Batman: Arkham Origins was something I was looking forward to ever since I saw the first trailer, showing Batman facing off against Deathstroke. At first, I was a little shaken to hear that the next Batman game wasn't being handled its original developer Rocksteady but instead, was being developed by WB Games.
I loved Batman: Arkham Asylum and I loved Batman: Arkham City even more. Many will argue that one is better than the other, but what everyone can agree on is that Arkham Origins had a lot to live up to. While it was an enjoyable game it unfortunately lacked the "wow" impact that the previous games delivered before it. Arkham Asylum evolved to that of Arkham City, with a larger environment, new items, new enemies and just a lot of new things in general. Arkham Origins however fails to really deliver anything "new".
Batman: Arkham Origins is set roughly eight years before the events of Arkham Aslyum and Bruce Wayne is currently in his second year of his Batman career. At this stage, Batman is a vigilante, not quite having an alliance with Gordon or other members of the law, while the idea of Batman is considered an urban myth by many of Gotham City. On the night of Christmas Eve, Gotham's most powerful crime lord, Blackmask, offers a fifty million dollar hit for one night only, bringing into Gotham eight of the world's deadliest and possibly strangest assassins and mercenaries, such as Deathstroke, Copperhead, Deadshot, Lady Shiva and Bane to name a few. Batman has never faced enemies of this magnitude before and steps out of the batcave in order to stop these assassins and ultimately to stop Blackmask.
The storyline of Batman: Arkham Origins sounds very exciting, but as the game progresses the game tends to almost forget about the assassins and the original purpose of the plot. Some of the assassin's are actually side quests, so they don't even need to be fought at all. I don't know what to call this, but it is a little disruptive in the game's main plot. The overall plot is not as strong as that of Arkham Asylum or City, but it is still a fun ride for the most part. At the very least, the plot development of Joker and Batman is interesting, as is Batman's slow and untrusting alliance with Gordon.
One interesting point is at the beginning of the game, Alfred Pennysworth mentions to Batman that he should just stay home for the night as the assassins don't know who Batman actually is. Batman declines, suggesting the assassins may try to harm innocents in order to lure out Batman. In a sense that is a fair point, but at the same time it really does feel kind of forced, like the writer's may have totally forgotten this possible point and added it in last minute.
Just like Arkham City, Arkham Origins is a free roaming game set in one of the areas of Gotham City. Despite being set in Gotham City, it really doesn't "feel" like Gotham City. For starters, one of the major areas is essentially copied from Arkham City, albeit cleaned up and not totally destroyed. There's also absolutely no sign of any civillians. The excuse and rather poor excuse for this, is that there's a city wide curfew on Christmas Eve and all residents are expected to be at home, leaving the streets of Gotham completely covered in random criminals and corrupt police officers. It would have probably been difficult to include civillians, but the excuse for the lack of civillians isn't well thought.
Batman is free to travel anywhere he wants in the city, via his grappling hook or gliding with his cape, again just like Arkham City. One new feature is use of the Batwing jet, which is used for the purpose of fast travel. Batman can then use local radio towers as fast travel points, however similar to other games like Farcry 3, the radio tower must be cleared of all enemies and its communications systems to be disabled in order to use it as a fast travel point. Since the city is roughly twice the size of Arkham City, the fast travel system is handy, especially since the two islands you're allowed to travel in are connected by an overly long and annoying bridge.
While traversing Gotham, Batman is free to tackle on side missions of his choosing or can stop a random crime that might be in process. Bad guys robbing a truck, bad guys robbing an ATM, bad guys and corrupt cops fighting each other etc. This offers excellent opportunities to collect more experience points to level up Batman's abilities and gadgets. Some skills and abilities however can only be unlocked by completing specific side quests. To begin with, Batman will start off with a wide variety of gadgets, however over time throughout the game Batman will be required to venture back to the Batcave to collect a new gadget that may be ready, or perhaps he may receive a new gadget in a particular encounter.
The city is also scattered with data pockets left around by Enigma (the Riddler), similar to that of the Riddler trophies in previous games. Finding these data pockets doesn't do much except for unlocking biographies and information about the characters of the game, which fans of Batman can appreciate. Other unlockables include character trophies and concept art.
The free flow combat system remains the same as previous titles, with little new involved. When Batman hits an enemy three times, he will enter "free flow" mode, being able to bounce from one enemy to the next, hitting them all to raise a combo multiplier count. Other attacks such as stuns, beat-downs and one hit take downs can also be utilised in combat. The classic counter returns, allowing Batman to defend himself from incoming attacks. Should Batman be struck, the combo counter will be reset to zero, effectively ending Batman's free flow reign.
Combat is still fun and effective as ever. There honestly isn't much new to combat itself, other than a few new enemy types. Ninjas who can counter Batman's counters, big enforcers who need a serious beat-down to really do any damage, and even venom-enhanced mercenaries. Other than that, combat doesn't offer much else. Hardly a spoiler, but combat becomes ridiculously easy once Batman acquires the shock gloves. As Batman battles, a small energy bar charges beneath the health bar. Upon filling this bar, players press the L3 and R3 buttons together to turn on Batman's shock gloves. Batman will then throw punches that are completely unblockable and will knock down most enemies in a single blow. This is quite similar to the electric combat function seen in Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition for the Wii U.
Multiplayer has finally been introduced to the Arkham series. Multiplayer introduces a three versus three versus two game type. Three players take on the role of the Joker's thugs while the other three take on the role of Bane's thugs. These thugs play similar to that of a generic third person shooter, having limited skills and abilities. It is possible for a thug player to become a villain character, either the Joker or Bane himself. These villain characters offer much more to the battle and are generally more powerful. Finally, the last two players will play as Batman and Robin, being able to use all of their skills and abilities as seen in the single player campaign, not so much Robin as he is only seen in multiplayer.
Joker or Bane's teams simply need to get as many kills as possible to win the match. Batman and Robin must essentially do the same thing, except they have an "intimidation meter" which needs to be filled. Should Batman or Robin fall in battle, their intimidation meter will drain, but successful take downs and knock outs will fill said meter.
As for multiplayer... I actually haven't played it yet. Believe me, it sounds great and I've tried to play it, but on the PS3, no one seems to play it? Every time I log on I'm lucky to find one or two people waiting patiently in the lobby for others to join and to start a new match, but people just end up losing their patience and leaving. From what I have heard, multiplayer is enjoyable, when people actually play it. I've been told that a lot of people tend to leave the game if they can't play as Batman or Robin, since those two characters are given at complete random.
The overall presentation of Batman: Arkham Origins is good, but it is a bit dated. The in-game graphics engine is slowly starting to show its age, looking quite similar to Arkham City with no real changes or upgrades. The full motion video sequences contrast deeply and are quite beautiful to watch. The musical score is very dramatic, epic even, mixing a gothic tune with an electronic sound and throwing in a little bell or two to add some Christmas cheer. For the most part the voice acting is great, especially from Roger Craig Smith (Chris Redfield, Ezio Auditore) as Batman and Troy Baker (Joel from the Last of Us) as the Joker. Baker's performance of the Joker is impressive, it almost sounds like Mark Hamill but that in a sense could be considered an issue... as while he sounds good, Baker more or less sounds like he is trying to replicate Hamill's original performance, rather than come up with his own.
Like a lot of free roamers or sand box style games, Batman: Arkham Origins is not without its bugs. While recently recitifed by patches, Arkham Origins would suffer severe frame rate drop issues when players used the fast travel option. Occasionally the frame rate may also drop in combat, especially when the screen is filled with enemies and there are also other annoying bugs, like Batman getting drapped in the environment, falling through the floor with no escape and finally the occasional in-game freeze. They're not game-breaking, but it is annoying when the only fix available is to restart your console or reload your game.
While overall an enjoyable game with some annoying bugs, my biggest problems with Batman: Arkham Origins is it fails to really bring anything new to the table. Reusing the same area of Arkham City except cleaning it up a little? I got quite annoyed when I discovered this. A lot of Batman's gadgets are very similar or the same as previous games. This time around Batman gets the glue grenade, which acts exactly the same as Mr. Freeze's ice grenades from Arkham City. Maybe I'm just being nit picky, but considering Batman: Arkham City came out in 2011 and Arkham Origins was released in late 2013, you'd think they would implement new features to the game. Arkham Origins doesn't really feel like a sequel, or prequel at all, it feels like an expansion pack of sorts. It's almost like the developers just figured "Hey, we have all this detail from Arkham City courtesy of Rocksteady, let's just edit it a little bit." Not to spoil anything but during one of the boss encounters, the opponent will suddenly disappear, then leap out toward Batman with a sword, requiring the player to spam the hell out of the counter button for Batman to block every single sword strike. The animation sequence, is exactly the same as the Ra's Al Ghul boss fight from Arkham City.
Don't get me wrong, despite my complaints Batman: Arkham Origins is not a bad game at all, I still enjoyed it. It is unfortunately, not a great game like Asylum or City and was overhyped and in the end, disappointing. Batman fans should give this game a go but if you're for some reason not a fan of the Bat, then you honestly won't be missing out on much if you choose to skip this one.