Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins - Final Round Review

The Arkham series stands as testament to how amazing a licensed game can be when handled correctly, and is responsible for creating the freeflow combat system which is now a standard combat style of third person action games.

Warner Bros. Games Montreal were given the lofty task of bringing the Dark Knight back to our living rooms with an origin story, introducing famous villains for the first time through the eyes of a younger and more brash Batman.  The premise it epic; Batman has a bounty of $50 million on his head, bringing the world’s deadliest assassins together in Gotham city, at the behest of mob boss Black Mask.  They are given one night to eliminate Batman, and are competing against each other for the reward and honour.  This has you gliding and diving all over Gotham city, following clues and beating up thugs, just as you would in Arkham City.

Gotham looks and feels exactly like it did in Arkham City; obviously it’s set in the same place (that’s hard to avoid) but the game is set during winter again, giving off the same cold, dank visuals that the predecessor did.  Not to say the game looks bad, other than an odd visual issue here and there it looks great.  Getting around the city is easy with your grappling boost, unlocked from the start this time, or quick travel in the Batwing once you unblock the jamming signal in each area.

Finding where to go, on the other hand, can be a huge pain in the ass.  The indicator will sometimes plant itself as a waypoint before leading to your destination, and does not disappear from that location until you have left the area.  If you don’t know where you’re heading this can fool you into looking around a pointless area, until you get irritated enough to leave and it finally moves to your true destination.  Issues with grappling around the city become apparent during these trying times, some buildings have multiple grappling points while other ledges and rooftops will have none.  One in particular that becomes irritating is down beside the bridge, you are unable to grab the side and pull yourself onto it.  I even had times where I was unable to grapple the cranes, whose sole purpose is to help you cross at that lower point.

Once you eventually reach your destination you are greeted with two types of combat, either an all-out brawl or a stealth room.  I say stealth room because they are all essentially set up the same, complete with gargoyles and floor grates from Arkham Asylum.  There has been no noticeable change for these areas, approaching enemies has been the same experience through all three games and the repetitiveness is starting to show by the third instalment;  gadgets still don’t serve much purpose in combat, which is disappointing.  Freeflow combat has the same issues as the stealth rooms; there are no noticeable changes to the combat system, when it could really use some visual tweaks.  The biggest issue here is a lack of creativity, it seems the developers were so scared of messing with the well-established formula that they refused to alter it (for better or worse it would seem), or give it their own unique flare.

The major change to the series is Batman himself, showing a younger and more aggressive side of the hero we know and love today.  At this point in time Batman is still unsure of his overall purpose as a crime fighter but feels that he is on the right track, regardless of the punishment he takes or how close he comes to death.  This aggression and somewhat arrogant personality fits the origin story well, as he learns that being Batman means more than he ever anticipated.  I really enjoyed this side of Batman towards the villains and thugs, but it seeped into his interactions with Alfred and he is a complete dick to him (even after his life is saved on more than one occasion).  This change was a necessity and is appreciated in a sequel which clutches onto so much of the previous instalments; especially when the villains suffer from the same parallel as previous Arkham titles.

With the massive variety of villains to choose from in the Batman/DC universe, it’s incredibly disappointing to see characters reused again and again in major roles.  I was expecting a lot more variety this time around, to bring some of the other villains into the spotlight for a change. When a new villain finally does appear Batman’s interactions with them are so short lived they may as well not been in the game, which leaves these encounters rather flat and shallow.

Characters like The Joker eat up a large portion of playtime that could be well spent fleshing out the other assassins; the pathetic Deathstroke appearance in particular.  How many times can the story focus on the Joker instigating Batman?  Bane does play a larger role this time, but he is still greatly overshadowed by The Joker.  The confrontations themselves are rather lacklustre and never add up to anything fresh; again the Deathstroke boss-fight comes to mind.

The idea that each villain will teach Batman a valuable lesson as a crime fighter or as a man is absolutely brilliant, but it completely fails when there are only two instances that portray any kind of personal revelation to the character.  Borrowing such a considerable amount from the last two titles stole what potential the story had, and left us with an unoriginal plot and boring villain cameos. Batman’s origin story is faithful to a fault to the source material established by Rocksteady, and is unable to define itself as its own game; much like Batman was unable to define himself in this title.

Final Round Review - 6/10

 - Will Flynn

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