Rocksteady's Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two very highly regarded games, each selling well enough to garner Game of the Year Editions and numerous awards. For Batman's third Arkham title, Arkham Origins, WB Montreal took the reigns. Whether working on a shortened development cycle or just making sure they don't rock the boat too much, Arkham Origins doesn't reinvent the franchise, thankfully, but it does maintain a near AAA quality production level.
There aren't many comicbook characters more renowned or beloved than Batman, and when it comes to both movies and videogames, The Caped Crusader has faired extremely well overall. In 2009, Rocksteady gave us not only the best Batman title up to that point, but introduced a hand-to-hand combat system that controlled extremely well and looked amazing. Two years later they expanded out of the Asylum and to a greater Gotham City. Now, with Rocksteady stepping aside (working on a next-gen Arkham title no doubt), WB Montreal had the challenging task of doing the third Arkham game. The result is one that doesn't introduce much to the series, has a few technical bugs, but ultimately can stand on its own as a solid game.
In Origins, which takes place several years before Asylum or City on a snowy Christmas Eve, Batman squares off against master criminal Black Mask and the eight assassins he has brought in to take him out. Black Mask has put a $50M bounty on Batman's head and the assassins, including badasses like Bane, Deathstroke, and Copperhead, are all determined to execute that contract. Simultaneously, Batman is thought by many to be a myth, or at the very least multiple people. The Gotham PD see him as a potentially dangerous vigilante, and want to arrest him. With his wits, gadgets, and Alfred providing some overwatch support from the Cave, Batman dives into the long, perilous night.
Arkham Origins continues the third person action-adventure set in a sandbox world. Gotham City, most of which is copied right out of Arkham City, is large and offers plenty of opportunity to area to explore and find Riddler collectibles and engage in a constant supply of random thug encounters, all the while getting to the main story quests at your leisure. A better in-game objective compass and a mini-map would have been nice, and fast-traveling with the Batwing is limited until you unjam the necessary signals from towers spreadout across the City. There are also a variety of relays that need your fist's attention to help pinpoint the Riddler. Actually traversing some of these areas, the massive bridge especially with fast travel, does yield some unfortunate framerate results for some players, myself included to a degree. It's likely something that can be addressed with additional patches, and it's not game-breaking, but it is unexpected and disappointing. Those hoping that Gotham would be alive with NPCs on the night before Christmas will be letdown to know that the streets are practically empty, except for random groups of thugs that you can optional (and sometimes not optionally) drop in on and rough up for some additional XP. An explanation for this austerity is offered within the context of the game's story at least.
Having personally played a lot more of Arkham Asylum than I ever did Arkham City (although I own the GOTYE, I haven't made time to play it), I'm not an ideal source to compare and contrast City and Origins. I can however say that the combat and predator (stealth combat, essentially) encounters are both familiar and fun. A new enemy type can counter your attacks two consecutive times, keeping even experienced fighters on their toes, but otherwise expect plenty of lowly thugs as well as some brutes. You can brush up your skills at the Batcave by partaking in a variety of Challenges, too. The boss fights with the assassins have been mostly enjoyable; a checkpoint during some of these fights would have been welcomed, however. That said, the variety in character-types between the bosses is significant and a plus.
Batman's wonderful toys, i.e., his gadgets, are back with several available right from the start. Batarangs, Remote Batarangs, the Batclaw, Explosive Gel, all of these are at the Bat's disposal to solve simple environmental puzzles and to help him snag Riddler clues and of course scare and/or beat up some thugs. Core upgrades as well as melee fighting and some gadget upgrades are available as you earn points going through the campaign, too, but the progression here felt kind of bland and restrictve. It's worth pointing out that new game plus mode is supported.
Using his Detective Mode, which re-textures the game world as though seen through the eyes of an intelligent device, is as necessary and as useful as ever. New to the game are the (modestly) interactive detective, uh, scenes (not really minigames nor puzzles) in which Batman must reconstruct a crime. It's pretty cool, and it's a much needed tip to the cap to Batman's prowess as a detective. Even though the marketing and most memorable elements to the Arkham series are the combat and predator (stealth combat) elements, this new reconstruction element is pretty sweet. It actually reminded me of Condemned's forensic scenes, although with Origins, the process requires little, or even less I should say, thought or input on the players part. It's more of an interactive in-game cutscene, and I would have loved to have seen more interaction and responsibility placed on the player's shoulders, but even as is it's a positive for the game and the series as a whole.
Origins is also the first Arkham game to offer multiplayer. I have not played much of this, but the jist of it is that there are two randomly selected players who get to be Batman and Robin. These two play with gadgets and stealth, while the others are either on Bane or Joker's squads, with players actually being able to play as Joker and Bane. The combination of these main characters and the mix of stealth combat with guns-blazing combat reminded me of the Spy vs Merc modes in recent Splinter Cell games, although not quite as deep or as refined. I generally resist adding multiplayer modes to games that really don't need it, and I wouldn't have thought any less of Origins had it not included a multiplayer mode. That it does, and how in limited testing it's proved to be both functional and enjoyable, is a notable feat, and I think with some more maps and time, multiplayer Arkham could become "a thing" as both Gears of War and Uncharted multiplayer had achieved.
As far as presentation, other than the framerate problems noted, this is a great looking game. The detail in Batman's uniform, the Christmas decorations, some of which have that sort of creepy, film noir style of look to them, as well as the continuation of the great free-flow combat are all positives. The gripping soundtrack is outstanding and, to prove that I'm not a hardcore Batman or Arkham fan, I didn't even realize that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamil weren't onboard for this game. Other voice actors were used, and I thought they did a great job of capturing their respective characters.
With that, let's get to the summary...