Batman: Arkham Origins review: same bat-time

Our review of Batman: Arkham Origins, the latest in the Arkham series and the first main game not made by Rocksteady.

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No matter how precise the imitation, no one has ever gained the notoriety of da Vinci or Van Gogh by replicating their styles exactly. This is the problem WB Montreal and Splash Damage have been forced to face. Batman: Arkham Origins is a perfectly competent facsimile of Rocksteady's work, but it seems the new studio had trouble finding many ways to put its own mark on a series that has already been so well-defined.

Arkham Origins is particularly prone to this problem. The developers were so meticulous to color inside Rocksteady's lines that it doesn't really have its own identity. It's not entirely bereft of new ideas, and one notable aspect actually does improve on the other titles. Boss fights have undergone a huge facelift. The previous two Arkham games would too often fall back on hulking brutes for their boss fights, and failed to utilize the strengths of its expertly polished combat system. Arkham Origins uses its central conceit of assassins sent to kill the Bat to offer much more differentiated fights. Though the occasional brute battle rears its head, for the most part the assassins offer some much-needed variety. Deathstroke is a particularly great battle because the game wisely resists the urge to throw out distracting goons and allows it to breathe as a simple man-to-man bout.

The apparent ability to rethink and correct one of the most pronounced weaknesses of the Arkham series shows just how much potential these studios had. That makes it all the more disappointing when they fall back on old gimmicks. It even reuses the exact gameplay function of Mr. Freeze's ice power from Arkham City. Even if the explanation is slightly different, its function remains the same.

Origins' tendency to copy gadget mechanics is particularly baffling in a game that is ostensibly supposed to be about a leaner, greener Batman. Aside from the occasional cutscene that accents his rookie status, it constantly misses the opportunity to portray Batman as a less experienced crime-fighter. From a gameplay perspective, this makes sense. As the third game in the franchise, removing tools from the player would feel like a step back. But it just marks another way Origins could have stood out from its predecessors, and instead remains extremely familiar.

The story is impacted by this decision as well. Despite the title, this isn't so much a game about the origins of the "Bat Man," and only cursory steps are given to explain the origins of Arkham Asylum itself. This story revolves more around how he gained his fame among police and the criminal underworld, and his first encounters with some of his rogue's gallery. He already has the suit, the cave, and his absurd hyper-competence. He even uses the Batwing, a fully equipped jet with an auto-pilot function that would make DARPA jealous. If Batman: Year One is the standard-bearer for inexperienced Batman stories, this feels like it would be called Year Five or Six-ish.

The pacing seems a little off too. The narrative arc reaches a crescendo, and then continues for a few more hours. This might have been fine if it had packed some clever twist or subversion on what we already knew, but instead it just reinforces the themes and sets the pieces into place. Like many prequels, it seemed too intent on table-setting when it could have left some blanks for us to fill in with our imaginations.

I'd also be remiss not to mention the technical snags I experienced post-game. Though bugs were rare during the main campaign, venturing back into Gotham to take care of unfinished sidequests resulted in frequent freezes, forcing me to restart the game or even the console entirely. I've since given up on finishing those threads, at least until a patch fixes the problem.

Outside of the campaign, Origins does attempt to bring something entirely new to the table with an online multiplayer mode. The idea of Batman and Robin acting as a third party in the midst of a firefight gets credit for being unique, at least. But Batman's tools in the single-player are largely engineered to take advantage of predictable AI patterns. Human opponents, who know they're being hunted, bring down the dynamic duo and stymie their special moves far too easily. This mode seems destined to be forgotten, pushed aside with all the other somewhat clever but ultimately superfluous multiplayer modes we've seen in recent years.

The real shame of Batman: Arkham Origins is that those attempts at innovation are so clearly visible. The studios have obviously made an attempt to freshen up the series, and some changes like the boss battles are actually very successful. But those changes are fairly minor in the grander scope of the game as a whole, leaving Arkham Origins unable to escape from under its predecessors' shadows. [6]


This review is based on retail Xbox 360 code provided by the publisher. Batman: Arkham Origins is now available at retail on PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U for $59.99. It is also available for download on PlayStation Network and PC. The game is rated T.

Editor-In-Chief
From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 30, 2013 12:00 PM

    Steve Watts posted a new article, Batman: Arkham Origins review: same bat-time.

    Our review of Batman: Arkham Origins, the latest in the Arkham series and the first main game not made by Rocksteady.

    • reply
      October 30, 2013 12:03 PM

      [deleted]

    • reply
      October 30, 2013 12:09 PM

      Interesting comments from senior producer Ben Mattes, in terms of reacting to the "they can't hold a candle to Rocksteady's work!" comments: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-10-25-batman-arkham-origins-dev-faced-resistance-and-reluctance-at-every-level

      "There were fans who said: 'They're not Rocksteady, they can't make an Arkham game.' And there were concerns within the organisation that we weren't going to be able to deliver the special sauce of a Rocksteady game. And there were concerns within our team, like - 'Maybe we've bitten off more than we can chew? Are we sure we're able to dance with these guys? Do we deserve to be in this same hallowed ground?' - but we wouldn't have continued through the years if we didn't feel we had a shot. I'm really proud of what we've done."
      ...
      "You don't want to be the guys who messed up and ran into the ground one of the absolute, top-rated franchises of all time. You don't want that at the top of your CV. 'Yeah, I'm the guy who turned a 96 into a 60, that's my claim to fame.' So I think there was an extra desire to create something really great as we were fully aware of the opportunity that we had."
      ...
      "Usually you put on a happy face and say the right things because that's where you are. But secretly you're thinking, 'God, if only they'd given us six more months.' But, honestly, this game we've created is the game we set out to create. It is exactly the story we wanted to tell with exactly the areas of focus we aimed to do. And resistance... it was probably more hesitation than resistance. It was never: 'Over my dead body are you guys making an Arkham game!' It was always hedging bets, cautiously optimistic, a healthy amount of hesitation. And that's the right attitude. I think everyone ought to have that attitude. If we'd come in saying: 'Rock-who? Eff those guys man, we'll show you how it's done,' we wouldn't have gotten here."

    • reply
      October 30, 2013 12:13 PM

      These reviews all seem to say it's more of the same and then they say that is a bad thing. I don't get it

      • reply
        October 30, 2013 1:24 PM

        I agree with you. More of the same is exactly what I was expecting and wanted, and its really pretty on top of that.

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          October 30, 2013 1:37 PM

          [deleted]

          • reply
            October 30, 2013 1:47 PM

            I think that this is the best Arkham game so far and the improvements they made to the free flow combat system in this iteration are really awesome. Also the auto-grapple is insanely fun to use. I had tons of fun on my first play through. Sure there are some bugs and it would be better without them but honestly that didn't affect my play really. I'll definitely be doing a second run through on new game plus.

      • reply
        October 30, 2013 1:28 PM

        well they gave it a 6, so that's not overly positive. personally, yeah, it is "more of the same", but that's all i really expected it to be. the fact that a new developer was able to take the series and not run it into the ground is a miracle these days! i love the series... i love the world, the combat, the stories... i love being the fucking batman! sure, i'd like to see someone (maybe Rocksteady again?) take the series someplace new, but for now "more of the same" isn't unwelcome to me.

        • reply
          October 30, 2013 1:28 PM

          sorry, i misread your comment... thinking you meant "more of the same" is bad. oh well!

      • reply
        October 30, 2013 3:20 PM

        I think because they don't just want more of the same, and that the experience, which is so similar to the previous games, doesn't warrant another $60 purchase? Just my take.

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        October 30, 2013 3:23 PM

        keep paying full price for pretty much the same game you played before and they'll just keep dishing them out with little to no innovation or new content. this game is basically DLC/X-pac quality

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          October 30, 2013 4:11 PM

          Battlefield 5 will be announced 6 months from now

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          October 30, 2013 4:21 PM

          Have you played a sequel before or seen a movie sequel before? I mean that's kind of the gist of a sequel. Here's an example, and this may blow your mind, but pretty much all the James Bond movies use the same fucking formula. Die Hard 2 is just Die Hard 1 in an airport.... and so on and so on.

          • reply
            October 30, 2013 4:46 PM

            no, in my lifetime, I've never played or seen a sequel to anything that wasn't an improvement over the original, they were all pretty much the same thing, just like Batman Origins

    • reply
      October 30, 2013 1:19 PM

      Each to their own (that's the cool part about reading reviews - everyone has their own take) but my experience with it so far (PC version) would put it more in the 8-9 range (and I have previous professional reviewing experience if that even remotely matters). Very good game but Steve does hit the central aspect of the game that stands out: It's very much similar to past entries. But where he finds that a detraction, I did not (or at least not as much).

