Actually, Batman: Arkham Origins Was Awesome

Actually, Batman: Arkham Origins Was Awesome

You know what game was actually pretty damned good? Batman: Arkham Origins. You wouldn't know it by looking around online. While the game does have its supporters, a cursory tour of the Internet gives the impression that most Batman fans thought it was a disappointment.

Released last year, Origins had a lot working against it. It was developed by Warner Bros. Montreal, a new "B Team" studio brought in to take over for series creators Rocksteady, which made it feel a bit like an off-year production. It didn't carry on the story of Arkham City but instead backed up to tell a prequel tale about Batman and The Joker. It didn't add a whole lot of new stuff to the punch/kick/sneak/explore formula. And it was missing some key talent from the last couple of games, specifically Batman/Joker actors Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil and Animated Series writer Paul Dini.

These days, most message boards related to the Arkham series are abuzz with excited chatter about Batman: Arkham Knight, the glossy sequel coming early next year. If Origins gets a mention in those conversations at all, it's often as a punching bag. Knight will be made by the series' "real" developer. Warner Bros. Montreal won't be involved at all. Many fans agree that this is a good thing.

A month or so ago I decided I'd finally give Origins a go. Aside from doing one preview of the game's interesting Batman vs. Crooks vs. Crooks multiplayer, I hadn't played it at all. All that talk of Arkham Knight had me hankering for some more Bat-action.

I grabbed it off of Steam, fired it up, and quickly found myself enjoying the hell out of it. The action was perhaps more repetitive, the levels -- particularly the brawling levels -- not quite as well-designed, but generally speaking, Origins is still the fun Batman stuff we got to do in the last few games.

I like the few additions, as well -- sure, the crime-scene investigations are linear and don't really require much detective work, but they're better-done than in City or Asylum, are super cool-looking and they break up the pacing well. Some of the new enemies and gadgets added to stealth and combat scenarios shake things up in a nifty way. It looks phenomenal on PC and it runs well, too, something that could not be said of Arkham City.

For all our hand-wringing about voice actor Roger Craig Smith standing in for Kevin Conroy in the lead role, I actually found Craig Smith's performance to be entirely convincing about 98% of the time. He's Batman. It works.

Actually, Batman: Arkham Origins Was Awesome

Better, though, is Troy Baker, who takes over for Mark Hamill as The Joker. Hamill's are big shoes to fill, and it's easy to write Baker's performance off as "a tribute act." But what he's is doing is a good deal more professional and a hell of a lot more impressive: It's not a tribute, it's a pro-level imitation. He's filling in for a role that someone else already did, and he knows it. The fact that the guy who played Joel in The Last of Us is capable of doing the Joker -- not his own Joker, but someone else's Joker -- and making it this convincing… man. Let no one ever say that Troy Baker is not an exceptionally talented actor.

In fact, I'd say that the story of Arkham Origins is more focused and more effective than the story in Arkham City, for all the latter game's melodramatic shenanigans. Where City felt like a ridiculous hodgepodge of stories transparently designed to put Batman up against as many of his famous foes as possible, Origins deals with more substantial, if familiar, material.

Some spoilers for the first half of Arkham Origins follow.

While the marketing for Origins revolved around the idea of Black Mask putting this big one-night-only bounty out for Batman, the actual game quickly ditches that premise and moves headlong into Batman vs. Joker territory. It casts Batman into the distrusted vigilante of Batman: Year One, a still-young man who isn't quite clear on why he's doing what he's doing, and is still earning the trust of two men -- Alfred Pennyworth and Jim Gordon -- who would eventually become friends and allies.

All good stuff and handled well, despite being ground that's been covered so many times before. But where Arkham Origins really differentiates itself is in its handling of that first meeting between Batman and The Joker. The relationship between the two characters has always been a fascinating one, and Origins makes the audacious decision to explore that relationship from The Joker's perspective.

