Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PC)

You know what? Batman: Arkham Origins is pretty darn good.

Sure, there are some traversal slogs through the city and the fact Batman starts with a bunch of weaponry that only trickles out slowly in the previous two titles, my brain inhales Batman the same way gamers sometimes do lines of Dorito® dust: in great quantities and with zero regard for the moral authority that would rather see a society devoid of orange moustaches.

The combat -- honed to a razor's edge in Arkham City -- returns with a few tweaks that make the trash mobs a joy a beat down. It doesn't take long for Batman to acquire the charged gauntlets of Electrocutioner and when they're activated (for a limited time) all but the most powerful foes can be splatted like butter. It doesn't put them down for the count, but it does offer a chance at managing a fight that starts to slide sideways. Batman doesn't need to pay attention to shielded enemies, he just needs to mow them down.

Batman gets access to a few new gadgets as well, but none of them help out in a fight as much as the electrified gauntlets. The gadgets are put to better use during the "stealth rooms" where Batman's focus is to stay in the shadows, sneak through access grates, make use of his Detective Vision, and drop from gargoyles to eliminate superior numbers quickly and quietly.

Getting through these stealth-focused areas feels almost as good as the straight-up combat, and that's saying something.

The boss fights -- in service of the story, there's a $50 million bounty on Batman's head courtesy of, ahem, Black Mask -- are pretty straightforward. There's no sneaking around for the most part. It's typical for Batman to stand his ground against a foe with a predictable weakness and exploit it. The bosses themselves... well, some of them feel obscure, even for someone like me that kept up with the comics and cartoons through most of the '90s and has a general fondness for Batman. The Rogues Gallery for Arkham Origins feels like it's full of second-stringers but Batman still matches wits/brawn with Bane, Joker, Penguin, Killer Croc, and Deadshot. It's the inclusion of the likes of Copperhead, Anarky, Firefly, Lady Shiva... I had to look up some of these characters.

Characters such as Mad Hatter and The Riddler are peripheral to the main story. Mostly they're around to fill out side missions, which are neat little distractions but not necessary to the main plot.

Arkham Origins has a lot of collectibles to find in every area of the game, inside and out. Too many if you ask me. With the extra space available to explore, running around, grappling from building to building to find them all feels like busy work so I didn't even bother. Even if there was an unlockable skin, I wouldn't be tempted.

Kevin Conroy doesn't voice Batman this time around, but Roger Craig Smith does the character justice.
Besides the many, many hours one could spend in the single-player game -- about a quarter of which is just muscling through the story -- Arkham Origins features a full-fledged multiplayer mode that pits two groups of up to three players fighting for control, while Batman and Robin attempt to take down both sides. As Batman or Robin, all that cleverness in setting up stealthy takedowns in the single-player game is largely useless. The Dynamic Duo has to go in hard and fast, picking goons off in a coordinated fashion otherwise it's light's out. Playing as goon feels a little weird at first because the focus is more on gunplay and you don't have the ability to jet out of the way or disappear into an airvent -- you more or less have to stand your ground and hopefully earn the opportunity to call in a Super Villain to tip the balance. The matches I've played are generally over pretty quick, but with the right group of people -- a group that will work together -- it's actually fun.

Too boost their chances of a win online, players can use real world money to purchase crates for upgrades. That feels somewhat off given that the online population isn't as robust as one might need to take advantage of such crates.

Ever wonder what happens to Gotham City's sewage? Wonder no more!
There's definitely some re-tread going on with Batman: Arkham Origins, but the combat, the relatively good story (B-list villain aside), the powerful feeling of being Batman in video game form has only muted my enthusiasm for the franchise by the smallest of margins.

- Aaron Simmer

The Good:
- Being the Batman just doesn't get old; neither does the combat
- A few new gadgets to fool around with
- Didn't encounter any technical glitches

The Bad:
- Traversing Gotham before opening fast travel options to all parts of the city can be a slog
- There seem to be far fewer grapple points this time around
- Some B-list villain here that you might actually have to look-up
- Multiplayer is only interesting if you're playing with people you know

Score: 9.0 / 10