Batman: Arkham Origins is a fun ride, but ultimately tries more of the same stuff we've already experienced.
With the Arkham series of Batman games, Warner Bros. has a winner on its hands. The Dark Knight has never had such a consistently good run in interactive entertainment, and the publisher is looking to release these efforts on a more regular basis.
After shocking the world with Batman: Arkham Asylum, Rocksteady Studios went and completely outdid themselves with Arkham City. A phenomenal locale met wonderful gameplay and a brilliant storyline head-on, and the result was a multi-Game of the Year award winner that most Caped Crusader fans and gamers loved to pieces.
Rocksteady bowed out, and Warner Bros. Interactive tapped the recently formed WB Montreal to create a new entry in the Arkham line. This is how we got to Origins.
As I learned over the course of this origin story for Batman, WB Montreal did well to ape Rocksteady's effort, but the path is starting to feel a little too well tread.
A Surprisingly Well Built Story
Arkham Origins takes place near the beginning of Batman's vigilante career. The cops don't like him, Officer Gordon hasn't teamed up with him, some criminals don't think he exists and, most importantly, Batman hasn't met the joker. This, as the name implies, is an origin story.
Though, it's not the origin of Batman; it's the origin of Batman and Joker. It's the story of how the two collide, how they co-exist and how their affair begins.
I say this is a "surprisingly" well built story because of the writers who created it. Nothing against Correy May and Dooma Wendschuh, the authors behind Origins, but they're up against the work of one of Batman's best pens. Paul Dini created the tales for Asylum and City, and it's crazy that May and Wendschuh were able to even approach his level of quality for the character.
Is Origins as compelling and stunning as City? No, not quite. But the pace, the beats, the characters and the simple twists stack up to a solid tale in the Dark Knight's career. It certainly isn't the best thing ever written for him, but it's strong. You'll want to play in order to learn more, and the tale doesn't even come close to overstaying its welcome. In fact, as it wrapped up, I wanted more. That's a good sign.
Aging Mechanics Say "Take A Break"
I really enjoyed Arkham Origins. I don't want to suggest that this is a bad and tired franchise that needs to disappear for a few years. However, since 2009, Warner Bros. has been dropping a new Arkham entry every two years. Unless they can come up with something completely off the wall for the next, it's time to take a little breather.
The problem with Origins, in spite of its solid story, is that it all feels so incredibly familiar. You'll move through ducts, hang from statues, engage in the same exact combat, upgrade the same gear and toy with, mostly, the same gadgetry throughout this romp. Sure, there's some new additions and tweaks, but this feels like the exact same Batman we've been playing for four years.
For now, it's okay. Origins breaks the mold by introducing the Batcave, adding combat simulation and trying out a few new side missions. These are good, strong additions that make the game feel a little more fresh than it really is.
It does, though, feel too familiar. Arkham Origins feels like an extension of Arkham City rather than a brand new tale in the same universe. The locale, while different, is so similar that it almost feels like DLC in the exact same game.
The series needs a break. Origins is good, but the mechanics are feeling old and tired. If they do this again in another two years, fatigue might set in enough to hurt the experience.
A Word On Bugs, Glitches and Versions
I played through the Wii U version of Arkham Origins. You can see gameplay from my trip through Gotham in the Let's Play episode sitting directly above this paragraph. It was captured on my Wii U through an HDPVR passthrough.
The Wii U version of the game suffered a few framerate drops, but never enough to hurt combat, exploration or visibility. That's the biggest issue I encountered during my time with the game.
However, reports of gamebreaking bugs, glitches and save wipes surround the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC versions of Arkham Origins. As I don't own the other versions of this game, I can't speak to personal experience. However, between friends on Facebook and Twitter and a dash of message board research, I've heard tons of complaints about the other editions of this game. These problems have not been patched, yet.
The framerate drops on the Wii U were annoying, but they hardly compare to the absolutely game breaking problems that accompany other versions of the game. Until a few patches release and error reports dwindle, I give my nod to the WIi U version of the game.
However, and this is annoying, the GamePad features here are awful. The Arkham City port that hit the Wii U last year, while a glitchy mess at first, featured interesting GamePad mechanics. Those disappear with Arkham Origins. I wound up playing through nearly three quarters of the game with my Pro Controller, and I didn't miss a thing.
Take A Bat Break, Then Give Us More.
However, given the fact that we have had three games since 2009, the series is starting to show a little wear. If you've just recently trekked through Arkham City, the game might feel way too familiar to warrant a full priced purchase. Those who played City at release will feel fatigue, but not enough to ruin the experience.
This was a great entry in a strong series from a developer who could have just as easily phoned their effort in on a brand that would have sold with name alone. I was surprised by how much I liked Arkham Origins. Now, let the series breathe and come back when I'm dying for more.
We purchased the Wii U version of Batman: Arkham Origins with personal funds. We played the game to completion before starting this review. After the credits rolled, we stuck around to tackle side quests. We're not 100% done yet.