Batman Arkham Origins Review – The Dark Knight Coasts

It can be scary when a new developer takes the reins of a beloved game series. There’s always that creeping fear that a new team equals a new misguided vision for the franchise, that the new team isn’t as talented as the team that made the series famous, or that they simply don’t know what made the prior games so great in the first place.

Let me be clear right off the bat when I say that all of those above fears are absolutely unfounded when it comes to Batman Arkham Origins. If nothing else, WB Games Montreal has done a spectacular job of taking everything that Rocksteady did right with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, and incorporating it into this prequel that takes place during Batman’s early years.

That being said, one can’t help but get the feeling while playing through Arkham Origins that WB Games Montreal was perhaps so concerned about preserving the legacy of the previous Arkham games, the new team neglected to add anything of substantial significance of their own to the series, outside of a new multiplayer mode for which no one was really asking.

Batman: Arkham Origins
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PS3, PC, Wii-U
Developer: WB Games Montreal
Publisher: WB Games
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2013
MSRP: $59.99 on Consoles, $49.99 on Steam

Arkham Origins takes place during Year Two of Batman’s vigilante career in Gotham City. It’s Christmas Eve, and the villainous Black Mask decides to celebrate by offering up a $50 million bounty for Batman’s head. He even goes so far as to hire a team of eight assassins, ranging from mercenaries like Deathstroke, to psychopaths like Firefly, to monsters like Bane and Killer Croc.

Not content to just let the assassins come to him, Bruce Wayne suits up and sets out to take the fight directly to Black Mask. What follows is a much more personal story than prior Batman games; one that is less about the threats facing Gotham City and the rest of the world, and more about the threats that face Batman himself, and how he reacts to them as a relatively inexperienced rookie in the vigilante business.

Initially slow in starting, the story eventually finds its focus and hits its stride about a quarter of the way in, once Batman’s greatest arch nemesis makes his long-awaited appearance. The Joker shines here as he always does in the Arkham games, and it is especially interesting to see Batman and Joker’s first encounter and how they both react to the aftermath of their confrontation in very different, but also strangely similar ways.

Gameplay-wise, if you played Arkham City, you know what to expect here. This time the action takes place throughout the entirety of Gotham City, rather than the walled-off confines of Arkham. That being said, Arkham Origins doesn’t really do all that much with the added real estate, and as a result, the world feels bigger than it really needs to be.

To help players get around the larger world, Arkham Origins smartly introduces a fast-travel system that is similar to what you’d find in a game like Assassin’s Creed. There are a number of powered-down communication towers strewn around Gotham City, which can be restored by finding them, beating up the enemies guarding their entrances, and then solving a simple puzzle that opens the door to a hackable console. Doing so will open up a fast travel point on your map in that district, and allow Batman to use the Batwing to quickly drop him off in that spot.

Restoring towers is just one of many side activities to indulge in while exploring the city. Batman also has a “Most Wanted” list of villains, and can choose to follow up on one of their side missions. Each side mission typically has its own set of objectives and brief storyline detailing the villain’s motives, but ultimately they boil down to “Go here, fight/disable/destroy/collect this, now go here and do the same thing again.” Though, there are some standouts that I’ll let you discover for yourself.

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9 Comments on Batman Arkham Origins Review – The Dark Knight Coasts

quicktooth

On October 25, 2013 at 4:24 am

Mitch. You didn’t even mention once that the game spectacularly fails to deliver on it’s central purpose- to show a young and inexperienced Batman. “… [A] retread of Arkham City” is not a prequel. It’s a sequel. Batman should, at the very least, have had different bat gadgets that *didn’t* work along with the ones that go on to prove useful. Less sophisticated versions of his later gadgets should have been there, too. Not (I can’t believe I’m saying this) a hard light holographic training area (among other shockers, literally).

You didn’t mention *once* that Batman was in this game made to be extremely brutal- torturing people for information, and brutalising Gotham Police Officers. This (I hardly need to say) is *completely* the opposite of Batman’s character! Batman? A torturer? A criminal against humanity? He’s done everything a person possibly can short of enlightenment and the abilities it brings to *stop* crimes ever happening again! This game does NOT show *any* Batman, much less a young Batman. The only times the game pays lip service to the supposed time period is various villains not recognising him when they meet him, and that he’s not yet be a friend to Gotham PD.

And what about the hideos facial non-animations? What about the paper-thin dialogue (“They’re corrupt!” is all ‘Batman’ offers to try to justify his torture and assault of police officers)? What about the cardboard-cutout-film-set emptiness of the city itself? No citizens. At all. And everywhere mill about small groups of people who the game’s designers *intend* for you to just attack! Just like that! Batman stops crime. He doesn’t commit it. Those may be criminals, but that never means you just assault them- they have to actually commit a crime you know about to warrent being stopped!

Mitch. Almost none of the glaring negatives, a constant positive spin… this review reads like a paid advertisement. What’s going on?

quicktooth

On October 25, 2013 at 4:29 am

Blah blah, typos I didn’t catch the two times I rechecked for them, blah. You all know I make ‘em. “hideous” not “hideos”, “… and that he’s not yet a friend to Gotham PD” not “… be a friend…”.

quicktooth

On October 25, 2013 at 4:42 am

Clarification: You DO say negative things about the game, but as the major (and overwhelmingly bad) flaws the game has go unmentioned in your review, and given what generally seems a purely positive tone, the review *reads like* a spin piece. Also, I’m not sure why you apologised part way through for sounding ‘very negative’; the text all seems very positive to me (excpet for later correctly mentioning the rubbish gunplay in multiplayer etc).

