Batman Begins. Again.
While Rocksteady Games busies itself bringing Batman to next-generation consoles, new studio WB Games Montreal has stepped into the breach and produced a final hurrah on current-gen systems. Batman: Arkham Origins is a great cover version, it turns out, recapturing most of what made Arkham Asylum and Arkham City such great games.
It's Christmas Eve in Gotham City and Black Mask has put a bounty on Batman's head. $50 million goes to the super-villain who takes him down and there are eight of them - including Firefly, Copperhead and Bane - lining up for a crack. The Joker works his way into proceedings as well, although it would be very spoilery to say how. This isn't just a straightforward sequence of boss fights in an open world, though - as with previous Arkham games, events conspire and things evolve in a more interesting way than that.
Although this is a prequel to Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, Batman has much of the same equipment along with slightly more baggage. On the equipment front, he is a dab hand at hand-to-hand combat, flowing slickly between strikes delivered with the action button and using a simple counter system to deal with any interruptions. More complex enemy types mix things up, but the fundamentals established by Rocksteady shine through all the way to the end.
Where Does He Get Those Wonderful Toys?
Batman's greatest advantage, though, is in his gadgets, and WB Montreal doesn't sell the series short here either. Batman has many of his familiar tools - explosive gel, batarangs, batclaw, etc - along with Detective Vision, the view mode that lets him see enemies through walls and - along with his trusty grappling hook - gives him the edge in the arena areas where he is invited to pursue his prey via stealthy means to set up takedowns.
WB Montreal adds something to Batman's detection suite, too. He can now reconstruct crime scenes using the Batcomputer, walking among the details of a murder to figure out who shot whom, from where and under what circumstances. It's a straightforward tool and it can only be used in specific areas, but it makes a nice diversion.
Speaking of which, while the story missions in the game take places in special environments accessed at various points around Gotham, in general the city is an open world that you can explore for side missions, solving puzzles set up by The Riddler, defusing Anarky's bombs and dealing with other issues brought to you by friends and enemies alike.
The main story missions aren't bad either. A touch linear compared to their ancestors, they are still strewn with interesting environments and plot twists to keep things interesting. Plenty of interesting characters turn up to add spice to the proceedings and seeing their various lairs - such as Penguin's ship, The Final Offer - is a treat.
I mentioned Batman has more baggage this time. The story in Arkham Origins sees him begin the game as a brash, uncompromising crime fighter, unwilling to countenance cooperation even with good police like Captain Gordon. Will he soften as the game goes on? Obviously we know he does, but the way his story develops - and that of other characters - is handled well by new voice actors and script writers.
Away from the campaign, UK studio Splash Damage chips in with a multiplayer mode where two teams of gang members fight each other with guns and grenades while two other players control Batman and Robin stalking them from above. The simple set-up works well, sowing tension into every encounter, and while everyone starts off wanting to be Batman, it's surprisingly good fun to be gang members too - not least because you sometimes get to control the Joker and Bane as well.
Overall, Arkham Origins feels very much at home in the Arkham series. WB Montreal has recreated much of what made the first two games so exceptional and put it in a new setting with a new story, new missions and new villains. It does feel like a developer parroting another studio's work at times, but when the work is this good it doesn't really matter. Perhaps it lacks the 'wow' moments that added the icing to the delicious cake Rocksteady delivered in Asylum and City, but if that's the worst you can say about Arkham Origins then it still qualifies as a fabulous Batman game.
GAME's Verdict - 9/10
- A great continuation of what made the Arkham games so good.
- New crime scene reconstruction element is a nice addition.
- Multiplayer mode won't last forever but is good fun.
- Riddler challenges and other side elements are passable rather than great.
- Doesn't add a huge amount - feels like a stopgap.
- Campaign is a little shorter than some at around 12 hours.