Arkham Origins Has A Greener Batman But A More Polished Game
Do I need to introduce Batman with him being so popular right now that he’s set to upstage Superman in the Man of Steel sequel? In fact, I don’t think I even need to introduce the highly acclaimed Arkham series of games. Oops, I sort of just did. Rookie error there, or was it? Even I don’t know. If you really want to see rookies though, take a look at the studio developing Batman: Arkham Origins. A green developer to craft a game around a less experienced Batman and yet somehow they need to to top Arkham Asylum. Now there is a challenge worth some Gamerscore.
Name: Batman: Arkham Origins
Genre: Superman Brawler
Multiplayer: up to 8 players
Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC
Developers: Warner Bros. Montreal
Publishers: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: 25 October 2013
Price: R615 (PS3, Xbox 360), R525 (Wii U), R435 (PC)
Back in 2009, nobody had heard of a little British developer named Rocksteady. They’d done a couple of games that nobody paid much attention to but by the end of that year they were looking at Game of the Year nominations for Batman: Arkham Asylum. Arguably the best comic book hero game to ever be made, a great piece of Batman fiction and one of my personal favourites. So why this history lesson? Especially since the keen-eyed among you will have noticed that theirs is not the name listed next to “Developers.”
The new developer, Warner Bros. Montreal is in much the same position. They haven’t done much and certainly nothing noteworthy and yet they’ve been picked to produce a new Batman title while Rocksteady works on something else. They’re inexperienced but fortunately they don’t need to start from scratch the way Rocksteady did. Instead they’re taking what Rocksteady built, stripping it down and building around the framework to create something familiar but different.
Arkham Origins centres around a younger Dark Knight only in his second year of donning the cape and cowl. A big emphasis was made to highlight this inexperience and relative freshness to the world of vigilantism. Straight off this is conveyed with a younger sounding Batman, voiced by Roger Craig Smith (Ezio, Sonic The Hedgehog) rather than the grizzlier Kevin Conroy. From trailers, he certainly does a good job.
Many regard the tactical Worlds’ Greatest Detective to be the more experienced Batman whilst the Batman who speaks with his his fists is less experienced. WB Montreal is turning that on its head with a younger Batman who hasn’t honed his skills as much yet and so relies more on his brains. This game will employ detective skills and thinking to solve mysteries or cases and progress further. At least to a greater extent than previous games. Fret not because your precious Free-Flow combat system is very much in tact. More on that later.
Origins is set 5 years before Arkham Asylum and serves as an origin story to Batman’s rivalry with some choice entries from his rogues gallery rather than an origin story for the Dark Knight himself. That said, he’s still young and learning so let’s hope for some character development. The prime antagonist takes the form of Black Mask, the head of a crime empire who is scarier than finding an empty Nutella jar in the cupboard.
It goes that Black Mask wants Batman out of the way so instead of hiring one hitman after another, he puts a $50 000 bounty on the Bat’s head and invites the best assassins to take a crack at him. You’ll see notaries such as Deathstroke, Deadshot, Firefly and Copperhead. You’ll also come across familiar faces such as Penguin, Bane and Mad Hatter along with newbies such as Anarky. Of course, no set of Bat-villains is complete without the Clown Prince of Crime – Joker. Expect him to upstage Black Mask towards the end and completely steal the show. Granted he’s being voiced by the industry’s current golden-boy Troy Baker rather than stalwart Mark Hamill.
While the premise is perfect for a game, can WB Montreal make a compelling narrative around that? Well with Assassin’s Creed writer Corey May co-writing the game it could certainly be convoluted and overly ambitious. Oh and like the last two games it all takes place over the course of a night, Christmas Eve specifically. There’s a storm coming, Mr Wayne, best pack a Bat-parka.
Gameplay will follow a very similar structure to Arkham City – players are free to roam around and explore the city with plenty of side content. This time however, instead of being confined to a walled off little section of Gotham, players will have free reign over a much bigger part of the city.
There’s Old Gotham which is dingier, darker and dirtier with lower buildings. It’s also what will eventually become Arkham City. Across the bridge is New Gotham – far more metropiltan, cleaner and brighter. There are even large skyscrapers for players to scale and then leap off because what sandbox experience is complete without that?
Traversing rooftops to cross from one end of the map to another would be tiresome and time-consuming so to help you out, there’s now a fast-travel system. Once players disable radio towers in an area, Batman can summon the Batwing to facilitate fast-travel. Unfortunately you can’t take control of the Batmobile or Batwing.
This game will also serve as the first-meeting of Captain James Gordon with Batman and the GCPD is as corrupt as the Nolan movies painted them out to be. For this reason the swat team is on Batman’s heels and we might even see some police chases.
A new “Crime in Progress” system informs you about crimes through Batman’s radio scanner and completing these can help improve your rep with the Gotham City Police Department. They could be simply stopping a robbery or rescuing an officer from gangs or even saving an informant from death. This existed to a degree in Arkham City but wasn’t pushed all too much and there was no incentive to keep saving citizens. The Most Wanted list opens up investigations into capturing smaller villains such as Anarky who plants bombs around Gotham. These function very much like the side-missions in Arkham City where you pursue the villain over a series of small clues and crime scenes.
