While I’d love to wax lyrical about superhero lore and crack a whole new round of idiomatic bat jokes, a new review for Batman: Arkham Origins is superfluous if you’ve read the review of 2011’s Batman: Arkham City.
Feeling more like a slightly flawed carbon copy of the series’ two preceding titles, Origins is pretty much more of the same, but MyGaming is here to save the day with five points to help you decide if it’s really worth your hard-earned pennies.
It’s buggier than a prototype Batmobile
Don’t assume for a second that the sub-headline is exaggerating here. Origins is chock full of different glitches and technical faults, ranging from freezing, terrible stuttering audio, clipping problems, and faulty combat takedowns. Worst of all though are the framerate drops, where often there’s so much slow-down that it feels like you’re watching a painful slideshow of your in-laws’ Batman-themed holiday snaps.
These issues seem to be more prevalent on the PC version, although my playthrough on the PS3 suffered plenty of restarts and cursing. Of course there’s the possibility that some of these problems will be addressed in a patch, but you’ll need a fair bit of patience if you’re looking to fight evildoers right this minute.
There’s a batty amount of fluff
Like that unnecessary bat joke, a lot of the game would have you believe that its new stuff makes the experience more engaging, but it’s not long before you realize that most of it is just window dressing.
There’s a Detective Mode where players must piece together evidence from crime scenes to solve murders and the like, and these are recreated in a wireframe 3D style as you fast forward and rewind the scene to figure out what happened. Although this looks suitably technologically advanced and totally down Batman’s alley, it’s impossible to get wrong or misinterpret, and ends up just being a speedbump rather than a proper use of Batman’s keen detective skills.
The story “mechanic” too is mostly a tacked on element over the narrative, where eight assassins are out to kill our hero in one night. Each assassin is unlocked as you progress, but it’s really just a cheap way to draw things out, and actually obscures what’s otherwise a decent plotline. Redeeming the delivery though is a boss fight for each assassin at the end of their sub-plot, and these actually do quite well in providing a fresh challenge and varied gameplay to the experience.
A couple of actual new things
Some stuff is genuinely new to Origins, like the Shock Gloves and Concussion detonator weapons, and the Remote Claw which lets you create tightrope wires or whip objects into enemies. They’re all decent enough additions to an already solid set of combat mechanics, although it felt odd to be getting new gadgets when playing a prequel to the previous two games. (Did Batman leave them in his other Batmobile on the way to the Asylum?)
Fast Travel is also introduced, and it’s a welcome change if you want to quickly nip to the many districts of the city. Sadly I quickly grew to loathe it though, as the FMV sequence that plays every time it’s used stutters terribly and ended up crashing my game several times. Consequently, I often resorted to missioning around the old fashioned way once I’d restarted my console more than once in one play session.
There’s apparently a multiplayer mode…
…but mine refused to connect to the server, so I never got to try the damn thing. Community feedback has largely been negative though, with most players reporting a clumsy shooting setup and wonky weapon targeting as major gripes. Though I’m in no position to comment, I again can’t help but feel that like so many bits of Origins, the multiplayer is a poorly implemented addition that should never have been there in the first place.
New developer, new problems
My final complaint is rather unspecific, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Developed by Warner Bros. Montreal, Origins marks the first time the series has left the capable hands of Rocksteady. While the new team has successfully managed to cookie-cutter almost all the major elements from the last two games into this one, there’s a pervasive sense that it doesn’t all gel together quite like it used to.
The simple yet challenging combat mechanics, for example, remain largely untouched apart from some tweaks, and the navigation through grappling and gliding feel just as effective as ever. However, it all feels a bit slap and paste as the city has a sense of emptiness and pointlessness to it, never really feeling like more than the sum of its parts. Entire sections look a little too recycled from City, and for some reason the lack of any other life on the grungy streets feels apparent for the first time.
It’s hard to pin down why everything feels so disjointed, but I never really felt like I was the Caped Crusader like I did before. The flow of elements and the whole vibe seems to have been lost in crafting parts individually instead of looking at the package holistically, a likely side effect of teething problems from switching devs mid-stride in the series.
While Origins isn’t an atrocious title, it certainly isn’t what we’d expect from the third outing in the series after the first two entries. It’s still fairly fun to play when you’re not repeatedly rebooting the flipping thing, but it’s easily the weakest of the three games and a major disappointment considering the pedigree already established by Rocksteady.
If you’re still dead-set on caped-crime-fighting fun though, I suggest waiting for a hefty patch to manage the bugs, or preferably a bargain bin sale to manage what should be some particularly below-the-bar Batman expectations.