Electronic devices can be difficult to clean properly as they all have intricate little parts and buttons and switches. I learned that the hardest way possible when I blank-mindedly drooled all over my keyboard after reading a text that said “Wanna review Batman?” I wish I could say that it was regular drool, but it wasn’t. Nope, this drool was one of excitement as I am a Batman fan, and being able to review the latest game had me somewhat excited. That and whole bags of Cheetos and half a case of Pepsi tend to create more of a syrupy substance than regular saliva. Regardless, I accepted my next review assignment without thinking twice.
Batman: Arkham Origins takes us out on our third adventure with the Dark Knight, this time in the form of a prequel. Batman finds himself hunted by eight deadly assassins on Christmas Eve, each vying for the 50 Million dollar bounty placed on his head by Black Mask, Gotham’s Kingpin of organized crime. Batman games can best be described as action adventure, which is also the most pure form of fan service out there. Featuring a vast number of recognizable and obscure characters alike, even those whom rarely follow entertainment of the superhero variety are likely to find something to latch onto here. There in lays the beauty of Batman. He strikes a chord with the average, every day joe-shmo. A regular guy, granted, with some irregular circumstances, takes it upon himself to do what the law cannot and fight crime to protect others from the fate that he suffered as a child. A standup role model, right?
The combat, at its very basic, can be broken down into three buttons. You have a basic attack, a counter strike, and your cape, which is used to stun larger and hardier opponents. All of these commands can further be used to chain together combos and used in unison with some of the more advanced “quick-fire” gadget attacks to bring thugs to justice. Naturally, you have an impressive array of gizmos and toys to play with and utilize for both combat and puzzle solving alike. These include the classics like the Batarang, Homing Batarang, Explosive Gel, and the Bat-Claw. While Arkham Origins includes some new weaponry from previous games, very little of it actually feels that way. Most of the “new” is really just re-skinned “old”, the most guilty of which is the Glue Grenade which I assume was really only changed to fit the story more appropriately. In addition, the new remote line launcher tool felt a little clunky and an unnecessary change from its previous iteration.
Gotham City is truly enormous this time around. Nearly double that of Arkham City, which is saying something, as that was quite the virtual playground. I spent more than my fair share of time just gliding around from roof to roof and enjoying the view. The most interesting point to note here is that for anyone who actually played Arkham City, half of the map is one you’ll recognize from the previous game, only it’s presented during a time of pre-destruction. You’ll get a slight sense of déjà-a-vu, but you’ll also experience something more akin to “new” now and then too. But alas, the map size falls victim to the same thing that so many others do when embarking on a venture such as wild expansion, it just feels plain empty. Sure, there are things to do, but it just feels so widely dispersed. The size of the map was almost unnecessary other than to just show off that it was bigger this time around. More importantly, the sheer scale seemed to interfere with the runtime of the game. More than once I found myself fighting through patches of ugly lag. This kills the mood, especially when you have about ten armed criminals in a circle around you. Why this happened I cannot explain, let alone understand given how well the previous games were in this area.
Credit must be given where credit is due. If I could, I’d like to personally shake the hand of those in charge of Arkham Origins story. It was plain cool in my opinion. I consider myself a bit of a Batman nerd, and nothing grinds my gears more than when characters aren’t treated faithfully to the material. That isn’t an issue here. In fact, it didn’t even cross my mind during my play through. It told a wonderful and logical “origin” story of organized crime, characters meeting each other for the first time, and spiced it all up with gripping twists and inventive boss encounters. Fans will enjoy the various aspects of the narrative while relative rookies of the Batman universe will be just as engrossed too.
If there is one place where these Batman games truly shine, it’s in their art direction. Batman wouldn’t be the imposing figure that he is without a certain measure of darkness, and that measure is a lot. But where there is darkness, light shines the brightest. In Arkham Origins white winter snow blankets the dreary, yet colorfully decorated Christmas streets of Gotham, creating a strikingly glorious contrast of black and white with just a pinch of various holiday hue. This lends itself enormously to not only the tone and atmosphere of the city, but to the gravity of the events in the story as well.
As for the characters presented in Arkham Origins, they are presented no different. Batman’s nemeses are as strong as ever. While some have been seen in previous entries of the series they are depicted with younger faces to match the era this time around. There are also new villains who may or may not come as a surprise depending on how well versed you are in Batman mythos. Regardless, all of these “baddies” brandish a unique and appropriate assassin “look” to them. Two or three of them specifically come to mind when thinking of the themes of color and contrast. Batman himself sports a snazzy new looking suit which, more so than ever before, resembles actual armor rather than a spandex body suit.
I am not the most creative when it comes to music, and quite frankly I don’t see any “music-making” in my future. So it always leaves me a teeny bit awe-struck when somebody else is able to meld together two very different styles to create something that sounds really good. To my surprise, those two things are Batman and Christmas bells. It sounds silly, but I was left with a strange tingly feeling after hearing a few of the key pieces in Arkham Origins score. Other than those few moments, the music is very much a similar experience to the previous Arkham entries, which isn’t a bad thing by any stretch, but it will fail to bring you deeper into this new game. New voices are also present in Arkham Origins too. While jarring at first for those who are used to iconic voices of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, I quickly found that the replacements were more than appropriate. I grew to like them quite a bit,as they give a near seamless transition to a younger Batman and Joker while able to provide a fresh take on these beloved characters.
While not perfect, Batman: Arkham Origins delivers on another exciting entry in the now Batman trilogy. It’s plagued by its scope, but is partly redeemed by what content it does have. An engaging origin story that can be fun to watch and play, it has free flow combat and some of the best eye candy in a Batman game to date. While it may not be the best of the three Arkham games, Origins is still a title that is definitely worth at least a few hours of time for both comic fans and gamers alike.