If you’re looking to hone your skills then the Challenge Maps are still there to either tone your combat or sharpen your stealth. However there’s also a series of Dark Knight challenges of escalating difficulty which promote stealth and combat in a slightly different way though we haven’t really heard much about that.
As I said previously, the gameplay will be pretty familiar to fans of the series although there have been some changes made. Some for the better, some for the dissonance. It makes sense to improve your combat system with each successive game but what WB Montreal needed to do was make the combat system better whilst also making Batman look less experienced. More of a brawler than an experienced and tactical fighter. His movements seem more fluid and practised than before which is great but it causes a dissonance because we’re supposed to believe that this is a younger Batman. It’s a small peeve I have with what’s been shown so far of the game.
What would Batman be without his boyscout level of preparation thanks to his utility belt? Probably a little bit dead. Introducing some all-new gadgets. The Remote Claw allows Batman to tether two objects and pull them together or cause one to hit another. Yes, this can be used to hook two enemies up and laugh at the result. Yes, it is a straight copy of the grapple hook from Just Cause 2. It can also be used to set up a tightrope between two wall points. There’s also the Shock Glove which allows Batman to parry cattle prod/tazer attacks or he could go on the offensive and stun enemies.
The combat system gives far more feedback now to track your performance as a fight progresses. Players can gauge their efficiency and the game will highlight certain achievements such as avoiding damage, using gadgets, multiple takedowns and chaining attacks together. It all results in being rewarded with a block of XP based on your performance.
You’ll have to vary your attacks a little bit more now with two new enemy types. The “Martial-Artist” is fast and slippery but can also counter your counter-attacks. While the “Armoured Enforcer” will need to have his helmet and body armour taken off before you can really do any damage. Kinky but then this is Batman, king of fetishism.
All this XP you earn goes into purchasing upgrades for combat and tech. Gadget enhancements or new moves/combos. It’s up to you. While it was possible to max out all your upgrades in Arkham City, Origins will make players choose how their upgrade tree develops and which areas the player wants to specialise in. This suggests that there is more than one way to complete missions now whereas mission structure in the last game was strictly linear.
Possibly the most noteworthy improvements were made to Detective Mode. It was overused in the first game, tweaked in the second game and now Batman really will have to use his detective skills to rebuild crime scenes using the power of the cloud! No seriously, the details are relayed to the Batcomputer and a crime scene is rebuilt. This new information is then sent back to Batman’s cowl and holographically super-imposed onto the tangible crime scene. Yeah, this excites me a lot.
Players will have to scour crime scenes for clues and chase up leads or follow the trajectory of a bullet into an alley which will open up more clues to investigate and analyse. There will be false clues and real clues. Some clues might even lead Batman onto another crime/investigation entirely.
I mentioned the Batcomputer, that lives in the Batcave which lives under Wayne Manor which lives on the outskirts of Gotham and since Batman isn’t necessarily confined to one place in this game, the Batcave will finally serve as a hub for the game.
Here, you can change costumes, purchase upgrades, access challenge maps and so forth and so on. You can also track how many of the game’s many collectibles you’ve found. Did I mention there’s a new game plus option?
Oh and there’s a multiplayer component because we all know how Batman’s teammates never get injured or killed or shot in the back or driven to insanity or any of those awful things.
It’s called Invisible Predator Online and centres around a gang war between Joker and Bane which Batman & Robin are trying to put a stop to. Just go with it. It is worth noting that in the game’s story, Bruce Wayne has yet to adopt Dick Grayson as a ward but the multiplayer has him as Robin because, well I have no idea why.
It takes on a 3v3v2 format. Gangs win by eliminating the opposing three gang members whilst the heroes win by accumulating enough intimation points through enemy takedowns. It’s your typical third-person shooter arsenal for gang members – assault rifles, pistols and some explosives. At certain points they can even turn into Joker or Bane respectively and level the playing field, so to speak, for a short time. Of course, the Dynamic Duo have all the gadgets you might expect them to have. Except Bat-credit cards and Bat-condoms.
Players can unlock customisations through the multiplayer which can be used on any of the three factions.
Suspected Selling Points
- The series’ pedigree seems to have been maintained with this new game
- No shortage of variety or activities
- Improvements made to Detective Mode
- Enhancements made to the combat system
- The overall game may be too similar to the previous two
- Warner Bros. Montreal is unproven as a developer
Are you a Batfreak such as myself? Then why haven’t you pre-ordered this game yet? If not then listen up. The developer is unproven but what we’ve seen so far looks good though it might end up being too similar to the previous game and feel a little bit stale. Regardless, Batman: Arkham Origins looks very good so far and certainly has an interesting premise with a fresher, slightly different Batman along with a some welcome tweaks to the winning formula. Chances are you won’t be disappointed.