Monday, 4 November 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins (Video Game Review)

With two major successes in the series thus far, the news of Batman: Arkham Origins' was one met with anticipation but also a fair degree of caution. With trailers consisting almost entirely of CGI cutscenes and revealing nothing of gameplay, and the series changing hands to Warner Bros. Games Mortral fans had a developer named after a film company focusing entirely upon visual promotions. This wasn't too much of a change from previous trailers, but at least there Rocksteady Studios had proven itself.
So now it's released, how well does Arkham Origins hold up? It depends largely about what you want from the game.

Serving as a prequel to the previous Arkham games, the title shows a younger and more inexperienced Batman yet to build up a true relationship with either villain nor ally. Without even knowing the Joker yet, Bats finds that crime lord Black Mask has placed a price upon his head. With several DC B-list villains and assassins going for his head, Batman must truly begin his fight to save Gotham against the crazies which lurk in its dark corners.

Now, it's not bad. Far from it in fact and and it keeps much of what works from previous titles,but the problem some might have is how much is re-used from previous games. A huge number of assets from Arkham City have been used again here, under a slightly different layer of paint and it soon becomes obvious that sections of the open world you are following about have been seen before. The same goes for a great deal of the move sets and a few visual pieces, they're bits and elements which were in Arkham City and have been used again here. The responses to this will vary from person to person. It does feel at time as if the game is repeating itself at points. Part of what made Arkham City work was it was such a massive leap, such a massive change from Arkham Academy and the re-use of elements makes it feel as if it has lost some of that punch.

The question is this: Is it acceptable? This isn't Rocksteady involved anymore and the change in hands means that Warner Bros. may have been very cautious in what they did. Building a sequel to two of the most acclaimed superhero games of all time without lessening the title's quality is a true experience, and had they managed to truly screw an element up then it would have reflected extremely poorly upon them. Perhaps this time, re-using so much of what worked in previous games and not trying to truly push out until they have a better handle upon what they are doing is a good idea.

Again, none of this is to say the game is bad and in fact the new elements which are added do feel extremely well handled. Nothing has been dumbed down or made easier to try and capture a wider audience, and instead all of the new elements feel in-keeping with what we had before. The various bosses are a major example of this. While there are one or two disappointments (Bane and Lady Shiva), each of them feels challenging and extremely enjoyable to fight with Deathstroke especially proving to be up to the hype the game had been building for them. Despite being lesser known, the likes of Firefly and Electrocutioner prove to be extremely fun to beat the snot out of as well, especially when the former is airborne.

The investigation system is the big new attraction to the game, which does have its moments but also a few problems. Those who saw the demo of reconstructing a crime scene with Deadshot will know how it works, hunting down visual cues, clues and elements in detective mode to help you re-wind the crime scene. Having taken more than a few obvious ideas from Remember Me, it does feel lacking in a few respects and not with quite the complexity some hoped. That said, there is still something addicting about re-winding a crime scene and watching as a man is catapulted back into an explosion as you piece things together.

One upgrade is that Batman does feel more fragile in a number of the interior levels. While you can afford to take a surprising number of bullets fighting foes in the open city, sneaking around confined interiors and rooms proves to be a deathtrap if you go in openly. With less freedom and room to maneuver, it feels like more of a challenge than some previous experiences and helps to impress upon the player more caution than many sections of Arkham City did.

The graphics, design and voice acting all remain consistently strong throughout. Along with the likes of Steve Blum voicing a few foes, Mark Rolston, Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker all prove themselves worthy of their parts. Having some especially big shoes to fill after Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voicing the characters for so long, it's especially worth of praise when the Smith and Baker manage to completely nail their roles. I'd even go so far to say that the visual look of Batman in this game is a major step up from the past titles, fantastic looking as they were.

Much of what can be praised is ultimately "this worked in the last game, they got it right here" and kept all the good elements. What doesn't work so well are the bugs. For a title which has kept so much of the DNA of its predecessors, there are a surprising number of bugs which crop up in the later half, especially when it comes down to anything from jerky animations to even corruption of save files on some systems. While the PS3 and Wii U versions are relatively stable, those playing on PC and Xbox 360 are going to stumble into a lot of failings, especially when it comes down to latching onto certain objects. While patches are supposedly coming out, and the developer has apologised, you might want to hold off getting them on those systems if only for a while.

This is unfortunate as the bugs do have the habit of affecting multiplayer, which proves to be one of the best new additions to the title. Surprisingly for a series which has been predominantly single player up to now, it's the biggest reason to get this individually and proves to have a lot of fun elements with asymmetrical sides. It manages to prove just why having such an addition as the dynamic duo involved in an otherwise basic multiplayer design can work so well.

For the gang members of Joker and Bane, the basic capture the point sort of elements are spiced up by the weaponry on hands, and the fact you have to watch out for much tougher superheroes dropping down upon you from above. Well designed for both types of groups to adapt quickly to fighting one another and give a strong position even when driven back, trust me there's more than enough cover in the right places, it's far more balanced and interesting to go through than anyone would expect. That said, atop the standard problems of a few higher tier weapons requiring nerfs following release, the game has the frustrating issue of resetting your account every few levels. You cane buff up your character all the way to level seven, and then immediately be back to square one following logging in later on.

Really, the whole thing comes down to what you want out of the game. It's not a return to Arkham Asylum as some had hoped, and it's understandable that some might feel it's not pushing far enough. That said, with its greatest sin being a few required patches and sticking with what worked you should definitely look this one up. Don't buy it immediately at full price, but wait for things to drop a bit and the more serious bugs to be dealt with. Passing hands from one developer to the other, it might not be the game some wanted, but it feels like the one the series needs right now.

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