A review (and rant) By JJ Webb
Played on Xbox360: There are few things in life I like as much as superheroes, video games, movies, and my girlfriend. When you add two together, it makes for a rather entertaining evening of me yelling at said girlfriend to backup to get away from the cops and informing her she has a three star wanted level (as she sweetly screams back that she does not drive in real life, so what gives me the right to think she would know how to in a video game).
When you add another combination of them together it is often, in the video game world, a very hit and miss scenario. I can only recall twice in my gaming memory the times where I started to feel like the superhero represented on the box. The first time was Spider-Man 2, where web-swinging has still never felt better. The next time was the mind-blowing feeling of actually being Batman in Arkham Asylum, only to then be perfected and made into one of my favourite games ever in Arkham City.
Mixed feelings about a new game in the Arkham universe coming out but not being made by Rocksteady hit me like a bag of things less cliche than bricks, but effective, all the same. I was excited to play more in this universe, and with the bag of tricks Rocksteady was hopefully leaving with WB Games and with the thought that Jesus or any other powerful deity still loves us, I was feeling optimistic. With the game being out for more than a week now, I have had more than enough time to dwell on it, and my thoughts turned into an opinion…”amazing”!
Arkham Origins is set five years prior to the events of Arkham Asylum. That’s right. Our beloved and often misunderstood playboy turned cowl donning crime fighter is just now getting his teeth cut in the streets of Gotham. We are lead to believe Batman has only been at it for maybe a couple of years, and he is still more or less a legend of Gotham, and not fully realized as the bat fact that he is in later years. With this younger Bruce comes the loss of one of my favourite voice actors, Kevin Conroy. I was very bitter at first, but as I progressed, I started to give some props to this voice actor, and realized he was doing a rather good job at it.
There are other minor changes noticable right away, like the lack of Oracle in constant and helpful communication with Bats, and in her place, Alfred. Also, the intro cut scene that shows Batman getting into the Batwing is pants tightening, and a cool way to show you what will be used as a fast travel tool.
The story somewhat rushes in on you, but all you really need to know is that there is a breakout at Blackgate prison, it’s Christmas Eve, Black Mask is a douche and hires assassins to kill you in one night, Riddler is still only important enough to leave crap absolutely everywhere, and Alfred is pissed you will miss the ham he has been making.
I can see why WB Games could feel the need to rush you into the game and cut the set up short, but these are some characters that have been with me through all of my childhood Saturdays, and I couldn’t help miss a little more back story visually stimulating me to help feed the feeling of purpose for this story. That said, I do appreciate that they don’t act like I have never played an Arkham game before, and it felt right at home jumping in and getting up to all of my bat antics…bantics…batics, there we go.
I had some minor trouble at the start getting use to the slightly faster combat, and the games first boss fight with Killer Croc had me down to some pretty low health. Once I got over that, however, I was hitting those high 40-50x hit combos in no time. The combat feels as good as ever, and the animations are top notch. The different boss fights all feel pretty good, and all have a unique element to them, which is good, as the games villains roster goes fairly deep.
It was when I got to the opened up city of Gotham, itself that I started to feel a little less comfortable. The city looks great, especially with the time being Christmas Eve and Gotham covered with snow fall reminds me of some of my favorite Christmas episodes of the animated series. Where it falls is in the exploration of it all. It somehow felt clunky and not nearly as fluid as roaming around in Arkham City was. Several times I would have Batman clipping walls, not grappling anywhere near where he should have been, and occasionally, even falling through the map.
Ah, now here is where it all really began. It being the games numerous amount of glitches. Yes, indeed. Gotham city has been plagued by something more annoying than the Riddler’s data packs, or its silly attempt at a fun and competitive multiplayer mode (more on that later). It is riddled (figure that one out, Enigma) with bugs. Some of these range from the previously stated falling through the map, to a thug I was not able to finish off because of the God-like powers he was given from being clipped inside a car. I tested this car later to see if I could be granted this ambrosia like gift, but a Penguin thug shot me right in between the ears and my sonar was never the same again. On top of this, the game froze on me around fifteen times. But the three licks it took you to get to the center of this, is nothing compared to the game breaking glitch that was layed on me (like my girlfriend was once we resolved our Grand Theft Auto argument).
