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Batman: Arkham Origins review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • Surprisingly interesting story
  • Polished gameplay and remarkably fun combat
  • Dozens of hours of stuff to punch
  • Batman's new voice is dull
  • Gotham feels oddly empty
  • Poor level design in certain segments

I'm the goddamn Batman, perched atop a snow-covered hat shop and planning my next move. I could go try to find Black Mask--that bastard put a price on my head and now every two-bit criminal with a shtick is trying to gun me down--but it makes more sense to head to the Gotham National Bank. Deadshot's hanging out inside, and he has hostages he's going to start killing if I don't show up soon. Right as I leap from the rooftop and begin to glide, I'm alerted to a crime in progress nearby, so I swoop down to beat the living BAM! POW! out of the chatty thugs. 

I get back up and start heading towards the hostages and--oh, there's a Riddler puzzle nearby. I stop to toss Batarangs at flashing lights, nearly forgetting about the hostages entirely. But it's fine, because I solved the puzzle, and I'm finally at the bank, and there's a cache of weapons nearby that I can destroy? Well, I mean, I might as well, right? They're right there.

Arkham Origins is defined not by its alterations to the near-perfect Arkham formula or improvements to the mechanics, but for its distractions. My boots want me to wander; my Batclaw begs me to explore. And so that's what you'll do, and you'll love it--but for reasons that range from a lifeless city to a full-to-bursting utility belt, you'll find that you love it conditionally.

One problem: this Gotham, as a location, is startlingly uninteresting. Its streets are packed with confused criminals and corrupt cops. There are no people to save or civilians to aid, just plans to thwart and supervillains to cuff. This is partially explained by the snow and a "citywide mandatory curfew," but A) really, guys? That's why folks aren't on the streets?, and B) that doesn't fully justify why the world lacks any personality. Despite being massive and sprawling, it still feels claustrophobic. It's beautiful and haunting, empty and dead, and lacking in any charm or character.

So, yes, the city is pretty lackluster, but probably won't care too much as you beat up everything in sight. The basic formula found in Rocksteady's games is preserved in Origins, creating a closed ecosystem where every single thing is fun to do. Getting a mission? Fun, because it involves interacting with fun characters with fun stories. Getting to the mission? Super fun, because the basic act of gliding around Gotham and swooping through alleys is incredible. Fighting the things you find? It's fun because... come on, you know how fun the combat in Arkham is. Bat's attacks and counterattacks fluidly debilitate foes like a whirling symphony of fists--he's Mozart when the battle begins. It was damn near perfect before, and it still is in Origins.

Much of this greatness can be attributed to the pieces that were already in place, but that doesn't take away from the enjoyment of a 50-hit combo in Freeflow combat, or the feeling you get when you silently clear a room of enemies without being seen. Few games make you feel as capable as the Arkham franchise does, even with occasional framerate drops. This enthralling feeling of power is especially apparent in the new multiplayer mode, which allows two players to control the dynamic duo while six others battle it out as gun-toting gang members. It works slightly better than you'd expect, especially in the rare instances when you're able to play as either Bane or the Joker, but hardly feels like it'll keep you around for more than a few nights of competitive madness.

But then, those pesky conditions crop up again. You'll be experiencing your moment of ecstasy as a whirling dervish of destruction, until you head inside a building and notice the occasionally shoddy level design has you utterly lost. Partially, the problem here is Batman's comically (as in funny, not comic book-inspired) hefty utility belt full of tools. You'll be spraying Explosive Gel on walls, ripping down grates with the Batclaw, launching yourself into the air with the Grapnel Gun, throwing Batarangs at hapless thugs, dropping Smoke Bombs to escape gunfire, and hacking computers using the Cryptographic Sequencer; and that's just what you start with. The game incentivizes you to use your abilities with the inclusion of a leveling system and new "Dark Knight Challenges," which reward you with experience and skills for completing mini-challenges--but it's still a little overwhelming. You'll eventually get the hang of it, feeling like… well, feeling like Batman, but it takes a good long while to reach that level.

Which is a shame, because Warner Bros. had a great excuse to tone things down for Origins. You're donning the cowl of a much younger Dark Knight than previously found in the Arkham games, one who has only been spending money on metal boomerangs for a handful of years. It's an interesting twist and works well, and absolutely could've been used to create a more focused experience. This Bruce Wayne is a less experienced vigilante, creating an opportunity for Roger Craig Smith--Batman's new voice actor--to try something fresh. He doesn't. Instead, it's sort of a dry amalgamation of Christian Bale's "SWEAR TO ME!" and the classic Kevin Conroy take on the character.

Smith's Batman sounds like your friend who does a really good Batman voice. It's fine, but it never rises above the ranks of impersonation--and he certainly doesn't seem to take to the role as well as Troy Baker does to The Joker. Baker's mad clown is absolutely spectacular, and sounds similar enough to Mark Hamill's to be recognizable without feeling too derivative. It's downright impressive, and helps lift up the already surprising narrative, even if some opportunities for greatness in the story are totally botched when Origins tries to be too much.

And that's the biggest problem with Arkham Origins. Remember Batman Begins? Of course you do--it was phenomenal, and you saw it like twelve times. Right at the end of the movie, Batman and Gordon have a rooftop conversation about what this vigilante thing means for the future of Gotham’s criminal element. He uses a word to describe his fear: escalation. Arkham City was big, and in trying to match that size, Arkham Origins strains under the pressure, ending as an extremely fun, flawed journey into an empty Gotham.

More Info

Release date: Oct 25 2013 - Wii U, PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (US)
Available Platforms: Wii U, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Genre: Action
Published by: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developed by: Warner Bros. Montreal
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Blood, Drug Reference, Language, Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes

In many ways, Arkham Origins is a lot like the Gotham that it's set in; weirdly empty, but so much fun that you're going to be able to overlook most of the flaws.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3 and tested on the Xbox 360.

Note: A recent patch has caused issues with the Xbox 360 version of the game, resulting in crashes. We'll update this review once the problems are addressed. 

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25 comments

  • through.the.key.hole - October 28, 2013 1:08 p.m.

    You guys should do a 6 Things We Want to See in the Next Arkham Game!!
  • MrJP - October 28, 2013 12:44 p.m.

    After playing the game for a good few hours today I think this review is one of the best I've found so far in terms of matching my own feelings towards Origins. I would say it deserves an 8 also, with the tried and tested gameplay still holding up well (but Batman addicts can possibly add another point as it is more of the same). It has yet to feel tired or hard to settle in to and all this talk of voice acting feels a bit contrived. Everyone is doing a sterling job, it's only something the hardcore are going to pick up on. My criticisms would be directed at the bugs and glitches I have experienced. In my 5 or so hours of play I have had the game freeze twice and a couple of glitches (like cut scenes stopping and the gadgets failing to work) which are just slight irritations.
  • aristeidis-cholevas - October 26, 2013 7:37 p.m.

    Can someone tell me how can i fixed the problem with the camera every time i am using that device batman use to hack machine's and the camera lock at the botom left corner showing the screen of the device from the opposite site ?
  • xXJayeDuBXx - October 26, 2013 9:01 a.m.

    Great review. Despite the few flaws I still plan on picking Origins up at some point.
  • CharThom - October 25, 2013 1:30 p.m.

    I'm about 5/6 hours in... Not too much different from previous games.. Currently appears more like a Arkham City 0.5, Arkham City added so much to the franchise, this is kind of living on previous merits. Voice Acting was outstanding in the previous titles, I am severley missing Kevin Conroy voicing Batman, it's very noticable how different he sounds and nowhere near as good as Conroy.. Troy Baker's The Joker is very good, not Mark Hamill good, but still very good and as usual Nolan North is incredible with voicing Oswald Cobblepot... Other characters, its hard to notice, there's some characters who appear then disappear before saying a sentence (See The Calandar Man) It so far where I am seems like they're trying to work a bit harder for fan service, the opening part containing The Calandar Man & Killer Croc for a few minutes before they disappear almost instantly, almost like saying "Look!! It's this guy!".. Going from previous titles Asylum & City, where we only saw 1 main villain for the first 10/15 minutes, it is almost jarring seeing a number of them appearing all at once, because only shortly afterwards are we greeted to Penguin, Riddler, Black Mask & someone called Ricky "Loose Lips" LeBlanc? By that point in Asylum we had only seen Joker, Zsasz & teased with Killer Croc.. I know that's only 3 but I can predict (no spoilers) that we won't be seeing Killer Croc or The Calandar Man later in the game, they had their moment to shine and blew it! So far it's enjoyable, not a game changer, but that's not what I wanted, I wanted another game in that incredible universe and a little bit more extras thrown in.. I won't judge to harshly yet, but the first few hours are a bit of dark corridors, good writing and random fan service.
  • udUbdaWgz - October 26, 2013 10:36 a.m.

