Origins, the third installment of the popular Arkham Asylum series, is a driven by desire to capitalize on the previous installment's success. A shameless product of corporate desire for profit overriding artistic sensibilities. I'm not actually against that as long as it produces something but it didn't here.
Arkham City was a top contender for Charles Phipps' Best Game of All Time. I say that as an unmitigated Batman fanboy and by no means an unbiased judge. Origins builds on Arkham City's engine, map, and even storytelling engine to create itself.
The results are, unfortunately, underwhelming.
|Deathstroke's appearance was most welcome.|
The premise of Arkham Origins is little known Batman villain, Black Mask, has placed a staggering 50 million dollar bounty on our heroes head. This is considered ludicrous by Gotham City's criminals given Batman has only been operating two years in Gotham City and is considered an urban legend by most. Eight of the world's greatest assassins choose to respond along with every crook and corrupt cop in Gotham (the latter of which compromises all of them but James Gordon).
The first problem with Arkham Origins is this premise isn't bad but it's lacking punch. In Arkham Asylum, Batman must rescue Commissioner Gordon. This is a personal motivation and works fine. In Arkham City, there's the layers upon layers of mystery to figuring out Hugo Strange's plot. As Alfred rightly points out, Batman could just stay at home and avoid this mess entirely. Batman retorts the villains are likely to hold Gotham City citizens hostage in order to draw him out, which is great but one which takes awhile to get put into effect.
|The use of lesser-known villains is a welcome treat.|
The next problem is Gotham City feels rather lifeless. I understand it's impractical to try and replicate a modern city of millions and the excuse of both a massive crime wave as well as an epic snowstorm make a reasonable excuse for why only criminals are on the streets. Still, I would have appreciated the level designers throwing in some acknowledgement Gotham City is inhabited. Have there been citizens traveling the streets who need to be rescued, lights on in buildings, and maybe the occasional scarred witness to the Batman's activities.
Travel time is a problem in Gotham City as well. The game world is open from the very beginning, which is usually a plus, but the leaping from rooftop to rooftop in order to cross across the massive islands gets tedious after awhile. The fast travel system cuts down this frustration but it, honestly, feels like cheating. I would have preferred the game to open up the islands of Gotham one by one to make things feels tighter.
|Gotham City during wintertime is quite the treat.|
I have a few more irritations to the game but nothing really concrete. These things don't overwhelm the good in the game, which is mostly carried over from Arkham City but they are certainly notable. So what are the good points of Arkham Origins? The things which stand out as original compared to Arkham City?
The first thing is Gotham City is gorgeous. The environments recycled from Arkham City are altered for their heyday and the dilapidated urban wasteland of the previous game is re-envisioned as a thriving urban metropolis. The new environments are equally entertaining, showing a Gotham City which is in its height of economic prosperity but still an Art Deco nightmare containing a corruption impossible to extirpate.
The Boss Battles of Arkham Origins are a massive improvement over Arkham City's own. Missing from the previous games is the appeal of a Gotham City super-crook showing up and Batman beating the crap out of him. In Arkham City, you have to sneak up on Deadshot and take him out in one blow. In Arkham Origins, you have to beat the crap out of Deadshot numerous times before he finally takes a hostage. THEN you have to take him out in one blow.
There's also the fact battling Deathstroke is like fighting a katana-wielding Captain America, nearly impossible for our hero to defeat and totally awesome. Bane, never used well by these games, is combined with his movie characterization to be the Joker's equal.
|Black Mask is an intimidating guy. Too bad his role is usurped fairly early on.|
There's even a Breaking Bad reference where Batman explains to Alfred that, no, Gotham's criminals do not knock on his door--he knocks on theirs (the actual line is far more badass, however). It's also wonderfully subverted when someone, I won't say who, most definitely does knock on the Batman's door.
In conclusion, Arkham Origins is a game which could have been so much better if it had been edited and tweaked as well as properly play-tested. There's flashes of genius in the game like the absolutely breathtaking Joker level in the Gotham City hotel.
Unfortunately, these are interspersed with long boring periods of grappling around the empty city. Weirdly, I felt like Spiderman since I was doing so much of it. Batman: Arkham Origins is a disappointing game but it's still decent and worth a look at.
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