When Batman finally defeats Joker midway through the game, Joker has been thrown from a building and Batman pulls off one of his signature "grab and grapple" moves, saving both of them.

Actually, Batman: Arkham Origins Was Awesome

Joker can't believe it. "Why would you do that," he admonishes Batman after they land. "I'm the one who's trying to KILL YOU!"

Why did this guy save him? Who is this person? What is happening?

Batman quickly bags the Joker and has him remanded to Blackgate prison. Shortly thereafter, as part of his...uh...therapy...Joker sits down with Dr. Harleen Quinzel

(before she becomes Harley Quinn) and he seems genuinely shook by what he's just seen. We then get to play through this sequence:

"Have you ever had the feeling that your entire life has been building towards this one moment?" Joker asks. He speaks of Batman almost romantically, like the soulmate that he never thought he'd meet. Throughout the entire sequence, we're playing as the Joker as he explores his own psyche and comes face to face with his deep-seated need of Batman. The yang to his yin.

OK, pause. That is some good shit, right there! This sequence appears in a game that so many people write off as a cynical money grab with no good new ideas? When I see Origins sitting at 74 on Metacritic, with critics calling the game a cash-in and saying that it has no reason to exist, I can't help but feel like they're giving a good game an unfair rap.

It's understandable; because games are often seen as iterative software and so many games are sequels, we critics can tend to think of them in those terms. The question stops being "Does this game succeed on its own merits?" and becomes "What does this latest iteration bring to the table?"

Granted, our own Bat-expert Evan Narcisse was considerably more kind in his review, saying that despite feeling more like other people's work than its own thing (fair), the game was generally good and certainly worth playing. And then, of course, the first commenter hopped in to let us know that the game was obviously a total cash-in.

Were the first two Arkham games really good? Yes. Will Arkham Knight be good? I don't know, but Rocksteady's track record indicates it will. Do either of those things preclude Arkham Origins from standing on its own merits? They do not.

If you're excited about Arkham Knight but have yet to give Origins a go, I recommend it. Not only will it satisfy your Bat-cravings for the time being, it's an entirely worthy game on its own.

Plus, you get some gloves that electrocute dudes when you punch them.


Comments

    I found it to be a good game. It definitely didn't add anything new to the series, but as a stand-alone game, it was quite enjoyable.

    TBH apart from the ending of AC, I find AO to be a far superior story and enjoyed it more than AC. AC was ground breaking in its realising an open area but story wasn't as ground breaking. AA still has the strongest story, and a little worried about where AK goes

      I feel the same. Although it was clear to me that AO could have had a little more time in the oven. (The easter eggs stop less than half way) But I felt more like Batman and less like the flying TANK brute from AC. There were so many scenes where Batman was awesomely iconic and the thugs were scared shitless again. (And he did more detective work than previously, which was cool.)

      I'm not saying City was bad, just that I preferred AO. It wasn't much of a step up from AC, but it fixed the issues I had with it.

      AA is still the best though.

    I loved the story, and how it focused so well on the Joker's take of the situation. My only gripe was a couple of objective-blocking bugs, which I assume have since been fixed. Also, I remember performance being a huge problem at launch, but that's also likely been fixed by this late stage.

    Picked up all 3 batman games in the steam sales, was going to do a play through of all 3 back to back and was stoked. Then I got Divinity Original Sin and got side tracked...............oh well just add 3 more games to the pile. OH THE SHAME OF IT ALL !

    I like it a lot. I think it's actually better written and designed than AC was. They replaced some of the more useless gadgets, added the martial artist enemy type, and generally made a pretty good increment on the established formula.

    Unfortunately it's also about as buggy as a game can be, with several bad ones still existing that could force you to restart after multiple hours.

      I know the game has bugs.. But I got the game at launch and in my play through, other than the random performance drop that happened once, I didn't have any issues. That doesn't seem as bad as BF4 or the likes so I do feel saying it's as buggy as it comes is a little harsh.

