Batman: Arkham Origins review

“You do realize since you and I are the only people who know the Batman’s true identity, those assassins will all fail their mandate if you’d just spend the evening here”

The premise of Arkham Origins focuses on Batman’s first encounters with many of the iconic villains of this universe and some not so iconic like er the Electrocutioner, Black Mask has hired eight assassins to take out Batman over Christmas Eve/Day. But because I personally haven’t read the comics, it was great entertainment to play through this depiction of Batman’s first confrontations.

This leads to a far greater emphasis on boss-battles than in previous games as each assassin and characters such as Killer Croc are treated as bosses to an extent. Every battle feels different but all extremely fun to play through, from a gruelling duel with Deathstroke to coping with Bane’s brute strength.

Bruce’s relationship with Alfred is neatly intertwined with the general narrative, although the conversations at the start of the game are bright and confident, they steadily deteriorate into a series of strained exchanges as the stress of Batman’s first encounter with Joker becomes overwhelming.

Because the game takes place over Christmas Eve/Day, Gotham is decorated in the appropriate festive fashion, this combined with the snowy conditions and specific dialogue from the legions of thugs stalking the streets generates an absorbing atmosphere. This was one of the criticisms that stuck out from me from reviews; yes it doesn’t come close to Asylum’s deeply hostile and claustrophobic aura and it also doesn’t match Arkham City’s sheer anarchy under the sinister guidance of Hugo Strange. But it’s still really good, the sprawling open-world is varied and packed with interesting locales, the biggest highlight for me was the dialogue between the thugs.  It’s utterly brilliant, you are constantly reminded of the ensuing power struggle between the gangs in Gotham and your own progress when they fearfully recount tales of the ‘Bat’ or sometimes it’s just about mundane topics which are often very funny. When you stop where you are and want to listen to the end of the conversation, you know its good dialogue and although this has been a theme throughout the series, it remains the case here. For instance this exchange had me burst out laughing “Don’t drink and drive you could kill somebody” “What are you in for?” “Manslaughter”

The stellar dialogue also stands out during the Predator/stealth sections, where Joker or the SWAT leader barks instructions to the thugs over the PA system as you slowly take out each member individually. There was an instance where I used an inverted takedown from a grapple point and once the hysteria had subsided, the other thugs then shot down the remaining grapple points in a bid to counter my strategy. I thought to myself that this is tremendous, I must point out that this has happened in the previous games but still if reviewing the series in general terms it’s another fantastic moment. However, despite Troy Baker’s very decent attempt at voicing the Joker, the sad reality is that it doesn’t come close to Mark Hamill’s electrifying performance as Joker that in the previous games.

But the real star of the game is still indisputably the combat system; I could play the challenge maps in the Arkham series for hours upon hours. The combat system hasn’t been touched as far as I can tell in Origins and I’m fine with that, it’s absolutely outstanding. It’s fast, brutal, fluid, fun, strategic and it strives for a sense of perfection. When I was in a room full of enemies, I mistimed a counter and got caught once, I was so frustrated that I started shouting at my error and was tempted to restart from the previous checkpoint just to attempt a perfect play-through of the area. You don’t appreciate how good the combat is in this game because you’re so focused on anticipating the next counter opportunity or to incapacitate the nearest enemy, but when you watch it in full flow, it’s staggering. Batman moves with such speed and precision, the counter moves are all variable depending if the enemy is attempting a punch, swinging a bat, a knife, kicking and its different again if perhaps there are two countering opportunities or even three. It’s almost beyond belief how Rocksteady have created such a meticulous system.  I must reiterate that besides introducing a playable Deathstroke for the challenge maps, (he handles brilliantly and is markedly different to Batman). This is Rocksteady’s creation and Origins makes no attempt to deviate from this system and nor should it, this lengthy piece praising the combat is directed towards the series as whole and not specifically Origins.

Another pleasing feature is how there are visual manifestations of your progress everywhere, Batman’s cape becomes ragged and torn whilst his suit becomes scratched and filled with numerous bullet holes. Areas and rooftops which were previously easy to clear of enemies are later in the game transformed into heavily guarded strongholds, Gotham feels dynamic and ever-changing, it feels like the world is reacting to the events you partake in.

With regards to Gotham, there is a vast expanse of content included, the open-world setting gives rise to another version of the Riddler’s trophies by means of the Enigma’s blackmail extortion data you must collect and the network relays you must destroy. Both are very addicting to collect and serves a somewhat useful purpose of being able to fast-travel around the map, provided you knock out the power in his main tower.

Detective missions are one of the few if perhaps the only aspect of the series that has been advanced in this iteration, Batman is now able to reconstruct the crime in full to determine what actually happened. This is actually really intriguing to see as the full picture is slowly revealed to you, you’re not really in control bar calibrating the speed of the reconstruction playback to find missing evidence, but it’s engrossing all the same. Other activities include side-missions ranging from meeting up with the less prominent assassins to defusing bombs planted by a revolutionary anarchist.

Arkham Origins is an accomplished iteration in the series, its lacking in its own ideas for the most part and is only too happy to stick rigidly to Rocksteady’s template, but what a template it is.

Verdict: 8/10

+ The best combat system in the business

+ The same, brilliant Arkham gameplay

+ Gripping campaign

+Lots of content

-It really is the same gameplay though

-No innovation or risks from the previous Arkham games