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WARNING!! Designated Sections Marked MILD SPOILER WARNING!! with END SPOILER TagsAlso all opinions expressed in this review are just that ... opinions. And the opinions contained herein are ***NOT*** Intended to be Malicious. So if anyone is hurt by them, please feel free to express your objections in the comments section. Thank you. That is all. Have a nice day.
I love Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham line of video games. Both Arkham City and Asylum rank among my top favorite video games of all time. Rocksteady displays a level of honesty and commitment in their work that is freakishly rare in today's corporate driven production of video game entertainment. Everything from the controls to the gameplay mechanics to Rocksteady's thorough understanding of all things Batman speaks for them as an exceptional producer of interactive entertainment.
... Warmer Bros. and Splash Damage are *nothing* like that ...
Of course the resounding success of Rocksteady's outstanding contribution to the Batman franchise warranted a cash grab. Because any time there's a success there is money to be had. I had tentative faith in Origins, and despite being an utterly unremarkable and even a tinge disappointing experience, Origins does hold its own. Not for anything WB has done for the game. Oh no! They have Rocksteady to thank for that and fortunately they managed to avoid screwing much of that up. Almost everything else, from the controls to the writing to the scenario design to WB's own contributions to Batman's arsenal are rotten ... to the core.
It's not all bad. The story is engaging if not particularly entertaining, but the characters are flat and uninspired. The only time I experienced something even remotely resembling what could be considered a thrill was during Batman's first introduction to the future Batgirl, Barbra Gordon. While the new actor who replaces Mark Hamil as Joker does an exceptionally stand up job, Joker's lines are more melodramatic than funny. Gone is *all* of Joker's dark humor in favor of cheap theatrics. In fact, humor is something the writers fail completely. Enigma's asinine one-liners are cringe worthy.
Where the story fails is in how it handles the characters. Every last one of them. And Batman narratives are *all* about the characters. Batman fans expecting surprises and revelations should look elsewhere. Many of the most prevalent Gotham personalities are no-shows.
SPOILER ALERT!! selina kyle, talia and ras al gul are never even mentioned beyond a vague allusion to what could be the los. There are no other characters who are closer to bruce wayne personally or more integral to his character, and origin's narrative doesn't even make a meer mention of them. END SPOILERS
About the only recurring major villain is Penguin and he features in one chapter early on and then he disappears for the rest of the game and his presence in the story is just as bland as any other character. With the exception of the Gordons (and Joker), *all* of Batman's A-List rogues gallery are absentee. And the matter of Gordon and Batman's alliance is left unresolved even if Gordon warms up to him a bit. The unresolution of that sub-plot is as sloppy as the rest of WBs work. For some odd reason the story heavily involves Bane, who features in not one but two boss battles, both of which are poorly contrived anal-waste in terms of design and execution. Fans of Alfred should appreciate that there is much more face time spent with him in person and he is very integral to the story this time.
SPOILERS: Ironically, for all the fuss they made about Deathstroke in the marketing material, he shows up out of nowhere for one lame boss fight with absolutely *no* introduction, is soundly beaten and then doesn't appear for the rest of the game except for one short meaningless dialog segment that is shoehorned into the last few mins just before the horrendously anti-climatic combat encounter with Joker in a church (spoilers: it's a QTE ;). Of course there is the extended content featuring Deathstroke. In fact, there is never even *any* mention of Arkham at *all* and Origins only prominently features Blackgate in its plot. So even having the name "Arkham" in the title has absolutely *no* bearing in context. END SPOILERS
The controls are also spotty with Batman failing to mount objects when directed, lagging when attacking and countering in combat, and failing to register spastic context-sensitive commands when initiating stealth takedowns. For the most part controls in the Arkham games have been precise and relatively spot on. Compared to most other games they are nearly perfect. Again, Origins is the exception, with control issues being *far* more obvious than just the occasional feeling that something's a bit off that I've experienced before in its predecessors.
The new developer's contributions to the Dark Knight's arsenal are yet another contribution to the game that is lame and uninspired. They are also overpowered and game breaking, and using them sucks half the fun out of combat and predator stealth encounters which pretty much serves to undermine both of the presiding core gameplay mechanics of the entire series. The shock gloves aren't even new, since they featured in WBs port of Arkham City to the WiiU, and they instantaneously render the methodical care and precision necessary in combat encounters completely moot since they will tear through *any* enemy without having to use any of Batman's various martial arts tricks to overcome their defenses. Just press X to win. The new grapple gun adds nothing new to navigation and puzzle solving since it works exactly like the zip-line gadget in City without the need to find out where to fire it from the correct location. Just look for the obvious attachment point hanging right in front of you. In predator encounters it can be used to immediately string up half the hostiles in any room from gargoyles which instantaneously cuts enemy forces in half as soon as you enter the door. Anyone looking to have a *legitimate* challenge is going to want to avoid using these. The "glue grenade" is *exactly* like the freeze grenades from Arkham City, only now they blow up with sticky goo instead of ice.
