Released on October 25th 2013, Batman: Arkham Origins was the third main entry of the infamous Arkham series. It was a prequel to Arkham Asylum, taking place in a period of time where Batman is still in the process of meeting his deadliest enemies for the first time. Arkham Origins was meant to be the culmination of the task which began in Arkham Asylum and continued in Arkham City, to take the best elements of both stealth and action genres and have them married in a beautiful, bat-filled ceremony. The finest elements of both games should have merged with clear references to the twisted, iconic asylum of the first game as well as the giant urban prison of the second. The main question everyone was asking however – did this game live up to the infamous ‘Arkham’ reputation?
Eight assassins, some of whom are destined to become Batman’s most iconic foes, have been recruited by mysterious, sharply-suited bad guy Black Mask to kill the elusive Bat. With that firmly on his mind, Batman must use his wits, gadgets and his brute strength in order to survive this brutal Christmas Eve and take down all of those who would challenge him.
The setting for the action this time round was, excitingly, to be Gotham City itself, or as we later found out – restricted to just two islands of Gotham City itself. Why the action was limited to just these two islands goes frustratingly unexplained throughout the main story, but what is certain is this – not much had changed since the last time we visited. No apparent reason given as to why the assassins remained on the two islands as opposed to the rest of Gotham throughout the game's narrative – the game's story found no justification to limit itself other than the game’s physical capabilities. As we learned a few months back, the full Gotham map was being reserved for the upcoming next-gen epic Arkham Knight. It's still a plot-hole for me however!
But let’s try to focus primarily on the good first of all.
Arkham Origins looked great too, continuing the tradition of its predecessors by maintaining the graphical beauty of Gotham’s gloomy skyline. The atmosphere was also slightly different this time round too due to an amalgamation of clever design choices, such as the inclusion of Gothic statuesque buildings (a reminder of Tim Burton’s contributions to the Batman lore) as well as a beautiful soundtrack which is very reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s infectious themes in Batman Returns. In fact, if this game has anything over the previous games it is the soundtrack. The music is this game was really distinctive.
The batsuit itself, which in the previous games hadn’t changed much at all (keeping to a simple, comic book-styled appearance), actually looked better than ever. It is a glorious mishmash of both the traditional Arkham look as well as the armoured Batsuit of the Dark Knight trilogy, giving authenticity to Batman’s reputation as a hero to be feared by criminals everywhere. I just wish that they’d make it more customisable. There was an option to unlock more suits through DLC to be used once the main story was completed (as was the case in Arkham City), but it felt like a missed opportunity that the new studio (Warner Bros. Games Montreal) could have embraced more fully in an effort to further distinct this entry from Rocksteady’s original Arkham games. Any changes to the batsuit are, as before, merely cosmetic.
Speaking of which, the voice acting of this game was completely on par with the previous Arkham games. I was concerned by the controversy that both Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy would not be returning to voice the Joker and Batman respectively, but their replacements really embrace the roles and make them unique and appealing. The main story features a couple of large twists but nothing that anyone familiar with the Batman mythos won’t see coming a mile off (there is a very specific cinematic homage to The Killing Joke). Regular Batfans also won’t be surprised at how this game introduces certain characters into the Arkham continuity, but it is all done with the utmost care.
I also tried out the Challenge Mode, which I had avoided with Arkham City. The mode was fun for a short while and the DLC offered multiple playable characters (each with a unique fighting style) that helped to keep things fresh and varied. I imagine this mode would be quite addictive to fans of the combat system, although it would have perhaps been more interestingly implemented in the city, giving players new mechanics in which to navigate Gotham's snowy terrain.