My first impression of this game was a little shaky. I thought the menu graphics looked dated, I hated the meathead look of Bruce Wayne, and I felt like Batman’s body was so broad and close to the camera that it was blocking my view of my surroundings. A few minutes in, I was feeling pessimistic.
I didn’t feel that way for very long. As I played into the first couple of missions, I was relieved and happy that Warner Brothers Games Montreal, having taken over the series from Rocksteady Studios, did not significantly change the gameplay or fight mechanics from previous installment Arkham City. Gotham looked as moody and menacing as ever. The game felt like a continuation of Arkham City, which was exactly what I had been hoping for.
I love the battle system in these games. It’s wonderfully fluid, with Batman using a wide variety of cool-looking hand-to-hand moves to deal with large groups of baddies. Although you can button-mash your way through the early fights, the game rewards precision using the combo meter. Extra button presses will result in nontargeted strikes and a reset meter, and later on you need to be able to build that meter in order to use special moves. The ability to quickfire various gadgets in battle, including batarangs to stun, glue grenades to immobilize, explosive gel to (surprise!) explode, and the grapnel hook to execute a Scorpion’s-“Get-Over-Here!”-style move, among others, provides Batman with a varied arsenal of combat moves. It’s particularly satisfying to deploy a double-hooked cable, affixing one end to an enemy and the other to a propane tank, and watch as the cable contracts and smashes the two together.
However, on many occasions you’ll want or need to avoid direct confrontation using Batman’s stealth takedowns, which often make use of the environment: dangle enemies from ledges, smash them through weak walls, spring out of underground hidey holes, or just creep up behind them and choke them out. Not that Batman would ever actually kill any of his adversaries; he is preternaturally skilled at using brutal attacks to render enemies peacefully unconscious.
The story is reasonably engaging, though I would say that I was more invested in the storyline of previous game Arkham City. In the current installment I especially enjoyed Alfred’s subplot, as he appears a more complex character than in some other film and game incarnations. It was difficult to decide if I was pleased or disappointed to see the Joker return as the antagonist. On one hand, it seems a bit lazy, considering that he was the villain and true star of Arkham City. On the other, this joker is amazingly well-executed: gruesome, flailing, dangerous, mad, occasionally sympathetic. In a particularly interesting segment, we get to delve into the Joker’s psyche and gain some appreciation of his perceived relationship with Batman. Of the various other baddies who make appearances, my favourite was Copperhead, whose combat contortions are both painful and fascinating to watch.
In sum, Arkham Origins functions as a true continuation (if not chronologically) of Arkham City. If you enjoyed that previous game, I suggest that you pick this one up for more cape-gliding, ass-kicking, brooding, Batman-style vigilantism.