The Arkham Series has left an impression on Batman fans and gamers alike, with it’s simple-yet-complex fighting system, the implementation of villains both popular and less-known, and the recognition that comic-turned-video-game can be successful. That’s why when Rocksteady, developer of Batman Arkham Asylum and Arkham City stepped back into the shadows to let WB Games handle Batman Arkham Origins, it was met with righteous disapproval. After all, you don’t go to the Superbowl with Tom Brady and then start his supermodel wife, Gisele, at quarterback — regardless of the ratings*. To continue that analogy, Batman Arkham Origins could be compared to Gisele playing in the Superbowl and going 17-30, 212 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Sports analogies not your thing? OK, let’s simplify this, Batman Arkham Origins does some things right and a lot of things wrong. Like Gisele, the game is still beautiful to look at and will tease you with promises of a good time, but in the end you may get bored with the repetitiveness of, “Look at me, tell me I’m pretty. No, ignore my other flaws, just tell me I’m pretty.” That’s not to say that Gisele is a whiney attention-whore, but Arkham Origins is.
The “Origin” in the title doesn’t refer to Batman himself, a surprise to most who decide to spend time in the game. Instead, you’re discovering the origin of the relationship of Batman and his arch nemesis, The Joker. In fact, it’s not only your relationship with the Joker that you’re introduced to , but your relationship with a number of other villains. The Riddler, for instance, is simply referred to as “Nigma,” the last name of Edward Nigma who eventually becomes the Riddler. Unfortunately that particular example doesn’t sit well within the game; it seems more that WB Games is showing us that their knowledge of Batman is deeper than we would have expected, but instead it comes off as a desperate way to try and prove that point.
The premise of the game itself is pretty damned decent though, as Batman has a bounty placed on his head by the villain known as Black Mask, while eight lesser-knowns try to collect. Fan-favorites like Bane and The Penguin return and brilliant nods to enemies that appear in the other games are dropped covertly within some of the conversations, but there’s still a feeling of desperation to the rest of them. It’s constant feeling that WB Games dug into the annals of Batman to find low-tier villains, but did nothing to add personality to any of them. Each combat situation with these villains is also done so poorly that it detracts from the entirety of the game.
The thing with the Batman Arkham Series is that the basic combat has always been so well done that players deeply enjoyed playing, particularly with some of the brutal boss fights sprinkled in at precise moments. Origins, on the other hand, is a tale of two battles. First, your basic movement throughout Gotham, hindered by police and thug alike, is smooth and enjoyable. The combat is largely unchanged from the previous games — thankfully. Gadgets can be used to devastating effect, with certain scenarios even allowing for precision setup. Placing traps and luring enemies into them can be magnificently successful. And when your ideal scenario falls apart, a legitimate feeling of panic sets in. Batman is a superhero, after all, but he’s not bullet-proof.
The boss fights are the weakness of the game, though. So much, in fact, that it feels like it was another studio who created them. There’s a sliver of repetition to each battle, even in previous games, but the tediousness of the battles this time around shine through to make them simply unenjoyable. With little instruction and often a mix of real-time/quick-time events, you’ll learn a villains tendencies, only to suddenly have them change and defeat you, resulting in a complete restart of the encounter.
The changes made, things like fast-travel, additional collectibles, and a beautifully designed Bat Cave are examples of what WB Games did well. With the Caped Crusader viewed as a vigilante, having the police looking for you is a brilliant touch. Coupled with the thugs and villains who are out to cash in on Black Mask’s bounty, it’s a nice blend of the various motives. When the Joker finally gets involved though, a third arc is added that gives players a unique look into the psyche of Batman himself. The Joker is an anomaly to him, with no real motives beyond “being crazy”. It’s that relationship, the one we know as arguably the most codependent in comics, that we begin to see develop. The overall story intertwines nameless, random enemies, super-villains, and the Joker to create a wonderful look into the origins of the relationship. The problem is that some of these super-villains are too obscure for most players to recognize and the combat sequences are so poorly done that nobody would want to look deeper into those characters.
Overall score: 6.5 out of 10
NOTE: For the sake of this review, the multiplayer portion of the game was not played and did not hold weight in the final score.