I'm still Batman.
I'm a huge proponent of Rocksteady's Batman games, even forcing Keri_Honea to drop everything and play through the two previous outings, just because we saw them on her stack of shame. How about the Platinum trophy that shines brightly on my PSN account? Getting deeper into Arkham's combat, stealth, and open-world gameplay made me feel more like Batman than ever before, all without the untimely death of my own parents. *knock on wood*
But this new Batman, Batman: Arkham Origins, isn't coming from Rocksteady. WB Games traveled to the sometimes frozen, always French proverbial "video game oven" that is Montreal, Canada to form WB Montreal. There, they focused on porting Arkham City to Wii U before creating this brand new Arkham entry. I went to the proverbial "video game critic oven" of E3 in Los Angeles to go hands-on and see if this new Warner Bros. studio could do Rocksteady's ground-breaking work rooftop-to-alleyway justice.
The typically excellent Warner Bros. symphony swelled and crashed as it introduced this new premise for one-night-in-super-villain-hell, where Batman's greatest enemies have colluded to bring my favorite hero to his doom. The driver behind this cast of Tony Award-winning villains is Black Mask, the notorious gangster who has a black skull for a face. He's invited countless assassins to Gotham with a million-dollar bounty on Batman's head, and of course master-killer Deadshot.
In the open-world demo at E3, I was able to take Batman for a spin with his grappling hook, his gliding ability, and plenty of his signature beat-down-but-never-kill combat moves. I hit R1 on the DualShock 3 and rocketed upwards into the night sky. A double-tap of the X button allowed Batman to fly past the ledge he'd attached to and up into the air. Pulling the R2 trigger put Batman into a dive and pulling back allowed him to gain more speed and altitude in return. I'm happy to report that this felt exactly like Arkham City in every way.
Picking a gap out of the busy Gotham skyline and hurtling towards the ground provided an excellent sense of speed and control, while targeting a thug on a rooftop with a glide kick requires nothing more than a Square button. Batman's incredible training regiment is lost here, because taking up the mantle of Dark Knight is as easy as it's ever been.
I screwed around in the demo, avoided objectives for a brief period of time, and got into a big fight on the streets of Gotham. There, stun, beat-down, dodge, and counter tactics came together as they had in Arkham City's lengthy free-flow challenges. I recalled the tactics I used to… pointy-arm-thing my way to the top, and everything felt right with the horribly dangerous world around me.
Heading into new parts of Gotham hasn't forced WB Montreal to change things unnecessarily. Arkham Origins feels like more of the same at this early point in the title, but that's exactly what I'd hoped for. If the formula is perfect, you don't need to mix things up as much as Rocksteady had to moving from Asylum to City. Origins can relax on its training, but that doesn't mean WB Montreal has copied and pasted Rocksteady's work.
Reluctantly maneuvering through the skies towards my objective, I encountered an in-game cutscene that took control and put a police chopper's spotlight on Batman. Then a shot rang out and the helicopter went down in a flash. Batman's detective mode could reconstruct this crime, but I had to make my way to the street to analyze the wreckage. In previous games, Batman would scan one or two pieces of evidence and be on his merry way, but in Origins players will have to get a bit more hands-on with the whole process.
I scanned the wreckage, found the pilot, and used the L2 and R2 triggers to rewind and fast-forward the crime scene. From there I could identify that a single shot to the chopper's tail brought it down. I used the detective mode controls to identify where the tail fell, and then headed back to the roof to see where the shot came from. I followed the ballistics report to an adjacent roof where a police sniper lay dead. Messing with the analysis further, Batman's voice-over concluded that Deadshot ricocheted a bullet off the wall and into the helicopter to ensure that he could collect the bounty on Batman's head later.
I couldn't pursue him just yet, as another objective had me rushing into a hotel and dispatching thugs in predator mode. I used new gadgets like the remote claw to slam two thugs comically into each other. Then I headed for the elevator and another cutscene took over. Bane subdued Batman, and Joker reared his ugly head. Like many of the world's most dangerous assassins, Joker could use the cash and off his arch-nemesis in one night.
Laughing maniacally, Joker blew up one massive structure, despite having several wired to blow. Here, Troy Baker, yes the same voice of Booker DeWitt and Joel (of The Last of Us), did an honorable Mark Hamill impression. In fact, during the demo I wasn't sure who the actor could be, but he certainly did an acceptable job of replacing the idyllic "Joker" voice in my head. Batman's voice actor, Roger Craig Smith, tried his best, but didn't seem as confident or weathered as Kevin Conroy's turn in previous games, but that's probably fitting since Arkham Origins looks to tell... well, an origin story.
Still, he'll probably grow on me with every punch, every gadget, and every assassin taken down. There's plenty of villains stacked against Batman, but with my careful guidance, he will become the accomplished ass-kicker we deserve, but not the one we need right now. (Sorry, had to do that.) As a diehard fan of Rocksteady's previous Batman games, I'm excited at the prospect of more and I've played enough to trust that WB Montreal will reward fans like me.
Batman: Arkham Origins will release worldwide on October 25, 2013 on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC.