If there’s anything that’s immediately obvious about Batman: Arkham Origins, it’s that it’s definitely a Batman game. Batman perches atop conveniently placed gargoyles in ‘predator’ rooms, scanning the surroundings with his detective vision to find the next nervous victim to swoop down on. He grapples between buildings in the city of Gotham, floating between towers and landing in the middle of crowds of armed thugs. He dances across the screen as you build up combos, knocking out generic, burly men, and uses a few special moves on the bigger guys. That’d all be great, if most of us hadn’t already done it before.
The story begins with yet another demonstration of Gotham’s really, really appalling security. Why anyone still willingly lives in Gotham absolutely baffles me – Black Mask just storms on into the prison, takes down a whole lot of trained policemen, and leaves Batman to follow. That being said, the game doesn’t actually start with Batman’s origins – you’re already Batman, you have most of your gadgets (and no tedious tutorials or excess time spent unlocking them all), you’re just not overly familiar with Gotham’s villains. Of course, when you find out that someone has put a 50 million dollar bounty on your head, you quickly become familiar with the over-saturation of bad guys.
The story is initially a bit of a goose chase – ‘find this guy, to find this other guy, ask this guy a thing, oh, wait, something happened to that guy – hey, let’s go beat up some police!’ but it does show a surprising variety of Gotham. It’s Christmas Eve in Bat-land, and while Alfred (who Batman is kinda rude to, the jerk!) would prefer you snug in front of a fire at home, you venture out into the snowy city, explore ships, break into police headquarters, explore sewers, climb ridiculously tall hotel buildings and are even subjected to Joker’s idea of a ‘theme park’.
The boss fights and side-missions for specific ‘most wanted’ criminals are particularly different from each another this time around. Fighting the first boss, Deathstroke, is a lot like a dance – while there are some overly lengthy and repetitive ‘counter’ sequences, pressing ‘y’ when prompted (a bit of a QTE) leads to a pretty series of cinematics. Failing to counter results in a whopping amount of damage that, without an upgraded suit, will end your fun quite quickly.
This brings us to one of two new additions to the Arkham series – crime scenes. If Batman comes across a messy scene that wasn’t actually caused by his thousands of dollars worth of destruction for once, detective mode will allow you to analyse it. Red arrows point to ‘clues’ (like a broken item, or a clip of clothing) within the room. The clues allow Batman to piece together the order of events that lead to the present tense outcome, and one of the crimes is particularly perplexing until you solve it.
While the crimes themselves are somewhat interesting, it’s a very dull gameplay addition – it’s something along the lines of ‘Press X To Batman’. The player is tasked with finding the clues (and forwarding or rewinding the event to watch it through in an order you’ve built from previous clues), but it requires no analysing, or even thinking, whatsoever. The creative scenarios certainly add to the appeal of the cat-and-mouse nature of the campaign, but they’re far more interesting to watch than to actually, erm, ‘participate’ in.
What is certainly unique, and where this game out-does the previous titles, is the exploration of Batman as a character, and his relationship with the Joker. Several of the dark, disturbing parts of the game re-appear as flashes later in the game, like the sick and twisted smile of one of Joker’s captives. Batman remembers that, and it flashes before him as he senselessly beats his foes. Origins explores the influences of Gotham’s evil on Batman’s psychology, and sanity. He’s not the collected man he appears to be – he’s just on a different side of the mad-house, with his ‘no killing’ rule potentially being the only thing keeping him from changing sides.
With Joker specifically, there are eerily crafted monologues and sequences that explore his newfound need for Batman – as an objective, a goal, a test subject. It initially seems that Joker was bored, perhaps depressed, by mindless killing – what’s much more interesting for him is trying to break Batman’s curious moral code. A really significant, memorable moment comes when Batman saves the Joker’s life – though Joker was willing to die – and Joker asks, fascinated: “Now, why would you do that?” And from there, he is given meaning once again, and a curious love affair is born between the Joker and the Bat that was only ever explored loosely in the previous titles.
With all of that said, Batman: Arkham Origins really does ask interesting questions about value. The game is so incredibly similar to previous Arkham titles that it is absolutely not worth purchasing if you haven’t played a whole lot of games since City came out. If you haven’t played an Arkham game, if you’re particularly interested in comic books (this pays beautiful homage to The Killing Joke particularly), or you’ve had a fairly eventful time since playing the last Arkham game however, it’s as enjoyable as the other games and beautiful in ways the others fail – though reportedly full of bugs.