New development team, new storyline – Batman: Arkham Origins, a prequel set in Rocksteady’s triumphant Arkham universe and developed by new studio Warner Brothers Games Montreal, is here. Riddle me this; do WBGM fumble the baton or does the Dark Knight soar? Batfan Dave Green weighs in…
When it was announced, I thought Batman: Arkham Origins was a bit of a cop-out. Arkham City had left this particular Batverse in an extremely interesting place – major events had just taken place, with tantalising plot-lines dangling on the horizon. A prequel, set in the relatively unexplored “Year Two”, would side-step all of this; potentially bringing back any characters killed off in City (and there were a few) and not having to tackle a difficult, but intriguing, storyline. What’s more, Rocksteady were no longer in charge. As they beaver away on something (hopefully a true Arkham City sequel for next-gen), the newly created Warner Brother Games Montreal took the helm. Alarm bells were ringing. Thankfully, the alarm isn’t quite justified – there’s more good than bad here, and the bad is easily fixed. Let me explain.
While there are issues with the game, which I’ll get to later, it would be remiss of me not to mention the annoying, and in some cases, game breaking bugs that are currently blighting the game. It is no exaggeration to say Arkham Origins is THE buggiest game I’ve played all year. It just isn’t acceptable when you’re paying full whack – if a game like Diablo III on PS3 and 360 can launch with a high level of polish and craft, then so should this. At this moment, I simply couldn’t recommend the game until a working patch is released – which is a huge shame as, hidden under the technical shambles, Arkham Origins is actually a very good game.
It’s no Arkham City, and there’s no getting away from that, but as a sequel to one of the games of the generation – from a new studio, no less – it is surprisingly good. Traversing Arkham (which is larger now, possibly a little too large as the streets don’t feel quite as dense) remains a pleasure – it never feels like a chore to travel around Gotham; gliding as Batman feels great and, crucially, is a lot of fun. The combat is as good as ever and the game is a looker (although some character models seem strangely less developed than others). The story is actually good – I won’t go into spoilers but the narrative does a great job of exploring the difference between Batman and his enemies; as well as charting the relationship between Batman and James Gordon and the GCDP. It’s also a thrill to witness Batman’s first encounters with some of his rogue gallery, and WBGM wisely leave enough wiggle room for further sequels set before the events of Arkham Asylum/City.
Multiplayer is workable and diverting – Splash Damage, creators of Brink, have done a good job though it remains to be seen how many people will stick with it; already the servers seem light as many gamers are still hooked on GTA Online, and the next-generation is just around the corner. Batfans will probably find a lot to like here. Which can be said of the whole game, niggles included. And there are niggles. Arkham feels strangely empty – there is a story reason for this but it pushes the story reasons to the absolute limits. It’s a city populated by corrupt police and gangs, all out to kill the Bat. The world’s size may play in to this emptiness – it’s larger than the perfectly sized Arkham City but, crucially, not nearly as dense. There’s plenty to do though – there is extra focus on Batman’s detective skills and case investigations are much improved here; as are the “Most Wanted” missions, featuring some of The Dark Knight’s most famous (and not so famous) enemies early in their careers.
Once the bugs have been fixed, you’ll find a very good Batman game here. It’s not as confident or sure as Rocksteady’s work – their isn’t quite as much worldbuilding here and the story, while good, plays it relatively safe – but you can see a lot of potential here for WBGM’s future work. While it IS more of the same, it’s not a bad thing. While we still want that Rocksteady sequel, I’ve been more than happy to don the cowl again in the meantime. Just get rid of the bugs, please.
Batman: Arkham Origins is available now on PC, PS3, Wii U and Xbox 360.
– Dave Green. He’s on Twitter @davidpgreen83