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Batman: Arkham Origins

Score: 85%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Warner Bros. Games Montréal
Media: DVD/2
Players: 1; 3 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Free-Roaming/ Fighting/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Batman: Arkham Origins takes us back before the beginning of the Arkham series of games, back before the reopening of Arkham, when Gotham's worst of the worst villains were kept in Blackgate Prison, a prison which, in the course of Arkham Origins proves to be less than adequate to that task.

You reprise the role of Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman, but this time a younger, more headstrong Batman, trying to single-handedly save the entire city of Gotham from the wash of crime that has flooded the streets and corrupted the Gotham Police Department almost completely.

The graphics are beautiful - in a gritty Gotham City sort of way - with a lot of grimy detail and muted colors, playing off the brass and bronze Gothic architectural elements of Gotham.

Then, of course, there is the artificially-colored "Detective Vision" mode, which highlights different items in the environment, allowing Batman to see enemies through walls, determine who is and who isn't armed and identify weak environmental areas that are destructible. I don't know about others, but I probably spend about half of my time in this mode.

There are several different Batman costumes (skins) you can gain access to through unlocks and codes and such. Additionally, there are almost as many Robin skins that can be used in the Online Mode. The most disturbing in either case, however, has to be the Animated Series skins, which makes Batman and Robin look decidedly cartoony, although the gang members and the environment still look realistic. Further, there is a pretty decent gang member customization feature in the Online Mode, which is a boon for us tweakers.

Speaking of costumes, Batman's costume gets more and more bedraggled as he takes damage in the Story Mode, which is a cool feature, but isn't new to anyone who's been following the series.

The audio is well done, from the ambient noise to the reports of the guns and the sounds of the devices. Even the banter between the thugs is nicely varied and entertaining.

This young rough-around-the-edges Batman is voiced by Roger Craig Smith. Smith's Batman is a more gritty and menacing portrayal, but this fits with the way Batman is painted in this prequel to the series. As you may know, Mark Hamill has retired from doing the voice of the Joker, but Troy Baker does a good job with it here, and seems to have taken a lot of notes from Hamill's Joker. Both voices are well done, providing a solid cornerstone for the dialogue in the story.

The music is an interesting, and sometimes unnerving, blend of action hero, Batman and Christmas music, as the game takes place on Christmas Eve. It's sort of haunting at parts and is worth a listen on the Main Menu for a bit. Also haunting? The Joker's song about Batman in the Credits. Creepsville.


Gameplay:

The main mode in Batman: Arkham Origins is the Story Mode. As you play through this mode, you unlock additional content for the other modes (such as the Challenge Mode). Also, there are two modes for increased challenge: New Game Plus and I Am The Night. New Game Plus becomes available when you complete the Story Mode on Normal Difficulty and I Am The Night becomes available when you complete New Game Plus.

This origin story picks up where Batman has been fighting crime already, but just street thugs, for the most part, and his existence is thought to be urban legend. The larger players in Gotham's organized crime element have decided to take the Batman menace seriously, however, as Black Mask (allegedly entrepreneur Roman Sionis) hires eight assassins to compete for a 50 million dollar prize... for killing Batman. Thanks to this complication, Batman (that's you) will have to take on Deathstroke, Bane, Firebug, the Electrocutioner, Copperhead, Deadshot, Killer Croc and Lady Shiva. You'll also find yourself dealing with the likes of the Penguin, Anarky, Calendar Man, some mysterious guy we'll call "Enigma" and the Mad Hatter, among others. It's going to be a busy Christmas Eve, but don't worry; Alfred will keep your Christmas dinner warming until you get home.

Aside from one boss fight that is either too difficult or occurs too early, the Story Mode is pretty good. The story is engaging and does a good job of explaining how some of the pivotal characters come to feel the way they do about other characters. (Vague enough? Don't want to spoil anything for you.) I suppose it could be summed up as character development. There's something you don't often see in a super hero videogame, right?

The Crime-Scene Investigation feature returns in Arkham Origins and is used to nice effect. You will encounter a few of these in the course of the Story Mode and will have to reconstruct the events that occurred using the evidence you find, then scrutinize the 3D playback of the reconstruction to discover additional clues. This puts the "Detective" back in "Detective Comics" and helps to define Batman as something more than a rich guy who likes to punch the living crap out of street gangs. Warning: most of these detective investigations occur after the dreaded Deathstroke incident, so expect not to see them for a while if you run into a brick wall with that fight.

