There hasn't been a better superhero videogame in the last five years than the two Batman: Arkham titles. Gritty, raw, and dripping with comic-book-quality atmosphere, the franchise has successfully captured the essence of the Dark Knight all while saluting the die-hard Batman enthusiast.
Perhaps the series' biggest triumph arose in the sequel to Arkham Asylum, Arkham City. Developer at the time Rocksteady Studios improved the game from almost every angle and was somehow able to create an even more intoxicating Batman experience.
With the latest iteration in the series, Arkham Origins, the game has switched developers and writers. While the change might not seem apparent on the surface, there are noticeable shortcomings buried deeper within. Overall, Arkham Origins is still a solid action-adventure game, but this is mostly the same Batman you've played before.
Origins takes place on Christmas Eve in Gotham City. Crime lord Black Mask has placed a bounty on Batman's head to the tune of $50 million, which has drawn the attention of eight would-be assassins. There are a few interesting plot turns here and there and plenty of characters for any bat-boy or -girl to gawk over, but the the narrative doesn't seem to pick up the same amount of steam as previous Batman games; it all just fails to feel important.
Arkham Origins takes place before the events of the first two Rocksteady games and features a Batman that is still a little wet behind the ears. Unfortunately that mentality doesn't really shine through during any of the gameplay but instead is exemplified during various cutscenes. If anything, Batman's novice status is better developed through his relationship with Alfred, who in the game sounds more like a concerned father than a servant.
Arkham Origins contains a lot of the same gameplay I've come to love since Arkham Asylum in 2009, but as great as that might be, Origins doesn't do much in the way of innovating or carrying the franchise forward. You'll get your hands on a few new gadgets, but nothing that revolutionizes playing the role of Batman. There's certainly a feeling of absence throughout the campaign. I felt that I was constantly waiting to be wowed, and that never really transpired.
Detective Mode has gotten a facelift in Origins, complete with the ability for The World's Greatest Detective to piece together elements of a given crime and scrub forward and backward in time to reveal key moments. It's not exactly challenging detective work going on here, and the player can just review the holographic replay and home in on a highlighted piece of evidence. You're just searching for red flags essentially. There's a fair amount of hand-holding going on, but it's entertaining eye candy nonetheless.
I really enjoyed how the game organically introduces the player to the various side missions available in the campaign. These stories unlock as the campaign progresses, so you're not left to wonder where to go to trigger their arcs. Instead, Origins smartly interweaves these storylines into the narrative. Whether you choose to pursue them now or later is totally up to you.
Batman: Arkham Origins still possesses what's arguably the best melee combat system around, all while raising the difficulty of stringing along combos. It seems that Origins is inherently a more challenging game than those that preceded it. It's the kind of test that encourages you to trudge on through, as opposed to a title that only seems to mindlessly frustrate. You'll encounter longer boss battles throughout, all of which will test your nerve and timing.
As someone who considers himself a massive Batman fan, I can't deny that I was sufficiently served during my playthrough of Arkham Origins. That said, having maxed out the longevity of the prior Arkham games, I'm not sure there are enough fresh ideas in Origins to warrant a similar dedication.
Batman: Arkham Origins also features an online mode that wasn't tested for this review. This is the first time an Arkham game contains an multiplayer mode.
For more on Batman: Arkham Origins check out GameSpot's coverage.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Batman: Arkham Origins is also available on the PlayStation Vita as an entirely separate title called Arkham Origins Blackgate. While I didn't get to finish the game, Blackgate plays like a 2.5D platformer and bears many of the same elements as the console version of the game.
Blackgate carries an entirely different story albeit along a much more linear path. The style of play feels like a Bat version of an old-school Metroid game, though some controls can occasionally feel wonky.
CNET verdict: Holy deja vu, Batman!
Arkham Origins is a solid Batman game that has moments of greatness, but it doesn't do much to push the series any further. The moments in Origins that feel familiar tend to dominate the entire experience.