The Batman: Arkham videogames has arguably become one of the defining series of the current-generation. Sitting alongside Assassin’s Creed, MotorStorm and Mass Effect as experiences born from the increased capabilities of new hardware, Batman: Arkham brought DC Comic’s do-gooder to life in a way that no other videogame had managed. It redefined the superhero videogame with exploration and a combat system that dozens of titles have since tried to replicate, but few have managed to do so with such finesse as Rocksteady Studios.
Now we have received a third outing, Batman: Arkham Origins, created by a different team at a different studio and with a different voice cast. The title of the videogame is actually a ruse: this isn’t Batman’s ‘origins’ at all. You’re not playing the videogame equivalent of Batman: Year One or Batman Begins, Batman is already Batman. However, Batman: Arkham Origins is a prequel to the previous Batman: Arkham videogames and takes place at a time when the Dark Knight’s heroism was still a myth; where the police don’t always appreciate you vigilantism and the bad guys don’t know just how much of a threat you are going to become.
Given the precedent set by the two previous Batman: Arkham videogames many will know what to expect of Batman: Arkham Origins. The core experience is a linear single-player adventure that gives the sensation of freedom by offering a world which for the most part you can move about however you wish. Players are given a number of tools with which to move, interact or fight and the infamous Detective Vision returns to offer clues and help you scout around for those all-important collectables. The combat is just as enjoyable as in previous outings from the series, with the player able to switch from beatdown to counter attack swiftly and elegantly. It feels slightly more demanding than in Batman: Arkham Asylum or Batman: Arkham City, as though the necessary delay between last attack and counter inputs is a moment longer than it has previously been, but this is an adjustment most players will take in their stride.
With the same formula present in Batman: Arkham Origins as has been in the series thus far you could quite easily assume that the videogame experience is of the same remarkably high standard throughout. Sadly this isn’t the case; Batman: Arkham Origins falters on terms of structure. A bigger world doesn’t necessarily make for a better videogame, and Batman: Arkham Origins falls into this trap on more than one occasion. Batman: Arkham Asylum was masterful in its use of limited terrain to invoke a sense of freedom, but as Batman: Arkham Origins offers far more genuine openness it loosens the screws on the player’s activities a little too much. The guide ropes that pull the player through the campaign fall slack every now and then, and the player is headed off by an engagement or challenge that feels out of place.
Batman: Arkham Origins features a number of revisions of its core campaign that become available upon completion a first time around and also the return of the familiar Challenge mode. A brand new addition arrives with Batman: Arkham Origins, as the team at Warner Bros. Montreal bring multiplayer to the series for the first time. It’s an interesting addition which, though unnecessary, will probably extend the life of the videogame for many. The key match type sees two rival gangs competing for turf while being hunted by a much smaller – but far more capable – hero team. The heroes win by filling a meter related to their takedown frequency (which reduces when killed) and the rival gangs can win by claiming the capture points and then finishing off their enemies. It’s a welcome respite from the single-player action for sure, though wouldn’t sit comfortably as reason to buy the videogame alone.
Easily one of the best looking videogames on current-generation hardware, Batman: Arkham Origins has the impressive technical clout of a series on top form. The characters models are simply fantastic at a distance and when zoomed in close, the animation is superb throughout and, bar the unfortunate clipping of Batman’s cape, you’d be hard pressed to find a moment when the suspension of disbelief is broken by the visual design. So too is the calibre of the voice acting, with a new cast sitting in their established roles well and every actor – from protagonist to hired goon – presenting a face that fits well into a cohesive universe. Batman: Arkham Origins doesn’t falter in terms of presentation and further promotes the ideal that the series has legs despite the minor irritations in its campaign design.
The third title in a highly regarded series, Batman: Arkham Origins isn’t quite as respectable as its predecessors. However, both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City set the bar quite high, and so Batman: Arkham Origins is still an enjoyable action videogame despite not measuring up. It’s a messy and frustrating adaptation of a very entertaining template, so if you’re the kind of gamer that can take the rough with the smooth Batman: Arkham Origins is still an easy recommendation. However, if your gaming tastes are rich and you only play the cream of what the industry has to offer, you’ll surely be better off returning to the previous Batman: Arkham titles.