There are a couple of places in the game where gameplay gets constrained to a side-scrolling type of gameplay. In both cases, this occurs when something mind-twisty is going on and I assume this is intended to be sort of a "directing" style, forcing some disassociation and forcing the gameplay to be a bit more artificial, if you will, but I found it difficult to determine what actions I was supposed to take, having to rely on the on-screen tips that would show up once I had managed to stand around not doing the right thing for a bit. The gameplay on both of these parts left me cold, which is sad, because one of them accounts for most of the Mad Hatter storyline.

Challenge Mode, accessible from the Main Menu or in Batman's training facility in the Batcave in-game, allows you to select some different scenarios and work on different specific skills against an increasing number of foes. Your efforts are rated and you can unlock goodies (including new suits) if you do well.

Arkham Origins also has a Multiplayer Mode crafted by Splash Damage, and it's very interesting. It's one part Call of Duty light and one part Gotham City Impostors, with Batman, Robin, Joker and Bane thrown in for good measure. Allow me to explain...

Multiplayer Mode pits groups of players against each other, as rival gang members (Joker and Bane's, specifically). As one of these thugs, you'll need to take control of strategic areas for your team. But, it's not going to be easy; you'll have to contend with the other gang's members, as they want the same thing you do. Further, skulking in the shadows are the dynamic duo, themselves, Batman and Robin, which are played by two of the players (randomly selected at the beginning of each game). These two will primarily need to use stealth to sneak up and perform takedowns to neutralize gang members and build up their intimidation meters. Our do-gooders can't claim a strategic point for themselves, but they can guard it and take out gang members who attempt to claim it and they can put a jammer in place that will slow down any attempts to claim that area. This jammer can be destroyed, but that just gives our heroes a more focused point to guard, right? When a player is taken out by a hero, he's out of play for a bit, then respawns without losing any reinforcements, but if a rival gang kills you, you lose a reinforcement. Once you're out of those, there's no more respawning for your gang. Don't give up hope, though, young ne'er-do-well... you can get some high-powered help in the form of super villains; last long enough and you can open a door and let in your gang's leader (Joker or Bane) to take care of business. When you let him in, he throws you back in the door he came out of, which would be truly annoying if you weren't taking control of the super villain. Batman and Robin may seem like they're on the sidelines, but they're getting intel of tactical importance from Alfred - before the gangs get it. You'll know when the super villains are about to become available, which gang members are high-value targets and the like, giving you tips on how to make your efforts the most effective. If, however, you prefer not to play the superhero, you can opt out of the random selection process.

As you play, you'll earn experience, which can be spent on the black market, where Penguin can provide you with anything from a variety of clothing options to consumable upgrades such as XP bonuses and Weapon Skill bonuses, making completing matches more valuable to you. Plus, when you first start playing (and as you rise through the ranks), you will be given loot crates from time to time, containing various items from Penguin's market. This felt similar to the Call of Duty: Ghosts character customization (although not as elaborate). Some of the weaponry you can gain as you progress through the multiplayer ranks, however, include themed weapons, such as an exploding Jack-in-the-box and a remote control exploding blimp, which reminded me a bit of Gotham City Impostors.


Difficulty:

If you've heard anything about Batman: Arkham Origins, it's likely to be about the difficulty. Specifically, there is an early boss fight with an overpowered assassin that is frustrating enough to literally be a "deathstroke" to the game, which is fitting, as this is also the name of said assassin. Many may argue that Deathstroke is a fierce opponent and should be difficult to beat. I'm fine with that rationalization, but it doesn't change the fact that your fight against Deathstroke occurs very early on in the Story Mode, when most players are unlikely to have upgraded Batman very much, making Deathstroke that much more difficult to beat. Beating Deathstroke has a lot to do with countering and, unlike everywhere else in the game, the timing of the counters is crucial to their success. I don't want to rant on the difficulty of this one boss fight too much, but it represents a spike in the difficulty level of the game and, while the animations of your enemies gloating down at you when you've been defeated can be amusing the first ten or so times, when you repetitively get trounced by the same bad guy it not only gets frustrating, but a bit repetitive, since they only record so many taunting phrases with which a given character can lambaste you. The difficulty of this one fight caused me to have to abandon my Normal difficulty game and play through on Easy, instead.

The worst part of this fight is probably the fact that you can't give up on it and come back to it later. Once you reach this point in the story, you must successfully pass it to continue the story, and there is no way to change your difficulty setting on the fly. If you're impatient or easily frustrated, you've been warned.

If, however, you're able to get past this fight, most of the rest of the game is a lot easier. Yes, I've been overwhelmed by hordes of thugs on occasion, but in general, the thugs are relatively manageable, if you put your toys to use in the fights. The boss fights all have their different special things you have to do to actually hurt them (or advance the fight along), but these are well spelled out on-screen. You may have to play through a fight a few times if you don't catch the on-screen hints the first time, but they're just patterns, so you can learn them after a few attempts.