      There are some interesting little tweaks (the detective re-creation mode was neat, even if it was functionally simplistic) that made it feel a bit different to me.

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        October 30, 2013 1:27 PM

        Is this more like City or Asylum? I am hoping it is more like Asylum, I don't actually like open world games. I actually enjoy a guide movie like experience (found in CoD, Asylum, etc...)

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          October 30, 2013 1:29 PM

          it is 100% more like City. you will probably not like it.

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          October 30, 2013 1:29 PM

          I would say more like city but for some reason I'm enjoying this more.

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            October 30, 2013 3:20 PM

            The art isn't as colorful as City and I think that's a major part of it.

            Also the voice acting is great, whoever they got for Batman sounds great. I was expecting to be disappointed by it but I wasn't.

            The biggest gripe I have is that Alfred looks like a registered sex offender.

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              October 30, 2013 3:55 PM

              LOL..at the Alfred remark. It definitely feels more like City to me.

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              October 30, 2013 4:19 PM

              [deleted]

              • reply
                October 30, 2013 4:31 PM

                It's not that much the same. Batman sounds younger (which was the intent) and for Joker Mark Hamill basically retired from it.

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      October 30, 2013 1:45 PM

      I guess I'm in the minority here, but I actually prefer this game over both of the previous installments. Granted they were only able to achieve this by standing on the shoulders of giants, but this game just feels more...Batmanny. Oh, and Bane is my favorite villain, so having him actually played mostly-properly and as a major villain sure does help.

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        October 30, 2013 2:32 PM

        I'm liking it so far. The only thing I really don't like about it so far is how the upgrade tree is structured. I much prefer the method of the previous two Batmans.

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      October 30, 2013 2:00 PM

      Another review where they tell us the 2nd sequel of a game is more of the same? Laziness. Why review the game at all?

      Almost no discussion of the writing, voice acting, technical problems including game breaking bugs, just a mediocre sounding game that is anything but. Yes its more of what Rocksteady offered, and yes its another studio trying to tap into that formula, but that was the goal not an unfortunate result. If they had made a sequel to Arkham City that was completely different from gameplay mechanics to graphics and the whole ball of wax, people would have rightly bitched that this game has nothing to do with what came before it.

      Stop reviewing sequels and noting how much like their predecessors they are, especially when there are real flaws in there to be found none of which you mentioned (including some really poor level design, CTD problems, fight mechanics not feeling as tight as the previous games (which really comes down to individual taste I guess) and game breaking bugs and glitches.

    • ArB legacy 10 years
      reply
      October 30, 2013 3:26 PM

      Sequel to an existing game? MINUS 2 POINTS
      Published by EA, Ubisoft or Activision PLUS 2 POINTS

      I give the Shacknews rating system a 2 out of 10 "Artistically void, and mechanically faulty"

    • reply
      October 30, 2013 5:08 PM

      Anyone want my Batman download code for $30 paypal? If so pm me, first offer gets it, going to watch walking dead.

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      October 30, 2013 6:23 PM

      The jump from Asylum to City was huge.

      City to Origins is a huge step back.

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        October 30, 2013 6:28 PM

        Not even remotely. What an inaccurate take on this game.

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      October 31, 2013 6:00 AM

      So let me get this straight.

      When it was announced that Rock Steady would not be developing this game and WB Montreal was taking over,the main concern was that they weren't going to be able to make it as good as the original devs.WB Montreal makes it to where you if you played the previous games,it's almost like second nature to pick this one up and play,yet people still complain?!

      This is a classic case of where WB Montreal can't win.If they make it the same as Rock Steady,people will say it's more of the same thing.If they make it too much of a departure from the original,then it's too different and people would wish that it were more like the originals.

      Sorry,but these reviews just seem to parrot each other,and I feel like they are totally missing the greatness of this game and what WB Montreal was trying to achieve.

      I personally had Arkham City as my GoTY the year it came out and all I wanted was more of it,and that's exactly what I got,but with extras.I think if you love the first two games,you will probably love this one as well.

      Other than a couple of technical hiccups and glitches on PS3,this game is awesome.

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