By Jarrod Jones. This is RE/PLAY, where it is I, not you, who is the night. This week Jarrod revisits the third installment of the ‘Arkham’ franchise, ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’, developed by WB Games Montreal and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.
THE GAME: Batman: Arkham Origins
THE CONSOLE: PlayStation 3
RELEASE DATE: October 25, 2013
SO… THIS AGAIN? Batman: Arkham Origins is widely considered to be the red-headed stepchild of the Arkham series. (Hell, even famed developer Rocksteady refers to the series as a “trilogy” instead of a far-more-difficult-to-pronounce “tetralogy.”) Aside from the fact that Rocksteady sat this installment out in order to finesse the franchise’s final chapter, Origins‘ infamy may have more to do with its reticence to think outside of Rocksteady’s carefully-constructed box than anything else.
What WB Games Montreal offered us was an Arkham installment that was decidedly more of a garishly designed placeholder, one with all of Rocksteady’s prized innovations and absolutely zero of its own. (Unless you count QTE boss fights as an “innovation.”) Now that future Batman games seem to be at the far end of Rocksteady’s ambitions, I took a look to see if Origins could still accomplish what it was first designed to do: Fill a Batman-shaped whole in my life until a superior game came along.
THE OBJECTIVE: Depending at what point you’re playing Arkham Origins, the objective can vary. Like most Arkham games, there’s an overarching quest to put a stop to the shenanigans of one of Batman’s enemies, but in Origins, we’re provided two — arguably three — major story threads, and none of them really amount to anything.
What begins as a fairly engrossing conceit — Black Mask puts out a 50 million dollar hit on Batman, thus attracting the world’s deadliest assassins to Gotham City where they fight over each other to be the one who put the kibosh on our young Caped Crusader — transmogrifies into a story about a corrupt police force well on its way towards a reckoning with the city’s new vigilante, and more frustratingly, a story about the inevitability of The Joker. (Because god help us if a Batman game didn’t feature The Joker.)
All plot points smush together by the game’s end with a wacky hide-and-smash Boss Fight with Bane, largely because The Dark Knight Rises had come out one year prior and DC/Warners absolutely love commercial synergy. Also, all three stories unfold over the course of a single night — Christmas Eve. The game’s narrative is precisely as insane and directionless as it sounds.
THE MECHANICS: If you’ve mastered the controls of Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, you’ll have little trouble navigating Arkham Origins. The game’s initial walkthrough makes it abundantly clear that there will be no breakthroughs in Batman’s tech, at least beyond what we got in City. (In place of the freeze grenade, Origins gives us… a glue grenade. Nice one.)
Among the precious few gameplay upgrades are the crime scene reconstruction sequences (which I suppose Rocksteady enjoyed enough to put into Arkham Knight). They’re creative in a passive sense — they further mission progress, sure, but as far as interaction in these sequences go, it breaks down like this: Hold onto the X button whenever a red bit pops up and let Batman lay some exposition on you.
Aside from WB Games Montreal doing everything short of copy/pasting the map of Arkham City and elongating it with a ludicrously-sized bridge (padded with indoor environments that funnel you towards your intended goal), there’s nothing on this map that encourages that pioneering spirit — exploration and discovery is distilled down to deep-cut DC Comics references and a couple of winking nods towards Asylum and City.
And you can forget about the stomach-flipping plunges into the abyss found in City and Knight; if you decide to revisit Origins and feel like experiencing some cape-swooshing vertigo, the game’s hideously-designed Gotham City makes flinging yourself from the highest pillars of this metropolis practically impossible. In a game with three separate storyarcs, getting around town is somehow its biggest slog. Get used to staring at that Batwing load screen all over again.
MUST WE LOOK BACK? Had Arkham Knight veered but an inch too far into its own bloated havoc, Origins might have been remembered more fondly. But as it stands, with three superior Arkham games wrapped around this little misfire, Batman: Arkham Origins can go hang out with The Killing Joke as one of the many Batman stories that never needed to be told.
RE/PLAY VALUE: 5.5 out of 10