      But that said, just because I wasn't really affected doesn't mean there are no issues, I wouldn't call my experience the definitive one.

        Not sure if you played it on console or PC, which might make a difference.

        I have it on PC, and I just finished the Cold cold heart dlc on the weekend, so it's pretty fresh in my mind.

        Enemies sometimes just switch off, which can break the game's scripting. Batman will randomly flip around while flying, fall through the floor while ducking into grates, get stuck on ledges, etc.

        They're mostly pretty minor, but they've definitely been regular.

          Oh sorry lol, I played on PC too. Sorry to hear about the problems and it is weird that some people encounter the problems and not others.

    I've been replaying both City and Origins over the past couple of weeks (I also grabbed them off the Steam sales). My thoughts so far:

    - One of the main criticisms of Origins is that it's too same-y. I can definitely understand that, though I do feel it is nicely polished.
    - Another main criticism is that people feel the voice acting and dialogue isn't up to scratch. Honestly, I don't think it's that bad. I also feel people might be viewing City with rose tinted glasses. Replaying it for the first time in a couple of years, I'm definitely hearing some super cheesy dialogue and monotone voice acting.
    - I can see why some people criticise Origins' story in terms of continuity and straying from source material.
    - However, I can absolutely agree with Kirk on the whole Joker-Batman "romantic" relationship. Very reminiscent of Death of the Family, which is rightly lauded for its handling of that relationship.
    - Ditto the Year One-esque Batman still out to prove himself.

    Honestly, I don't think Origins is as bad as many people make it out to be. It wasn't GOTY material or anything, but it was a solid addition to the franchise.

    The two reasons I didn't like Origins: 1) The setting was very samey, 2) the game shipped with game-breaking bugs that weren't patched until about 4 weeks through.

    I think the main problem people had was that AA and AC both were high end products (i.e. 8, 9 out of 10) and AO was about a 7. So, when people on the Internet expect a level of quality and something falls shy of that, they scream. It was a good, but flawed, game. Unfortunately, the screaming makes you think it's a pile of shite.

    I really enjoyed it. As you say, exploring the Batman v Joker relationship from the Joker's perspective was an engrossing experience - particularly the way it involved Dr Quinzel, and had the doubel dynamic of the Joker talking through his attraction to Batman, which in turn generated the attraction of Harley to the Joker. I found the Origins Gotham more interesting to explore, too. Plus, while I agree the detective elements were a bit simple and linear, it was great to play a game where "the world's greatest detective" did some genuinely detailed and involved detecting. To mind, they took the most interesting case from City (the Deathstroke investigation) and made it a continual game mechanic.

    Personally, I think WB Montreal demonstrated that Rocksteady need to bring something extra to the table with Knight, as producing a game "only" as good City isn't enough, because they're not the only ones who can do it. I'm hoping Rocksteady can rise to that challenge and (again) produce something exceptional.

    Side note - Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate on Vita is also an excellent and under-rated game.

    Last edited 15/07/14 10:36 am

    It was a flawed game but totally worth playing if you liked the previous two games.

    Things I liked

    - Bigger Gotham City. While they reused half the map, the reused part had changed enough that you could re-explore it and the new half was nice enough.
    - Voice acting. I missed Conroy and Hamill but their replacements were more than capable, especially Troy Baker who I would be happy to voice the Joker in all future games
    - Story. Honestly didn't see the Black Mask reveal thing coming, and Joker's little psychiatrist sequence was a great nod to the past if you've read up on his origins. Bruce and Alfred's partnership was also a nice touch.
    - Fast Travel. Gliding around as Batman is fun, but sometimes you just want to get to the other side of the city quickly.

    Things I didn't like

    - Glitches, especially that one where Batman couldn't climb into the vent in that tower.
    - Finding thing Anarky symbols rather than Riddler question marks wasn't as challenging.
    - Some of the combat got repetitive where they seemed to up the ante by just throwing in more people who could take a longer beatdown. Then it got too easy once you get the electric gloves.
    - Some boss fights were basically unfair quicktime events, especially Deathstroke.

