Review: Batman: Arkham Origins
Sequels can be a tricky business, although you wouldn’t think so from 2011’s Batman: Arkham City, the poster child for how to make a perfect follow up. But by successfully expanding upon the first game in a meaningful way, it also asked a very tricky question; what now? Progress must surely hit a brick wall eventually, and the whole ‘prequel’ angle may have been the first clue that ideas were running low. That and the fact that Rocksteady’s Batman baby had been snatched away from them and given to Warner Brothers to raise. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Batman: Arkham Origins is a fairly troubled child.
There’s a few things that bug me about Arkham Origins, the first being it’s name. The game isn’t set in Arkham Asylum, and it doesn’t document Batman’s origins. It takes place in Gotham City and follows Bruce Wayne two years after he first put on his cape and started beating up bad guys. It should have really been called ‘Batman: Gotham City – The Early Years’. So why does a game that’s not made by the developers of the pervious Arkham games make so much effort to associate itself with these titles? Well the answer to that should be obvious.
Don’t get me wrong, Arkham Origins isn’t a bad game, but it is a painfully predictable one. It’s familiar to the point of feeling routine, and lacks the edge and excitement that made the last two games so good. This almost feels like a contradiction, and it’s certainly surprising how a game can be so similar to what came before, whilst also omitting the key ingredients that defined the previous tiles. Yet the same thing happened with Halo 4, which was made under similar circumstances. I’m forced to conclude that other developers may be able to follow a set formula, and create a functional game that fits into an existing series, but that something is certainly lost in the process.
Still, on merit of including existing tried and tested gameplay mechanics, Arkham City Origins is at times quite a lot of fun to play. The highlight for me is still exploration, and Christmas Eve Gotham might not have the immense atmosphere of Arkham City, but it’s an impressive enough location that is fun to explore. You jump off buildings, glide, and grapple, and it’s just as satisfying as ever. You spy on enemies from the top of gargoyles, wait for just the right moment, and jump down and kick them in the face. You get the idea.
But the problem is that there’s this general air of genericness, and this finds it’s way into almost every element of the experience. The level design is predictable, the ‘puzzles’ have obvious solutions, and elements like hacking devices, blowing up walls, and sneaking past vents that blow steam, are familiar and unoriginal. Plus, watching Batman get killed by steam just plain sucks, I mean he’s supposed to be badass.
When it comes to combat, it’s painfully obvious how the enemy positions and high up vantage points pair up, and large open rooms just scream at you ‘some enemies are on the way, and you’re going to fight them. Prepare for a short cutscene!’. All the while you’re on your way to complete another pointless objective. Hack this computer, disable that jammer. In fact the one notable new element, climbing up towers to disable jammers and unlock new fast travel points, feels like it’s been stolen right out of Assassins Creed. And it’s not even original in the ideas it chooses to copy, as Far Cry 3 ripped off this concept first.
The game’s story is entertaining enough, although I personally don’t think it matches the quality of the last two games. A bounty is placed on Batman’s head, and every villain in the city is aiming to cash in on this one day offer. I like the selection of bad guys, but you’re facing one foe after another in a fairly structured and predictable manner. The Christmas Eve setting is also fairly cool, yet I’m a little bit disappointed that the result doesn’t feel more ‘Christmassy’.
Batman Arkham Origins certainly isn’t a bad game, but it epitomises everything that is currently wrong with the videogames industry, and this makes me mad at it. It’s a generic wish wash of ideas that regurgitates the success that came before it, with uninspired levels and familiar gameplay. It’s more of the same, and if that’s good enough for you then go ahead, buy it and enjoy it. But be warned, the creativity and originality that made the last two games so great is no longer here. Lightning doesn’t strike three times.