Batman: Arkham Origins
The Dark Knight is back on consoles courtesy of a new development team. Warner Brothers Montreal takes its first crack at Batman with a prequel to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. The game has some rough spots but it turns out to be a worthy entry in the series and a must own for any fan of the Caped Crusader.
Batman: Arkham Origins takes place many years before the start of Arkham Asylum. In this game you meet a much younger and much more aggressive Batman then the experienced, calm, collected crime fighter you see in the previous games. This Batman makes mistakes and is primarily a lone wolf with little use for any outside help at this point in his career. There is no help from Commissioner Gordon, Oracle, Nightwing or Robin when you meet Batman at this start of this game. He is a one man show assisted at times by Alfred back at the computer in the Batcave who is not afraid to challenge Batman at every step of his journey. Alfred is a much more compelling character in this game then he was in either prior game. He acts as Batman's conscience and some of the best moments in the game are when Alfred begins to question and at times openly voice opposition to Batman's tactics and attitudes toward others. It's a strong story and one that has some unexpected twists and turns and a satisfying conclusion.
The story as a whole is very well done. It has an interesting setup and the story develops well. The story begins with Gotham City's biggest crime lord Black Mask placing a 50 million dollar bounty on Batman's head on Christmas Eve. The bounty draws in eight assassins from throughout the DC Universe. The game takes place during a blizzard although Christmas lights brighten up the otherwise bleak atmosphere.
Each of the assassins functions as a boss fight and WB Montreal has created some of the best boss fights that I have seen in a long time. They are challenging but generally fair. The bosses challenged me but they never slowed me down to the point where I was worried if I was going to be able to get past them but they did make me sweat a little. Batman's battle with Deathstroke happens early on but it is some of the most fun I've had in a long time. I can't say enough good things about how well these have been handled. I hope other games are inspired by this setup or outright just steal it.
There are some new enemy types but overall the core gameplay hasn't changed much from what was seen in Arkham City. I view that as a great thing. There seems to be a segment of the gaming population that gnashes their teeth and wring their hands at every sequel but I'm not one of those people. I want more of what worked before and to that end WB Montreal delivers. If you want a completely new experience where the developer tears down every existing game system and starts from scratch in a new setting then this isn't the game you are looking for. I would argue that you aren't looking for a sequel at all but rather a new IP but to each his own. The combat is the same and flows better then ever. The city is the same but larger. The invisible predator sequences are the same but with more varied environments to stalk criminals in. It's more of the same on a bigger scale and I enjoyed every bit of it.
One of the new wrinkles that has been added are the crime scene investigations. These virtual reality sequences allow Batman to scan in evidence and recreate the crime. It's slick and breaks up the combat nicely. These sequences aren't challenging but they are entertaining. This is a well implemented feature and I hope to see more of it in any potential sequels.
Although this is a prequel, many of the major voice actors from the previous Arkham game are not back for this iteration. Roger Craig Smith steps in for Kevin Conroy to take over as a younger version of Batman. The very busy Troy Baker has a much more difficult challenge in taking over for Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker. Hamill, the famed Star Wars actor, voiced the Joker for more than a decade before retiring after the conclusion of Arkham City. I'm happy to say that both new actors do an incredible job. Craig Smith does an excellent job portraying a less refined, slightly arrogant and more angry Batman. Baker gets way closer to Hamill's interpretation of the Joker than I thought anyone would ever be able to get. It's a stellar job that pays tribute to Hamill's work but stands well on its own. If Hamill is indeed serious about staying retired from voice acting then Baker should be the go-to guy for any animated or video game project featuring the Joker from now on. He's that good in the role.
The only bad thing I can say about the game is that it is buggy. I know of at least one person on my friends list that has fallen through the world and cannot progress. WB Montreal is aware of that issue as well as one that is corrupting save files and is working on a patch. It's a black mark on an otherwise stellar effort. Once these issues get resolved I don't know if I'll be able to come up with any other drawbacks. These are major issues that need sorted out as soon as possible though.
Multiplayer is included but the mode was developed by Splash Damage. Those are the guys that made Brink. You will be seeing Brink again when I put together my list of the worst consoles games of this generation. That should give you some indication as to how much interest I have in trying another one of their products. This game is primarily a single player game and those are the merits I judged it on. If you get anything out of the multiplayer I would count that as a bonus but I wouldn't count on it being much more than that.
Based on the excellent writing, voice acting, gameplay and boss fights of the single player campaign I think you should buy Batman Arkham: Origins now. The only thing to watch out for are the bugs but hopefully by the end of the week those will be a thing of the past.