    I enjoyed it but the fact that they had the glue grenades to fill in for the freeze grenades from AC felt like they were being a bit lazy and the plot threat of someone being dead was diminished as it's a prequel and you know they survive. I did like their explanation for Bane's memory though.

      Yeah the glue grenades acting exactly like the freeze grenades was disappointing, as well as Batman already being able to do all the grapple-glide moves that he wasn't meant to learn until Arkham City.

    It's still sitting on top of my pile of shame

    Eh, 74 is not a bad score. From what I hear, it's suffering from Bioshock 2 syndrome - a good game that just doesn't match what came before it.

    I've avoided it because I gather there's some pretty hefty bugs on the PS3 version which won't get patched. I'm cool with waiting until I get a PS4 and Arkham Knight - if I get a bat-hankering, Asylum and City are still on my shelf.

    I played Origins after the bugs had been patched out so I think I'm more forgiving of it than most people (I had a few big ones but nothing that couldn't be fixed with a reset and some backtracking, so it wasn't game breaking). It did a lot of great things, had some great takes on characters, and while the story was a little flat in some spots it certainly had some fantastic moments. However I still feel it was a poorly designed game.
    Like Arkham City it expanded on a lot of stuff simply for the sake of being bigger than the previous entry. Improving on perfection by simply upping the volume. In Arkham City it worked to a degree. Things were stretched a bit too far but the story kept momentum strong. In Origins they reached the breaking point. The map got bigger and suddenly instead of being able to move quickly and precisely through the shadows you're stuck trying to navigate point-to-point just to reach a high enough point to glide to your destination.
    There were a lot of minor things like that where the game started to feel like a small game stretched across a huge map. Mechanically it wasn't as tight as Asylum or City. Sort of like when you play DLC where the asset creation team has been put in charge. There's tons of detail and the content looks/sounds great but it's missing that design direction that says 'that's a cool idea and it'd look fantastic, but how can we make it feel like it looks when you play it'. You can argue overall the story was better than City, but when the story sagged there was a lot less to fall back on than Arkham Asylum or even City.

    I've said it in regards to Arkham Knight quite a bit - a true Arkham Asylum sequel isn't just bigger. Arkham Asylum's major selling point was that it was tailor built to tell one Batman story and it did that job flawlessly. In that sense Cold Cold Heart was the better Asylum prequel than Origins. The story wasn't just a way to get Batman bigger Batarangs it was telling the story of Batman's first encounter with Mr Freeze.
    When it comes to an Arkham sequel it's not about doing things you haven't done before or having even more access to the world of Batman's Gotham it's about blending game play, art, music and story into an experience that feels Batman in every sense. Driving the Batmobile is a logical next step for a game, and as a game feature I'm sure it's great, but it's not automatically an improvement.
    As great as what we've seen of the Batmobile in action looks I get the impression that the two minutes of screen time it got in Arkham Asylum accomplished more than the full access we'll have to it in Arkham Knight. If you're just making things bigger and better for the sake of being bigger and better you might as well ditch Batman and put Superman in. It's the logical conclusion to this line of thinking.

    Arkham Origins comes at it as a game rather than a story supported by a game supported by the story, and while I'm happy to write Origins off as a mistake from a developer working with someone else's baby it seems like Rocksteady are going down the same path with Arkham Knight which is what really worries me about the whole thing. I'm sure it'll be a great game, I can't wait, but I'm sad that it looks like we'll never see an actual sequel to Arkham Asylum.

    Batman: Arkham Origins wasn't a bad game, but at the same time it seriously wasn't that good of a game either. I wouldn't call it "awesome", sorry.

    I found Batman: Arkham Origins ultimately disappointing, because the game didn't feel like a sequel at all. I'm aware it's supposed to be a "prequel" but please bare with me, it felt like an "expansion pack" of sorts. For starters the entire map of Gotham was two islands awkwardly separated by a really big bridge, one of the islands was seriously the exact same map of Batman: Arkham City, albeit cleaned up and tidier, so to speak.