Apparently there is a chance for your save file to get corrupted, and since the game saves everything to one file, it doesn’t take the worlds greatest detective to realize that you’re boned. What this meant for me was that my 94% completion with the story, and my 55% done with EVERY OTHER DAMN THING THERE IS in this game, was gone. And yes, I’m aware that I should always have a backup, but a game ending glitch like this should NEVER happen with a released product, let alone one as huge as a Batman release. A patch is suppose to come out to fix these problems, but I doubt that will be enough for me to feel the need to go back over everything, and finish this game to its fullest, like I have with the others.
Don’t get me wrong, I was having fun, and the story was getting better the further I got into it. Once the Joker was revealed, I felt everything had upped the ante. Even though once again missing fan favourite, Mark Hamill didn’t stop this character from being awesome, as other fan favourite, Troy Baker does such an amazing job at the voice, I could hardly tell.
Some of the new additions to the series are really cool, too. The crime scenes being the first one that comes to mind. It’s pretty bad-ass going into detective mode and literally getting to see the crime in question play out in front of you as you discover more clues. It’s additions like this that shape the feel of Batman, as he has always been, and should always be so much more than a brawler, and getting a taste of feeling like an amazing detective is a great direction to lean towards. Having the real bat cave as a sort of HQ is pretty sweet, and it even has a training ground in it that lets you access the different challenge maps, that I thought was neat. You can also have conversations with Alfred here that range from comedic to somewhat emotional, and was a nice touch.
The game also has a not-so-great addition in the form of it being like every other game out there and adding a multiplayer. Unique! Not that there is anything wrong with primarily known single player titles delving into multiplayer. I actually thought Mass Effect 3 did a good job with its version. This version feels lacking, and I got bored of it after only a few matches. It’s a 3vs 3vs 2 gametype where three people play as Bane thugs, three as Joker thugs, and two as Batman and Robin. I guess the multiplayer takes place sometime in the future where a Robin exists. Playing as one of the thugs becomes a very Gears of War like shooter that isn’t anything special, and playing as one of the heroes tasks you with working together to take down the thugs enough times to fill up a bat meter. It all comes across as a great idea, but the execution is lacking and didn’t keep me interested enough to stop playing other awesome online games like GTA Online. There are cool elements, like getting to customize each of your thugs, and buying more loot in a similar fashion to Mass Effect 3’s system. None of this was enough to make this a desirable online game, however, and I forgot about it right away.
Many times throuhout the game I kept wondering about why the hell it was called Arkham Origins. It doesn’t take place in Arkham, and is in no way an origins story. The only thing I could justify was that it was referring to Joker’s origin, as that is something we get to see, and is actually a rather cool moment in the game where you get to take control of the Joker and play through his messed up, albeit happy mind.
Seeing some of these characters five years before we saw them last can be interesting, but it never focuses long enough on an individual to reach anything too exciting. Seeing captain Gordon and an upright Barbara is cool, but the rogues gallery is so full, that you sometimes only get one mission to deal with them, and some happen so early on that I was left with an “oh, guess that’s it” feeling.
With that said, there is tons do to, from the various challenge maps, to the Dark Knight challenges while playing the story, to the case files, and most wanted list where you get to track down some of the random baddies they threw in. Suffice to say, there is enough to keep the completionist, like myself, occupied (you know, if you’re lucky enough to not have the gods take a digital crap on your save file). None of it feels as good as it did in Arkham City, and even after the patch fixes the bugs and problems abound in this game, I will probably replay that long before I experience this Christmas Eve in Batman’s shoes again.