The Arkham series has been, unarguably, the home of Batman’s greatest video games. Back in 2009 with the release of the original Arkham Asylum, gamers and Batman fans alike were astounded with the fluid, addictive combat and intense stealth sections. The visuals left fans drooling as well, as the production values were top notch at the time; not to mention a beautifully envisioned asylum riddled with Easter eggs, nods to other DC properties and some of the best cameos in video game history. It wasn’t just a Batman game that did justice to fans of the character, it was a Batman game that did justice to the art of gaming as a whole. It was the first game in a long time to show people that with enough love and a decent budget, masterpieces could be made.
Fast-forward to 2011, when Rocksteady releases the sequel to Arkham Asylum, Arkham City. They promise gamers with even more fan service, improved game play and a bigger, deeper world for Batman fans to explore. And even with the immense hype, they managed to deliver a product that exceeded everyone’s expectations. Boss battles were improved over the original, graphics were enhanced, Batman’s gadgetry was enhanced and nearly every aspect of the game was eons better than its amazing predecessor.
Fast-forward one more time to 2013. Rocksteady says they’re not being this new Arkham game, and that a newly formed developer would be taking over the reins. Warner Bros. Games Montreal, the same people who had a hand in the fun but much smaller scale Gotham City Impostors were claiming the rights to make the next instalment in the best Batman video game series of all time. As relatively amateur developers, the amount of scepticism of their ability was high. Not to mention this new game, titled Arkham Origins, was to be a prequel, which meant that it wasn’t going to continue from Arkham City; so as to be unimportant to the cannon and thus unimportant to Arkham Asylum/City fans. Needless to say, people were cautious about Origins. But as more and more previews unveiled themselves and more people got to experience hands-on demos, the hype started building again. And I’m here to say that the final product is well worth the hype.
Arkham Origins isn’t actually an origins story of sorts, that story is being saved for a DLC in the near future. Origins is instead an account of Batman’s earlier years in the business of crime fighting. More importantly, it’s the story of what happens when Black Mask calls out Batman for all his good-doings and sends eight assassins after him on Christmas Eve, each assassin having an equal chance to claim $50 million if they take the bat out successfully. Some of the assassins include the likes of fan favourites Deathstroke and Bane, ranging to the more obscure DC characters like Lady Shiva and Copperhead. Warner Bros. Montreal seemed to recognize how important a good story and characters are to the Arkham series, and thus each character is beautifully Arkham-ized to fit the universe in appearance and attitude, and the plot is perfectly delivered. The plot manages to squeeze all of these characters and plot points into one cohesive narrative, which is a very impressive feat for any game.
The signature combat of the series remains intact and relatively unchanged, with one or two minor additions to spice things up. The small handful of new things includes two new enemy types and a new piece of armour that essentially breaks the combat system. The two new enemy types are the assassins and thugs with body armour, which at the end of the day aren’t actually that different from anything we’ve already seen, give or take an extra input on the player’s part to defeat as opposed to normal enemies. The new armour that Batman acquires a ways into the campaign are the shock gloves, which completely and utterly overpower Batman to the point where combat becomes a mashing frenzy with little to no skill required. Surprisingly enough, this makes things more fun, as you have to play skilfully for a couple of moments to activate the shock gloves in a fight, and that makes it feel all the more rewarding. Another factor in Origins that justifies the shock gloves is that the game is relatively difficult up until you acquire the gloves, punishing you near the beginning as Arkham City would’ve at the END of the game, meaning that Warner Bros. Montreal expects only veterans of the series to be playing Origins. While the difficulty is a good challenge, it makes the shock gloves all the more useful as the game is decidedly hard without them.
The stealth sections have also seen a revamped difficulty, with less of a focus on hiding up on gargoyles in the shadows and more of a focus on quickly picking a guy off on-foot, then running away, waiting a few seconds, and then repeating. This stems from the fact that enemies tend to be armed in these sections as opposed to previous Arkham games in which stealth sections were just there to make you feel like the ultimate predator. In short, Origins amps up the challenge a fair amount from previous titles in the series, leaving it as a fair evolution of the series to test fans’ skills.
The campaign is solid enough and provides a good chunk of Batman fun for the Dark Knight in all of us, but the new addition of multiplayer is also surprisingly fun. A lot of aspects of the multiplayer and the fact that it even existed put people off, initially, but I’m here to report that it’s actually a fun game of cat-and-mouse, having strong undertones of Assassin’s Creed multiplayer. Two people play as Batman and Robin, and two teams of three are split up as Joker and Bane’s henchmen. These henchmen must kill each other off while also avoiding the dynamic duo lurking in the shadows, meaning that matches are tense and extremely fun when played with a good squad. The only issue would be that your victory and the fate of the match are completely determined by how competent your teammates are.
While Arkham Origins lacks some of the overabundant love provided by Rocksteady and features a multiplayer aspect that could use some evolving, it’s still a fine entry to the series that will keep Arkham fans and gamers alike happy until the next one inevitably arrives. It tries some new things while keeping much of the tried and true, and in the end these two combine for an experience that is a testament to why Batman games are revered so much.