Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City are two of the most critically-acclaimed video games of all time, and for good reason – both titles dexterously blended third-person combat with puzzle-solving in a well molded, visually impressive worlds. The third title in the series, Batman: Arkham Origins, moves back in time, and takes place shortly after Bruce Wayne first donned the cowl.
This is also the first Arkham game to be developed by Warner Brothers Games Montreal, instead of Rocksteady, which handled both Asylum and City. Batman: Arkham Origins debuts this week on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Nintendo Wii U. Is it any good? Well, let's go to the reviews.
The opening shot
"Arkham Origins emerges as a remarkable game that adeptly adheres to Rocksteady Studios’ winning template," argues Scott Butterworth of Xbox Magazine. All the disparate parts – from combat to detective work to gliding and grappling around Gotham – feel just as expertly executed as they always have. And above all else, Origins manages to capture the single fundamental element that defines the franchise by making us feel like Batman – not some mindless action-game facsimile but the Dark Knight himself."
The name of the game, writes Dan Stapleton of IGN, "is a flagrant misnomer – it may be a prequel, but this story is neither about Arkham, nor is it an origin story in any significant way. It’s more of a traditional Batman plot that retreads some of The Dark Knight’s most familiar themes over its roughly eight hours of main story content: a self-destructive insistence on working alone, and how far he’ll go to avoid taking a life – a concept the final battle cleverly toys with. It’s a respectable plot that even concocts a plausible reason for Batman to face so many villains all in one night – a $50 million bounty on his head."
"The story begins as Black Mask, a gangster whose name suggests his costume, puts a hit out on Batman, the relatively new vigilante who has been crimping his business. Eight assassins come to Gotham City looking to cash in," notes Peter Nowak of the Globe and Mail. "The inevitable encounters... often devolve into clichéd dialogue, such as when a bo-staff wielding Deathstroke tells Batman, 'So, we meet at last.' Later, when Batman is looking for his nemesis the Joker, a henchman barks 'Go to hell,' to which he growls, 'Wrong answer.' This sort of stilted back-and-forth is straight out of 1970s Clint Eastwood movies."
"Because this is the first game in the series in which Batman isn’t confined to one part of Gotham," notes Steve Tilley of the Toronto Sun, "the Batwing can be used to travel between preset drop points, once they’re unlocked by disabling nearby jamming towers. It makes the game feel a bit less claustrophobic, maybe even slightly more relaxed."
The world, a counterpoint
"The most noteworthy difference between Arkham Origins and its predecessors is a significantly larger open world," writes Carolyn Petit of Gamespot. "But that larger world has little meaning when the things you're doing in it are the same things the smaller world of the previous game accommodated perfectly well. Grappling up to rooftops and gliding through the air still feel great, but they don't feel any better here just because you have more rooftops to leap from."
The boss fights
"[B]oss battles are one significant area where Origins feels like it's better than its predecessors," writes Evan Narcisse of Kotaku. "The Bane showdowns –yeah, there's more than one – are less of a goad-charge-dodge-attack endurance affair than in previous games. You feel like you're actually fighting and out-thinking the 'roided-out mercenary rather than reacting to his brute force. The fight with Firefly is a nice departure, too, changing up camera angles to top to side and creating a larger playfield for the flying pyromaniac to torment Batman. The reliance on quick-response prompts hasn't gone away but at least it's embedded in duels that show some varying approaches."
The final word
"At its core, despite the flaws, there’s a decent Batman game here, since it still has the basic mechanics of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City," concludes Ray Carsillo of EGM. "But the game could’ve been so much more if WB Montreal had really tried to carry the series forward instead of trying to do their own impersonation."