Mitchell Saltzman

On October 25, 2013 at 5:08 pm

@quicktooth
See here’s the thing, those issues that you bring up that you say are the glaring negatives, I view as pretty minor problems, if that.

- Having gadgets that “don’t work” doesn’t sound like it’d make for very fun gameplay, and would just paint the picture of Batman being incompetent rather than him being young and inexperienced. And the glue grenade basically is a less sophisticated version of the freeze grenade.
- Batman never really tortures any police officers in the game. He beats them up in combat, but it is justified in the game that the police force is totally corrupt. Loeb’s been in Black Masks’ pocket for years, Gordon’s treated like an outcast, and crime is allowed to run rampant in the streets of Gotham.
- The facial animations are only hideous on non-named characters, of which there are very few; I dont think the dialogue is as bad as you’re making it out to be, and in spots I think it’s actually pretty great, but you are right about the emptiness of Gotham. Again though, that’s a minor issue to me and it’s at least kind of justified due to it being Christmas Eve and there really shouldn’t be many people in the streets anyway.
- Those thugs that are placed around the city will attack Batman on sight, so it’s hardly like Batman’s just going around beating up innocent people and committing crimes as you say. If you’re the one striking first, well then it’s not likely that you actually care about Batman committing crimes. Plus, come on, it’s a game. They’re placed there so players can have some fun with the combat in between missions.

quicktooth

On October 25, 2013 at 9:33 pm

@Mitchell Saltzman – Thanks very much for the well-reasoned and considered reply. It’s not usual that an article author replies to a comment I make! I’m very glad that we simply differ in our opinions on what flaws really mattered in the game. You know how often the games press is obviously bought and paid for- that’s why I come to Gamefront (plus all the relevant and interesting articles). If this is just a case of a different analysis then that’s completely fine! I don’t even know any other games news site that’s really good (Polygon has it’s moments, but Gamefront is still more interesting), so it’s very important to me to know what is going on in a case like this review. I sadly lack the energy (as a student) to address the points in your reply- exams soon, so my analytical mind has to be used up on that, but I’m sure people will be able to better make up their minds on this game after our exchange. That’s a win in anyone’s book :D .

Mark A

On October 27, 2013 at 7:00 am

I don’t understand the complaint I’m hearing in a lot of places about Gotham being empty. (Mitch didn’t complain about it, which I appreciate.) While it’s true that there aren’t many citizens walking around, wouldn’t it be worse if there were? It’s Christmas Eve AND there are assassins running around, massive amounts of gang violence, buildings blowing up….. I’d probably stay inside too. It would be jarring and strange to be running down the street between gang fights to suddenly see a family out for a nice stroll and some ice cream.

Good review Mitch. I’m glad you didn’t follow what many other sites have done and complain about “major problems” like the new Joker’s voice being half an octave too high or something along those lines.

Swcloud99

On October 27, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I personally think that a Gotham filled with civilians would make for haunting scenarios.
It would allow the writers to make you play has Bruce Wayne infiltrating a socialite party.
Has Batman, you would find yourself having to identify criminals in crowds and prevent crimes with actual victims instead of the limited NPC interaction we’ve had till now.

Dach

On October 28, 2013 at 7:59 pm

I keep hearing people bring up the “emptiness” of Gotham as a sort of negative point.

As it’s been pointed out a few time it is Christmas eve in the games timeframe.

I also know that I frequently drive down the road at night in my city [the capital of my province] at around 9pm at night and I scarcely see a car on the road let alone people on the sidewalks.

From personal experience I remember driving through the downtown at 7:30 pm on December 24th a few years back and it was disturbing how empty the world looked. It seemed like the entire city had just disappeared and all that remained were white Christmas lights and the towering, empty, monolithic skyscrapers.

It was beautiful in a sense.

Garrett

On January 15, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Sorry, but in my experience, Batman has always been a “Professional Vigilante,” if there ever was such a thing. Very professional in how he handles criminals and “dirty cops” alike. All the years he’s supposed to have spent, training to his physical and mental peak, wouldn’t have led to him being, as so many people like to lovingly state, INEXPERIENCED, BRASH, and a BROODING MANIAC! Granted, he is a brooder, but not like this. NOT LIKE THIS!
And I’m sorry, but I grew up with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and The Joker, respectively, and I can’t get over that change above all others! As much as I disdain some of the other changes, those two hurt the most. Kevin Conroy does Batman in a solemn, reverent vein, and Mark Hamill is so completely uninhibited as The Joker. Batman doesn’t go around trying to hurt the world worse than he was hurt. His purpose is to strike fear into the hearts of malevolent giants, and to embolden the weaker people of Gotham to take back their fair city! The Joker doesn’t run around begging for Batman’s attention: he just commits an outlandishly ridiculous crime for the joy of the mayhem, knowing in the back of his mind, that Batman will show up without fail.
This game just was so hurtful.