. And yet, somehow, I ended up enjoying it a lot. In some ways it’s better than those that preceded it, but for the most part it’s a worthy addition to the series and nothing more. While it plays a near-identical tune, it deviates thanks to an intriguing interpretation of a young and naive Bruce Wayne. Early experiences paint a picture of safeness, which drove my initial concerns. Thankfully, Arkham Origins soon treads a comfortably familiar trek of classic villainess and iconic Gotham brutality.
Warner Bros. Montreal isn’t here to reinvent the wheel. It’s taken the best aspects of the original two games and transformed them into a strangely refreshing taken on The Dark Knight’s early years. The unfortunate thing is that if you didn’t find much to enjoy in the first two games, Origins doesn’t go to great lengths to reintroduce anything particularly innovative for the series. This is a game undoubtedly for those with a blind affinity for Batman and his story, and thankfully I feel the game services the lore (at least what I know of it) with class and rigour.
Set only two years after Bruce Wayne has decided to take on Gotham’s ruthless underworld, we are introduced to a strangely judicious yet similarly heavy-handed hero of the night, whose know-how isn’t quite the refined wisdom of vigilante we saw in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Thankfully, it works: while it doesn’t quite drive me back to the original games in the hope of dissecting the character’s progression, it strengthens the series’ lore, relying on the audacious ambiguity of Wayne’s most troubling personal attributes.
The city itself smells of despair and exploitation. It’s a perfectly constructed expansion of the world from Arkham City, sweetened with the cutthroat chill of winter and snow in Gotham City at Christmas. It seems like a caricature of Tim Burton’s own, yet it remains grounded in the gravity of its fallacies, maintaining a sense of genuine burden and anguish I felt were lacking from Burton’s films.
The power of the vigilante stays proper to the expectations we have of Batman. The combat is still the best in the genre, proven by how the likes of The Amazing Spider-Mantry (and to some degree succeed) to mimic the series’ engaging and enjoyable melee gameplay. Some added animations for a finer touch certainly refine that aspect, but overall it remains very much the same melee experience as those that came before it. New enemies — some far more challenging than any we’ve seen in the series before — add significant weight to the game’s difficulty standing, but it’s still a game so fun to master that soon you’ll be building up combos without so much as a button-mash.
The melee and its stealth equal still remain as the core pillars of the Arkham experience. The investigating elements are there, and they contribute an alluring hands-on experience that lifts the lid on Batman’s not-so-violent skills. However, as with the games before it, it still never quite takes off as being particularly challenging. Batman’s detective system is fantastic in highlighting points of interest in the environment, and being able to pull together pieces of a crime is a fun addition, but you’re still always pushed in the right direction. You could easily just stay in detective mode for the whole game apart from during combat, which is perhaps the intention, but it doesn’t quite leave much to the imagination when you’re sticking to the main story. Further to that, the crime scene skills seem far more advanced than anything Batman had in the two games that are supposedly set after Origins, so it seems a little weird to me that he ditched the technology altogether. I understand that those games came first, but it’s a strange paradox in the timeline that is a bit off-putting. I’d much rather it be a primitive addition comparative to what he had available in the other two games that came later on in the timeline.
One glaring issue I did have with Origins is how much of a misstep the side quests and Enigma challenges were. They are very reliant on the batarang (and how good — or not — you are with it), and they lack the inventiveness and challenge that made them so fun (and frustrating, in a good way) in Arkham City and particularly Arkham Asylum. They add to the XP and help boost your unlock points, however, so if you want to work your way through the game’s skill and tech trees, which are varied and deep enough to keep Batman’s skills and tools feeling fresh through the experience, you best delve deeper than street brawls and main missions.
It’s not as refreshing as the first game in the series, but it’s an Arkham entry that offers a good, but never great, take on the character and game world. The enjoyable melee remains, and aside from some trivial side quests and challenges, the game sticks to a consistent line of quality and action. One for the fans.