The assassin boss battles *should* have been Origin's feature presentation, but if the Arkham series has ever had its low points it's in the boss battles. Origins is no exception, even worse for a title that predominately features a series of name Batman villains whose sole existence in the narrative is to "kill the bat." Only the final boss featuring none other than Bane is complete shite mostly because it is a stealth encounter with a reliance on trial and error - which is a stealth approach as yet unencountered in an Arkham game and the only reason why they are the *only* stealth action games that I don't despise. And to have them on my list of favorite games speaks volumes. Both of Bane's boss fights are cheap because of unavoidable damage. The rest are lazy and uninspired, basically counter-centric normal battles given cinematic flair and some QTEs. The only possible exception is the Firefly battle which takes place at range and is the game's most memorable boss fight if there even is one.
Arkham Origins certainly packs a ton more content than its predecessors. Origins is loaded with dedicated side missions, random encounters and hidden collectables. Half way through and I was remarking on how it seems like I've already been playing longer than it took me to finish Arkham City for the first time. Origins also features a whole new virtual land mass south off the same area Arkham City took place in, with a bridge connecting them that is so big it almost counts as an entirely new section of the map on its own. The additional land mass effectively doubles the size of the game from Arkham City. The existing area explored in City has been given a face lift. A few recognizable locations from City are apparent with a few extensions and additions and reconfigurations added for the sake of variety. This makes the Arkham City area of the map almost completely redesigned. I would have preferred it if we had returned to familiar locals such as the museum or wonder city, but the only interior locations revisted from Arkham City are the courthouse and a small portion of the steel mill.
Another memorable aspect of Arkham City was the clever puzzling players had to perform in order to get at many of the game's hidden Riddler trophies. This time crazy ol Nigma has you going after "data packets" which are Riddler trophies given a new name and a weak premise. The "puzzles" involved in acquiring them are just as lazy and uninspired as the rest of the new developers work. They are so easy they might as well just be lying around out in the open.
One of the best things about the Arkham games WB has managed to retain is the series art direction and minute attention to graphical detail. If there is anything about Origins WB has excelled at it is this. All the more pleasant for me since Arkham's art direction is one of my favorite things about the series, not to mention a common element shared by all my favorite video games. Only the new Gotham Royal Hotel, an entirely new location to the series, stands out to me as the most impressive visual design, however.
Now that we've spoken at length about many of Arkham Origins weak points. Which is more or less anything Rocksteady hasn't already gotten right and WB hasn't managed to screw up (which is reassuringly little) let us get to the real drag of Arkham Origins. Every other low in the game more or less amounts to mediocrity and incompetence, but this is the real ticker. It's the Bugs. And the Glitches. For they are Legion. Granted, these technical issues might be a problem only for as long as it takes for WB to release a patch, but they are no less inexcusable. Again, Rocksteady's Arkham has always been the prime example of polish and refinement in a video game with bugs and glitches so obscure the few there are players had to work *really* hard to find. In Origins, they are *everywhere* and constant and most of them are of the game ending variety. The worst is the freeze issue. Play for any four or five hour period and the game will freeze mid-play at least half a dozen times. Sometimes this happens when loading new areas too. Most damaging is the potential for this issue to corrupt the save file. That's right. Hours worth of progress can be instantaneously trashed as happened to me once or twice. Also, watch out for the Tower of Doom -without getting into details - a glitch encounter that halts forward progress in its tracks and ironically can be circumvented by glitching your way out of it. Also beware of the floor disappearing *right* out from under you after the Deathstroke fight that'll leave you falling through a black void. Sometimes you'll encounter the occasional floating thug or enemies getting stuck in walls and floors and environmental objects. This forced me to restart a predator encounter a few times. Sometimes your quick-fire gadget controls will become unresponsive or Batman will get stuck in fighting stance with his arms up and unable to do anything but walk around. That happened to me too. There are a whole myriad of other reported bugs and glitches of various danger to ones hard won play time. Just *running* the game carries the risk of having your progress wiped out. The technical issues are the A#1 problem *plaguing* Arkham Origins and they speak *highly* of WBs incompetence as a developer. Were it not for this, considering all of Origins other faults, my numerical score would have ranked two points higher.So anyone playing a patched version of Origins, consider the score a 6.75 fwiw.To be clear, Batman: Arkham Origins is not a "bad" game. I know, because I have suffered some truly insufferable video games so I know as well as any what a "bad" game *really* is. No, Origins is the epitome of mediocrity, and even for a mediocre game Origins is one of the "better" ones because it is built on solid foundations. Despite Rocksteady's lauded Batman franchise deserving *much* better, on its own Origins is just sloppy and uninspired. It is no mystery that Rocksteady's honest commitment to the Batman franchise and the making of a good solid video game is the entire reason the Arkham games are such a resounding success. WB and Splash Damage obviously don't care and their work speaks for that. I would even go so far as to consider them incompetent. There *is* enjoyment to be had here as much as frustration, despite the drawbacks, although Origins isn't nearly half as endearing as its predecessors. The heart and soul of the Arkham games does not exist in Origins, but for its sake it is a good if problematic Batman adventure to be had nonetheless.
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