Batman: Arkham Origins (PC) review

SPOILER WARNING!!!:  I do talk about something I would consider a spoiler for the game’s story, but it’s rather minor and not overly unpredictable.  Use your best judgement.

Batman: Arkham Origins features a much younger, inexperienced Batman than the first two Rocksteady-produced games in the series.  In fact, it’s so early in his career as the Dark Knight that most people don’t believe he really exists, aside from the big bads who are smart enough to acknowledge him as a threat to their criminal operations in Gotham City.  Origins takes place on Christmas Eve, with Black Mask having set up a contest featuring twelve assassins with a reward going to whichever of them can finally end the Bat.  About halfway through the game, the story’s twists and that contest fades into the background, revealing what the actual meaning of the word Origins in the title means: Joker’s arrival in Gotham City.  Batman must contend with Black Mask, the various assassins, and the new threat of the Joker.

As samey as the story tends to be when compared to previous Batman games (which I’ll discuss more below), Origins features some interesting character moments with both Batman and the Joker.  Batman is younger, less confident, and unsure in his abilities to protect Gotham.  He isn’t as in control of his emotions and often goes a bit too far in his interrogations or takes on more responsibility than he can realistically handle.  Even Alfred, Bruce’s trusty butler, doesn’t believe that Batman can protect Gotham all on his own.  The introduction of the Joker, easily Batman’s greatest enemy, makes things even more dicier for Batman.  The best parts of the story come from the scenes where you get a bit of what inside the Joker’s head is like.  One section in particular is great at highlighting the relationship between Batman and the Joker and why they are such perfect adversaries for one another.  I’ll admit that I don’t really read the comics or know much about Batman, outside of these games and the movies, but I still found these scenes to be very enlightening about why both Batman and Joker do the things they do.

The gameplay side of Origins also doesn’t vary much from the previous games in the series.  Like Arkham City before it, Origins only adds a few small things that don’t necessarily improve or worsen the experience.  The excellent combat system–frenetic, timing-based action that looks totally badass when performed well–remains mostly unchanged with only two small tweaks.  Enemies seem to be much more aggressive, making accurate counters absolutely necessary.  Oftentimes, it felt like I could barely get a hit off in between counters and would just stand still waiting for the next counter to ensure I didn’t take a hit.  It’s good at making the combat a bit more active but feels entirely unnecessary as a change.  The other new addition is the Shock Gloves, which are quite similar to the armored suit from the Wii U version of Arkham City.  Enough strikes in combat build up a charge that can be activated at any point; once charged, your strikes do much greater damage, gain the ability to hit shielded and heavy enemies, and even build up the combo meter faster, allowing for more takedowns and special moves.  This addition also feels quite pointless, especially for combat I would already consider perfect, but the gloves do come in handy during the bigger group encounters.

Predator mode remains exactly the same, where you stalk armed guards with the help of vantage points, Detective Vision, and your various gadgets.  A few of the gadgets are slightly different, such as the replacement of the point-to-point horizontal line gun with a device that instead only creates those ziplines at predetermined points, but are all essentially analogs to the devices found in Arkham City.  You still earn XP for fighting enemies and clearing Predator rooms, but the way the upgrade system works has changed for the worse.  Instead of choosing whatever upgrade you want from the entire list, with new choices popping up as you gain more gadgets, you are forced down a linear tree.  Several upgrades I would consider key, like critical strikes that build the combo meter twice as fast, come very late in the tree or from upgrades you only earn by finishing the various side quests around the city.  It feels like a step back in your abilities, which was likely the intent from the developer, and can make some of the earlier fights a bit rougher.  The crime scene function has also been built upon, giving Batman the ability to recreate the scene of murders and scrub back and forth through them manually to search for clues.  While this may sound awesome, it doesn’t work as well in practice.  These scenes like to guide you by the hand, only letting you investigate predetermined areas and in a specific order.  I felt no satisfaction “solving” these crime scenes because I felt like the game did all the work for me.

All of this sameness, with such minor and poor changes, adds up to make Origins a rather derivative and lazy game, even more so than Arkham City before it.  The story beats are ridiculously similar to beats from previous games, featuring yet another hallucinating section featuring Bruce’s parents and even more Riddler shenanigans.  I know that the death of his parents is a key part of Batman’s origin story, but it gets a little old seeing it mentioned in every game.  Several of the “new” gadgets are just slightly different or reskinned versions of the old gadgets.  Even parts of the city layout feel very identical to Arkham City, which makes some amount of sense in context but still makes roaming around the city feel stale.  There is also a noticeable lack of polish in all aspects of the game.  Geometry and character models got stuck or warped several times during my playthrough.  I had scripting errors, including a particularly widespread one that also doesn’t let you finish a Riddler event, that prevented me from progressing until I reloaded.  Sound would occasionally glitch out.  Batman would warp across the screen as animations loaded in.  Several buildings refuse to be grappled on, making travel a hassle (to be fair, this may be an intentional design choice and not a glitch).  It’s a very rough package that is hard to recommend investing in without some serious patch work being done by the developer first.

I did still enjoy my time with Batman: Arkham Origins.  At its core, the game still has that winning formula I love: the best combat system I’ve ever experienced in a video game, the enjoyable cat-and-mouse gameplay in the Predator sections, and a world that is interesting to explore and learn more about.  Never will I get tired of flowing perfectly through a fight and getting a 100+ combo without getting hit, looking entirely badass while doing so.  I was willing to forgive the sameness in Arkham City because of my affection for this series.  I was still willing to forgive the sameness in Origins (although I’m quickly losing patience).  As much as I want to, I can’t entirely forgive the severe amount of problems that Origins has, both in design and in stability.  Games released in states like these should not be demanding money from consumers.  Unless you are as massive a fan of the Arkham series as I am, I advise you stay away from Batman: Arkham Origins until it becomes a more stable experience.