I remember the disappointment felt by every gamer when it was announced that the next iteration of the popular Batman Arkham game series would be made without the series regular Rocksteady Studios.
After all, Rocksteady Studios was responsible for the gaming transformation of Batman franchise, just like Christopher Nolan was responsible to resurgence of the brand in the movies. No longer was the phrase ‘superhero licensed game’ taken as a derogatory term. Rocksteady had turned Batman into a Triple A brand in the gaming industry.
Then the second shock descended. The new game, Batman: Arkham Origins, would be devoid of the series staple voice actors behind the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime. It seemed that the new Arkham was doomed to failure of mediocrity or worse; the deprecation expected from the usual license game.
With everything stacked against the upcoming game, suddenly the gaming press started singing a different tune.
Come E3 2013, those that got to sample the game demo attested that the core of the gameplay remained unchanged and the inclusion of new case work system and a brand new setting added something welcome and new to the franchise.
As the release of the game approached, names of iconic villains appearing in the game started appearing in the news at a fairly deliberate pace and the same game that many people were dreading suddenly became the center of attention and anticipation for the fairly packed month of October.
Was all that media hype about Batman Arkham Origins worthwhile or does the prequel to Arkham games turn out to be as bad as gamers first expected it to be when it was first announced?
So let’s answer that query right off the bat. Even with the change in developers and absence of staring voice talents, Arkham Origins brings an experience that feels right at home as part of the Batman Arkham game series.
The story of Arkham Origins takes place on a Christmas Eve that happens early in Bruce Wayne’s career as Batman.
The game showcases a Gotham city that is still unsure whether the caped crusader exists and a Batman that is used to battling thugs and crime lords but has not had much experience with tackling super villains.
Some might complain that the game’s title; “Arkham Origins” is a misnomer and while it is true that the story might not blatantly tie into the Arkham brand, it does thread into the insanity of villainy found in Gotham and in some ways; its origins.
On the gameplay front, Arkham Origins offers pretty much what was available in Arkham City.
Most of the moves and gadgets from Arkham City are available for use, and though that might seem odd considering that this game takes place years prior to that game, it does help gamers get right in the groove as Batman.
As was the case in the previous Arkham games, Arkham Origins offers players the tools to go head on or eliminate enemies with stealth. And the feeling of taking out enemies while staying unnoticed is as immensely gratifying as ever.
If one chooses to take the less stealthy route, then the hand to hand brawling gameplay features the same fast and free flowing combat mechanics that were made popular in the first Arkham game.
Arkham Origins also maintains the RPG elements similar to the previous games, Batman can earn additional actions, combos and gadget uses through an expanded upgrade skill tree fueled through XP.
Speaking of combat, in addition to beating up gangs of thugs, players are treated several boss encounters which vary significantly from each other and provide a very nice change of pace from beating hordes of similar looking thugs again and again, which, frankly, can get a bit tiresome.
However, all is not rosy in the realm of combat. Some fights have a tendency to go too long and become tedious and the camera occasionally swivels around making it difficult to stay focused in a crowded battle which allows enemy to jump the player from off camera.
Aside from battle, the game also dwells deeper in the detective side of Batman by introducing Case File Analysis sections where Batman has to use his detective sense to piece together clues to solve the mystery surrounding a crime.
But Arkham Origins does not go overboard with these cases and still focuses on Metroid style gameplay of gaining power-ups by defeating bosses and opening new areas to explore through the said powerups.
Just like Arkham City, Arkham Origins features a large part of Gotham to explore which is littered with collectibles, various side missions and ‘crimes in progress’ events. The addition of Fast Travel option really facilitates to alleviate the tedium of going back and forth.
However, this large city of Gotham, which is partially recycled from Arkham City, looks barren. While this is explained through Christmas, snow storm and curfew in the canon but this makes for a dull environment to explore around.
What’s more, even though the environments have good and diversely colored lighting and good snow effects, unlike Arkham City, most of the environments are not diverse enough and share similar feel of dingy urban locale.
Nonetheless, with its great character models, good action and platforming animations as well as some occasionally inspired levels, the game does not look too shabby and comes close to matching the presentation aspects of Arkham City.
While the game does fine in the visual front, it is in the audio department that Arkham Origins truly shines.
Though the vocal talents of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are sorely missed, Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker do a commendable job in their stead. So much so; that, in the thick of the moment, one can sometimes forget that characters are even voiced by someone different.
The other talents also do a terrific job of vocally bringing each of the diverse cast of Batman rogues to life.
Along with the traditional dark and brooding Batman soundtrack, Arkham Origins also features cheerful christmasy tunes that evoke the memories of Home Alone or the feeling of the first Die-Hard movie.
This rare blend of dark and cheerful melodies really gives Arkham Origins a feel that is quite distinct from the previous Arkham games.
Whereas the game already has a lot of gameplay to offer with its main storyline, slew of collectibles, side missions and challenges, the developers up the ante by introducing a multiplayer component to the game for the first time in the series’ history.
The Invisible Predator mode offers the standard third person shoot gameplay with a gang fight between Joker’s and Bane’s henchmen with the difference being that one duo plays as Batman and Robin as they take down both gangs with their gadgets and detective senses.
While a novel concept, this multiplayer component is quite straight forward and might only be a source of continued enjoyment to the ardent fans of the series.
On the whole; from its gameplay to voice acting, Arkham Origins comes off trying its best to mimic the charm of its predecessors which mirrors the real life challenge faced by Warner Brothers Montreal in trying to keep up with the accomplishments of Rocksteady Studios.
While the developers do try to add new elements to the mix, they do not have a major impact on the gameplay and the game comes off as more of an extension to Arkham City than a proper evolution of the series.
In the end, Arkham Origins is more of the same, and considering its pedigree, that is not a bad thing at all.
The game follows a ‘don’t change if it isn’t broken’ philosophy by providing the same action packed, platforming gameplay that was presented in Arkham Asylum and seemingly perfected in Arkham City.
That being said, Arkham Origins does mix it up a little by introducing Case file analysis to the usual detective mode and also offers new gadgets for Batman to play with.
With its open city and various game environments and its colorful lighting and snow effects, Origins seems to match graphical splendor of the previous Arkham Games.
Though the game presents a fairly pleasing visual display at a distance, the empty city, lack of detail up close and similar looking urban environments make the ride a little less sweeter.
While the absence of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill is felt, the effort made by the replacing voice actors is quite commendable and along with similarly solid performances by supporting characters, goes a long way to solidify the feel of Batman and the Arkham series.
The amalgam of dark and moody tunes with the light and merry Christmas jingles creates a remarkably creepy soundtrack to the game that is quite befitting its theme and sets it apart from the previous titles in the series.
Arkham Origins tells an interesting tale that takes the players through the formative moments in the Dark Knight’s career and shows a unique side of Gotham in the holiday season.
However it does not veer far away from the established tropes of the previous games in the series, which seems to be the game’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.
With the main story of the game spanning a respectable length, Arkham Origins ups its replay-ability by offering a myriad of side quests, challenges and collectibles. The game offers even more gameplay by including a multiplayer element, which is a first for the Arkham Series.
Considering the change in development team, Arkham Origin’s most defining quality is its ability to imitate the previous games. While it does not offer much improvement to what was presented in Arkham City and mostly follows the Arkham formula by the book, Arkham Origins is still a greatly enjoyable entry that would provide hours of entertainment to anyone who enjoyed the previous two games.