9 July, 2014
Batman Arkham Asylum was one of the finest games ever made and more than that it stood out being the best superhero games till date. Rocksteady had indeed delivered a gem and there was nothing they could have done better…until Batman Arkham City. Arkham Asylum was literally expanded to Arkham City and having an expanded universe had its own advantages. Gotham City was littered with stuff to do, Easter eggs to uncover, Riddler Challenges got more serious…the scope and things to do in Arkham City were infinite. The British studio shot to fame with just these two game and in the process making The Dark Knight game that we all deserved.
WB Studios was quick to cash in on the Dark Knight rage thats going on making the titles almost bi-yearly. Rocksteady adjourned this time and WB Montreal took over to making the next game. Batman Arkham Origins takes place in absolute Shane Black fashion, Batman gets thwarted by assassins assembled by The Black Mask on Christmas eve. This is supposedly a prequel story where we’ve got a Batman who is younger, angrier and almost stamped as a fugitive. A Batman who’s never heard of the entity called The Joker and when he does meet him, it does all sorts of wonders for an otherwise adequately enjoyable game. Story is one of Arkham Origins‘ strong points and its absolutely spellbinding. The introduction to a younger-Joker, looking nefarious as ever, was just mind blowing. I’d say that those are the pieces that makes Batman Arkham Origins, strong. Batman-Joker encounters yet again are one of the finest moments ever in-game. There was this particular sequence where you get to play as the Joker with Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke lines thrown about in plenty. Brilliant! Would have loved to play those sequences again but an option for that was nowhere to be found.
Believe it or not the gameplay mechanics are exactly the same as Rocksteady’s titles. Adopting the single click combat from previous Arkham games, WB Montreal did nothing groundbreaking in terms of combat or gameplay. It was a piece of cake mowing my way through the campaign as all the moves, all the elements of the game came to me as second instinct. If not for the bugs and Boss fights I was pretty sure that I’d never get stuck anywhere. On the gadget front you get Deathstroke’s grappling gun, Electrocutioners Shock Gloves, a concussion bomb, a glue bomb and its nothing much to write home about.
A new addition to Origins is a revamped Detective mode. Batman gets to go in-depth in a crime scene rewinding a scenario and collecting evidences ala CSI. Loved it, unfortunately there were only a few. Initially it did feel like a novel idea but the more I got into it there was not much ‘investigation’ taking place, all you had to do is find evidence and Batman will do the rest ie piecing it together. Despite its minimal involvement, it was a welcome change.
When Arkham Origins was announced we were promised 8 assassins in it but unfortunately all we get a taste of are barely 5 of them. And yes there are boss fights which felt engaging. I was especially absorbed with the Deathstroke fight. But still, where are the rest? With so many villains crammed into one story, a few are unexpectedly sidelined, while more familiar ones, like the Penguin, threaten to outstay their welcome.
Without doubt, Batman Arkham Origins looks entrancingly gorgeous. Built on the Unreal Engine, it yet again amazes me that the decade-old Unreal Engine 3 has still got some serious juice. The texture loading remains a minor distraction but apart from that its really good. The same couldn’t be said about the PhysX engine. Arkham City blew me away with its PhysX integration but in Origins in just felt bland and at times making frame-rate sludgy. Another issue which I found was that Gotham and its streets felt largely underpopulated. Yes there were groups of thugs here and there but it still felt largely desolated compared to Arkham City. To make traversing easy, Fast Travel has been introduced but I never bothered to use it much, as gliding through the city was much fun and if only the weird grappling bug was addressed it would have become a much more pleasing experience. And don’t even get me started about the number of times I’d to go to through the Gotham bridge.
Loads of bugs saturates Origins. Some ignore-able, but others forcing you to reload a checkpoint. I was stuck inside a Radio Tower room, thinking desperately that there’d be a way out but only to realize that it was a stupid bug that wouldn’t let me out. Increasingly frustrating was the grappling hook bug where Batman would hold on dearly to his grappling hook even after pulling him to safety, it was almost akin to the Glide bug from Arkham Asylum. All this lack of polish makes me wonder if this product was rushed.
Although Mark Hamill originally and spectacularly voice-overed Joker for Arkham Asyum and Arkham City, Troy Baker as The Joker did a good job substituting Mark Hamill. Kevin Conroy’s counterpart on the other hand was just passable. The score was a perfect blend between Nolan’s Dark Knight movies and DC’s animated movies and it left me wondering who’d done it. I was instantly familiar with it and when I checked it was none other than Christopher Drake, the guy who’d composed for The Dark Knight Returns DC movie, capturing the best of both worlds, the movies and the animated.
In the end WB Montreal is just playing it safe, using what Rocksteady had already perfected and most of the elements from Origins hurt gamers who expected a bit more. But what it does strong is the story point, the conflicts between Joker and Batman were some of the more engrossing moments in the game. Origins also hints at future events, joining the dots between Origins, Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. Had it been released prior to Arkham Asylum it would have been hailed as the best Batman game for aeons to come. What we have now in our hands is a compelling single player action adventure game which feels more of a DLC to Arkham City than a standalone game-changer. You know a game’s good when you play it for a while take a break, go to sleep and then decide to get up and play it till 3 AM. And its more so when you play as The Batman. “I’m Batman”
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