    Many other things of Batman: Arkham Origins just feel like re-skins as well. The "glue grenade", really? That was simply Mr. Freeze's freeze grenades from Batman: Arkham City. The shock gloves? That's just the electricity-mode thingo introduced in Batman: Arkham City: Armoured Edition for the Wii U and it works the exact same way, that and the shock gloves made fights too easy.

    The inevitable duel against Death Stroke was a let down too. The trailers made the potential battle look amazing but in-game, it wasn't that great, essentially one giant quick time counter-fest, with animations completely re-used from Batman: Arkham City. Which animations? Ra'as Al'Ghul, when he jumps out of nowhere and attacks Batman with his sword, forcing Batman to spam the counter button to block every strike with his gauntlets.

    The game had a lot of glitches too, such as getting stuck in the environment, falling endlessly through the floor etc. It was also well known for some serious slow downs or even out right freezes, which I never experienced in the previous games, although I did experience slow downs in the Wii U version of Batman: Arkham City.

    There was nothing really wrong with combat, I suppose old "if it ain't broke don't fix it" philosophy works here, but at times combat felt very repetitive. I think it was because they tried to throw more enemies at you and fights would drag on for longer, which not only made it feel repetitive but more enemies on screen meant potential slow downs.

    The idea of multiplayer was good, but I never got to play it. Every time I tried to play multiplayer, no one was ever on and should have I been lucky enough to been joined by a few players, we would all wait patiently for a full game but sadly someone would snap and leave, with everyone else following suite.

    I liked the original premise of Origins, and that was Batman up against eight assassins on Christmas Eve, a one night only to kill the Batman. I thought that was awesome. When the game shifted toward a Batman VS Joker story, I was disappointed, I was hoping that Blackmask or at least one of the final assassins would be the overall villain. Still, that all being said, I did enjoy how they fleshed out the starting relationship of Batman and the Joker (from the Joker's perspective) and the final moments of the game were pretty awesome. The new investigation stuff for crime scenes was a cool idea but also felt a little boring.

    The graphics (at least on PS3) looked a bit out of date, but it sounded awesome in terms of soundtrack and voice acting. While I was disappointed at no Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamill, I was really satisfied with the voice acting of Roger Craig Smith (Batman) and Troy Baker (Joker).

    Like I said... Origins wasn't a bad game, but it wasn't exactly a good game either. It felt like a re-skin to be honest and I think it's pretty evident as to why it felt like a re-skin. Batman: Arkham City: Wii U version was released in 2012 for the Wii U and developed by Warner Bros. Games Montreal, where as Batman: Arkham Origins was released in 2013 by the same developer. Short time frame, same developer? Makes sense to me.

    What would of made it a good game was if they didn't prioritize DLC before fixing bugs. Admitedly it seems some of the performance issues I encountered where fixed with patches.

    That said, I believe there were still known bugs to fix which they didn't do because they wanted to get the Mr Freeze DLC out, further adding to my hatred of DLC.

    Last edited 15/07/14 3:09 pm

    I loved Asylum and City, and so thought, "Even if it's not exactly up to par, I'll enjoy it". ANd I was right! Until I got to Deathstroke.
    Now, I've finished City on New Game+ (did Asylum have one too? It's been too long) so I consider myself not all that bad at the Arkham formula. But I died a bunch of times on Deathstroke and haven't gone back because I hate him so much. It's probably worth that initial pain to get to the gold - kind of like getting a vasectomy so you can have protection-free sex - but, like a vasectomy, it's steeling yourself up to do it which puts you off.

      Ffs just deal with it, it's not hard to beat. It's not like we are talking about Dark Souls here.

    For me it's not that it was a bad game, it's actually an absolutely amazing game, it's just that it isn't up to the ridiculous standards set by Arkham Asylum/City.

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