    does the game have options that allow you to turn off the hud and make the game more difficult?
  • CharThom - November 16, 2013 2:34 p.m.

    There is again "New Game Plus" which does remove the counter warning, but the "I Am The Night" mode is the same as that but when you die, it's game over. Also to update my previous comment, I was bang on the money (In my honest opinion), overall not fantastic, but definitely a game... Yep, that's my best review... 5/10, over to quick, too many enemies not enough focus on one enemy and the final fight, good lord, what a load of sh*t.
  • MyCoolWhiteLies - October 25, 2013 1:24 p.m.

    I also wanted to give my props to the new site layout. That shit is slick.
  • ivan-osorio - October 25, 2013 1 p.m.

    Don't care about the game all that much. Still haven't played Arkham City to be honest.. However: that layout is absolutely stellar, congratulations on the design and coding team[s]. Great stuff right here.
  • db1331 - October 25, 2013 11:37 a.m.

    The new layout is awesome. Seriously. I really wish Rocksteady would give another hero the same level of care and attention to detail as they did with Bats for their game. They could make a fucking amazing Spiderman or Iron man game. I'd rather see that than another game in Arkham City every year.
  • coyoteDUSTER - October 25, 2013 6:04 p.m.

    I would love for Rocksteady to make a MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE game.
  • StrayGator - October 25, 2013 10:52 a.m.

    So I'm the only one to not like the new layout? Keep it lean, guys. You don't want this hefty utility belt to weight you down.
  • ObliqueZombie - October 25, 2013 5:57 a.m.

    WOW, give kudos to whoever designs and coded this new layout. This is excellent! Other reviewers have some of the same complaints you do, Coop. I think as someone who 100%'d Arkham City I can overlook these flaws like you did. My only fear is brand fatigue... Arkham Asylum and City were special breeds of excellence, and I'd hate to see the Arkham brand fall into the disdain of gamers' eyes because it was milked.
  • sagakarikikkaru - October 25, 2013 3:52 a.m.

    I feel like I should mention in batman's earlier career he mentioned wearing a larger utility belt and bringing tons of gadgets because he was inexperienced and that weighed him mentally and physically. All those gadgets made him too heavy and caused him to work harder to just move. Same thing goes for the armored suit. It's early in his career and he hasn't made the sacrifice of functionality over preparedness.
  • Unoriginal - October 25, 2013 3:22 a.m.

    This layout is awesome! Arkham City was my favorite game of 2011. I'm 2 hours into Origins and I'm just... not feeling it. I hope it picks up.
  • Tranquilbez34 - October 25, 2013 1:22 a.m.

    Ahhh the layout got me a little, still awesome I knew that this was going to be an 8/ Four star game as sonn as I saw the E3 trailer, never the less it still looks fun and i'll buy it.
  • shawksta - October 25, 2013 1:07 a.m.

    HOLY SHIT THIS LAYOUT 10/10 LAYOUT OF THE YEAR Great to know, cant wait to play it :3
  • shawksta - October 25, 2013 1:02 a.m.

    First Ace Attorney now Batman comes out too, MY WALLET
  • Redeater - October 25, 2013 12:34 a.m.

    I'm either tripping balls or you guys have a new layout. Looks great. As for Batman, this will tide me over until the Rocksteady game so I really can't complain.
  • GR_AndyHartup - October 25, 2013 2:58 a.m.

    We designed the new layout to make you think that you were tripping balls. So it works!

Showing 1-20 of 25 comments

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