We must admit we were more than a little worried when it was announced that Rocksteady Studios would not be developing the next Arkham game. Instead the mammoth task of following Rocksteady’s fantastic Asylum and City fell to Warner Bros. Montreal. Having worked on the Wii U version of Arkham City they were an obvious choice but how would they fare with their own brand new Batman game? We’ve been playing through the Xbox 360 version to find out.
Batman: Arkham Origins, as you may have guessed from the title, is a prequel to the previous games. However it’s not a retelling of the origins of Batman or Arkham. Instead it focuses on a period of time a few years before Arkham Asylum. Batman has established himself as a crime fighter but the big villains we all know and love aren’t really on the scene yet. The Origins part of the title refers to Batman’s first meetings with the game’s various villains.
The story begins one Christmas Eve with a disturbance at Blackgate penitentiary. Batman discovers that Black Mask, the leader of the disturbance, has put out a kill contract on him. The promise of the $50 million bounty has attracted eight professional assassins to Gotham in an attempt to collect the prize. It’s an ambitious plot that doesn’t quite work as it’s a bit too convenient to have so many characters in one place while meeting them all in a single night.
Straight away it’s clear that the developers have used the previous games as the foundation for Origins and this is essential to tie the games together. Gotham City is larger than in the previous games giving Batman a great deal of freedom. As it is Christmas Eve the streets are quiet except for the gangs of thugs out to get you. The time of year also brings snow and decorations to make things look suitably different.
You have a variety of ways to get around, including a new Batwing fast-travel, but none are as satisfying as the returning Grapnel gun. This allows Batman to slingshot high into the air after a successful grapple allowing him to glide across the sky. Swooping down on unsuspecting enemies almost never gets old and the fantastic combat system from the previous games makes a welcome return.
If you’ve played the previous games the counter and combo fighting system is instantly familiar. It’s still awesome to take out a large group of enemies but sometimes it does feel like there is a little too much hand-to-hand combat. It’s worth experimenting with all of your different gadgets and trying a stealthy approach to keep things interesting. The boss fights also feel quite repetitive and would have benefitted from some new ideas.
Detective vision returns to allow Batman to investigate crime scenes and it looks as good as ever. A new feature here is the ability to step through an Augmented Reality version of events to find clues.
As well as a change of developer Arkham Origins also sees the departure of Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman. In their place are Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith who both put in great performances.
In addition to the single-player campaign Origins is also the first Arkham title to feature multiplayer with a third person cover shooter offering by Splash Damage (Brink). The mode requires eight players and pits three teams against each other – two teams of three and a team of two. One team of three plays as Joker’s thugs while the other plays as Bane’s thugs. Two players are selected at random to play as the hero team of Batman and Robin.
The two gangs must face off against each other, using a variety of guns and explosives, in an attempt to reduce the other gang’s reinforcements to zero. At the same time Batman and Robin are working together to fill an intimidation meter by eliminating members of either gang. The heroes while less in number have the advantage of gadgets and detective vision to give them the edge.
With a single mode of play and just four maps to choose from the multiplayer doesn’t currently have a lot going for it. This is made even worse by the fact that it’s so hard to find a game. Our attempts to play online have left us frustrated as we’ve spent more time trying to find games than actually playing them.
It seems that we weren’t completely wrong to be worried about the change in developer but on the whole Origins is a successful venture for Warner Bros. Montreal. It would have been nice to see them take a few more risks with single-player to mix things up a bit. However stepping into Rocksteady’s shoes can’t have been easy and we’re sure they’ll feel much more comfortable should they make another one. Fans of the previous games will find plenty to enjoy in Batman: Arkham Origins.