The first two Batman: Arkham games finally gave the Caped Crusader a video game incarnation worth shouting about.
Created by Rocksteady Studios they brought you as close as you can get to being Batman without wearing undies over tights and mastering every martial art going. But with Rocksteady out of the picture for Arkham Origins, and Warner Bros taking control, can the series still deliver?
A Christmas tale
Arkham Origins rewinds the series to the early days of Batman’s crusade against crime and corruption. It’s Christmas Eve in Gotham and all local crime boss Black Mask wants under his tree is a dead Batman. To ensure he gets his Yuletide wish, Black Mask has offered the city’s deadliest assassins a multi-million dollar bounty in return for killing Bats.
It doesn’t take long, however, before more familiar foes turn up to spice up the festivities and with a roll call of iconic criminals up to no good, Arkham Origins’ story proves just as twisty and engaging as those of the previous games in the series.
Arkham Origins retains the series’ sublime fusion of stealth, action and puzzle solving. The gameplay might be a cut-and-paste job but it's no less thrilling for that. The elegant combat system remains one of the best around and executing stealthy takedowns remains utterly gratifying. There are a few additions to Batman’s Utility Belt though, including gloves that deliver electric shocks to foes and a gun that jams enemy weapons.
The Detective Mode has also been spruced up with Batman now capable of using evidence to piece together virtual recreations of crimes that can be fast-forwarded or rewound to uncover new clues and solve the mystery.
With a platoon of cash-hungry super villains to contend with, there’s no shortage of boss encounters in Arkham Origins. Some are superb spectacles – the contortionist manoeuvres of female villain Copperhead a highlight – but some disappoint.
Not least the first full-on boss battle, which is a nit-picking endurance test that seems designed to frustrate rather than entertain players with its harshness. It’s so unforgiving that we wouldn’t be surprised if a fair few less-skilled players get stuck on it even in easy mode. Thankfully, things get better on the boss front afterwards.
Arkham Origins follows the open-world approach of Arkham City but makes some good refinements. The city is now divided into several districts, making navigation easier. Players can - once some communications blockers have been eliminated – also fast travel between locations using the Batwing, which saves on the tedium of having to slog across the whole map.
Visually Gotham remains dark and gloomy. Even the city’s Christmas decorations are grimy and depressing. But that’s as it should be – it is Gotham City after all. There are plenty of side missions scattered around the map too and the game does a good job of making them feel part of the main story rather than a distraction aimed at achievement-seeking obsessives.
If the single-player core of Arkham Origins refines rather than innovates, the addition of a multiplayer mode – for the first time in the series – is entirely new. Based around a turf war between The Joker’s and Bane’s gangs, it’s an unconventional team-based option where two teams of three (one for The Joker and one for Bane) slug it out while two other players take control of Batman and Robin, who have to sneakily pick off the thugs.
That gang members can end up playing as The Joker or Bane should make up for the less appealing prospect of controlling a minor criminal rather than a super-powered character. The multiplayer is a nice bonus but the single-player mode remains the prime attraction, however.
While Batman: Arkham Origins offers refinements, new gadgets and a multiplayer mode, it does lack the inventive streak of its predecessors leaving it feeling like more of the same.
But when you’re creeping around the smoggy streets of Gotham, scaring the living daylights out of hapless mobsters or delivering bone-crunching beatdowns, the lack of new thinking doesn’t matter one bit.