Batman: Arkham Origins plays things so safe they become boring
If you wanted a slightly fresh coat of paint on the Batman games you’ve played before, with very few risks taken, you’re going to enjoy Arkham Origins. There’s nothing wrong with that opinion. Many people are going to buy and enjoy this game. Warner Bros. Montreal had to deliver a decent Batman game without fucking up the formula, and they certainly did that.
My main issue, outside of the numerous clipping issues and often stuttery performance I experienced while playing the PlayStation 3 version of the game, is that I had seen this before. The combat system remains fluid and enjoyable. Picking off enemies from above by zipping from gargoyle to gargoyle still makes you feel like a badass. Completionists will still want to track down every item and finish every side quest. The things you like about this series all remain.
But you’ve done all this before. Almost all of these ideas have been used in the previous two Batman games, and many of the mechanics, side-missions, and collectibles in the game feel more like palette swaps from previous content than any real progression in the series.
Take, for instance, the fact that you’re running around the whole of Gotham City. Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City did a good job of explaining the scope of your surroundings, but this game skirts that issue by setting itself on Christmas Eve, during a time when everyone is indoors, and literally everyone on the street is a criminal. This leads to goofy moments like dropping in on a group of thugs who are complaining that there is no place to buy coffee, beating the shit out of them, and then gaining a few experience points.
The game also has a love affair with the counter button, as evidenced by an inane boss battle early in the game that will likely have you throwing your controller in anger, and a new enemy type called the martial artist who can counter your counters with their own counter! Shocking, I know.
I’m also going to pick nits by bringing up the fact that the inclusion of certain abilities or items makes little sense in a prequel. One has to imagine Wayne sitting in front of the bat computer, thinking to himself that some things make his job too easy… so he must put them away and never speak of them again.
Old ground repeated in slightly clever ways
The origin aspect of the game is more subtle than you may think, although it does give us a good excuse to re-introduce some very popular characters, and toy with the idea that Batman will never take a life.
You can contrast this aspect of the game’s story with the recent Man of Steel, where a superhero seemed completely unaware of the death toll and property damage brought to a city. Instead, the fact that Batman lives a life of brutal violence while never directly taking a life is taken out and pondered a bit, with this concept coming full circle in some clever ways towards the end of the game.
This isn’t a bad game, it simply plays like its predecessors and covers familiar ground with these characters. Rocksteady is likely off somewhere creating a next-generation Batman game that will hopefully bring a few more interesting concepts to the mix, but until then we’re stuck treading water.
Even the detective mode, which seemed so promising in previews, is ultimately a very fancy way of presenting information to the player without asking us to bring much to the interaction. What could have been a way to simulate being the world’s greatest detective is instead just a fancy, slightly interactive visualizer for exposition.
Early in the game Alfred suggests that Batman can win against the wave of assassins by staying home; no one can collect the bounty if Bruce Wayne enjoys a brandy and a western and leaves the cowl hanging down in the cave for 24 hours or so.
Batman of course rejects the idea out of hand, because if he stayed inside there would be no story, and that would mean no game. Considering the lukewarm, nostalgia-tinged appeal of Arkham Origins, that might not have been so bad.