The difficulty of the gangs increases as you level up, going from unarmed combat to knives, guns, riot shields and body armor. You'll have to learn a few tricks here and there, such as a different counter for assailants with knives and special moves to get the drop on enemies with riot shields or body armor, but you can pick that up easily at the slow rate that these new elements are introduced.

There are three difficulty levels to choose from: Easy, Normal and Hard. You can't change the difficulty on the fly, but if you find the game too hard, you can start a new game on an easier difficulty level and then return to your original save later, if you feel your skills have improved. Also, you can play in the Challenge Mode to improve your skills. One thing that can make quite a difference, however, is upgrading the Bat. I suggest fighting small-time crime in Gotham and solving some of Enigma's puzzles to earn experience before going into the Penguin's ship. What you do with that advice is, of course, up to you.

If, on the other hand, you find the game is too easy, you can up the difficulty to Hard or, once you've completed the Story Mode on Normal or harder difficulty, you can try your hand at New Game Plus, which removes helpful things such as counter indicators and on-screen hints, and starts right off the bat with more specially-armed thugs (knives, guns, etc.), makes them attack you more strategically and turns up the aggression. If you can complete that mode, you can try I Am The Night, where you get just one life; you die and your save goes bye-bye.


Game Mechanics:

If I was to identify the single thing that was likely to make someone dislike this game, it would have to be the difficulty of the Deathstroke boss fight - or something that is a ramification of that fight, such as having to start over on an easier difficulty setting or not being able to unlock the Story Plus Mode... because you can't beat the game on Normal... because of... Deathstroke. Before this game, I'd never heard of him. Now, I never want to hear of him again.

Batman is all about the gadgets (where does he get those wonderful toys?!) and he's got an arsenal of them for your enjoyment in Arkham Origins, with a variety of Batarangs (including the ever-popular remote controlled one), concussion grenades for stunning opponents, a cape capable of gliding, a wireless hacking device and, eventually, some upgrades made from tech appropriated from some of your fallen enemies, including a remote grappling gun which allows you to make two things grapple to each other (great fun) or to create a high tension wire giving you something to grapple up to. Another favorite "appropriated" weapon is a pair of kinetically charged shock gloves. This greatly increases the damage your punches do by adding an electric charge once you've thrown enough punches to charge them up. As for vehicles, you can see the Batmobile in one part of the Batcave, but it's in early developmental stages (or in the middle of one heck of a re-build), but you can use the Batplane to quickly move between different areas of Gotham (as long as you're outside). Select your desired destination on the map and you're treated to an animation of Batman grappling up to his speeding Batplane and then tearing across the sky, then he drops in from above, in-game, allowing you to drop in to the drop point or to pull up and glide across the city to where you want to go.

I experienced several glitches in my play-through of Batman: Arkham Origins. Most of these were events where I was supposed to be able to interrogate the last criminal standing in a given fight. The last guy "gives up," like he's supposed to, but I never got the option to interrogate the guy. This happened three times, if I remember correctly - twice with Enigma's data handlers and once with someone called, "The Bird." Sorry... I have no idea what the Bird's story is, since I couldn't interrogate him.

Additionally, I had one occasion where the game froze on me and I had to restart the system. I am mentioning this here, but it isn't affecting the score. I allow one occurrence of this on any game; it's annoying, but if it's not habitual and it doesn't make you lose a lot of progress, then it's truly not that big a deal. Once. As I said, it only happened once to me, so consider it noted, and I'll move along.

There is a lot of good in Batman: Arkham Origins, but you have to be able overlook the ugly parts to be able to appreciate it. There are some minor issues here and there, but not being able to get past a fight on Normal difficulty and, therefore, not being able to access a couple of modes is kinda a big thing. If you're amazing at the other games in the series and you think you'll be able to get past the Deathstroke fight with no problems, that's one thing, but those with less skill, less patience or short tempers may want to sit this one out... or get one of the aforementioned experts to get them past the Deathstroke fight so they can access the whole game. Then again, the Online Mode is, basically, a completely separate game, so there's a world of value there and, if online gameplay is your thing, you might get hours of enjoyment there, alone. While I can't speak to all copies of the game in the future, the version I got for review included the DLC for the Deathstroke Challenge Pack DLC, so Deathstroke fans can enjoy kicking butt in the Challenge Mode as Deathstroke. So, problems aside, there's a lot of content; if you're willing to persevere and work around its shortcomings, then Batman: Arkham Origins is worth the ride.


-Geck0, GameVortex Communications
AKA Robert Perkins

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