Game: Batman" Arkham Origins
Platform: PC, Xbox, PS3, Wii U
Publisher/Developer: Warner Bros
Describe This Game in Three Words: Army of One
Plot: This prequel takes us back to the beginning of Batman's career as a vigilante. He's been the Dark Knight for just two years at this point, and the career criminals of Gotham are beginning to take notice. Black Mask has put out a bounty on Batman's head. $50 million to whoever takes out the Bat, and it draws assassins from all over the world. In addition, Batman must stop a bomb plot by Anarky, and investigate a mysterious new mastermind known only as Joker.
Up, Up: I was a bit worried when I heard that Warner Bros. had taken back development of the third Arkham game from Rocksteady, but it's clear that they've done a pretty bang up job on their own. In many ways, Origins is the best so far.
Our new Batman is a much younger and angrier man than the one we've come to understand. It's clear that he is both still powered by his intense grief and has tempered none of it with any relationships with his extended "Bat Family" yet. His drive is singular, and it comes through heavily in the gameplay.
Stealth and predator aspects still make up a great deal of the game, but combat this time around is much more brutal and clearly centered on the physical abilities of Batman as a one-man war on crime. More than the previous two games, he is able to pretty much immediately descend into large groups, even armed groups, and utterly destroy with ease.
A lot more detail has been added to the aspects of him as a detective, and your investigations require a systematic breakdown of events that is actually really fascinating to behold as you repeatedly fast-forward and rewind a mental timeline developed by analyzing shot trajectories, DNA samples, and other evidence. Weirdly, the Batman most likely to just charge in and start punching is also the most cerebral.
More to the point, it's wonderful to see Batman take on a physically equal opponent like Deathstroke, and Origins handles it very well. That first battle against Slade Wilson is a real white-knuckle contest, and Warner Bros. does a really nice job mixing regular thug-beating tactics with expanded technique to match someone as capable as Deathstroke is.
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Down, Down: Although it may just be an aspect of the rasher, more careless Batman that we're seeing in the game, sometimes it feels slightly less refined than the Rocksteady titles. It's nothing glaring, but you distinctly get the feeling that less attention was paid to perfecting the pacing and play this go 'round. At times it seems a little rushed.
There's also the fact that like Batman movies, as the games progress we start running out of truly good villains since all the A-listers were used up already and are starting to rely on weaker characters such as Elecutioner and Firefly. Deathstroke is welcome, Black Mask is more than credible, and Anarky actually pulls off a really interesting new take on the character that makes him awesome as an incidental. We also get returning villains like Killer Croc, Penguin, and of course Joker, but that last in particular is indicative of the problem. The Arkham series has a bad habit of using Joker as a crutch.
Especially after Arkham City went to such great lengths to build up things for a direct sequel. What about Scarecrow's plan? What about Hush after we find him fresh from plastic surgery that makes him a double of Bruce Wayne? What about Harley's positive pregnancy test, the missing body of Ra's Al Ghul, and the cryptic warning of Azreal? I was really looking forward to answer on these subjects, and it doesn't look like I'm going to get them any time soon.
Left, Right, Left, Right: It's the same Unreal engine that we've been using since Asylum and if it ain't broke don't fix it. There is seriously one issue I wish they would address in this area, though it's not a control issue per se. Fight scenes with large groups would really be a lot easier if the camera would pan out a little more instead of keeping it in so close. Batman relies on a rhythm and an awareness of his surroundings to triumph, and that would go a lot smoother if the camera weren't quire so insistent on close-ups. Otherwise, it's still on of the best control schemes around.
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B, A: The biggest question a lot of people had was how would dramatic shifts in the voice cast affect the experience? Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker respectively is a partnership that has gone on for close to two decades, and they are arguably the most iconic actors in the roles.
Roger Craig Smith does a wonderful job, tempering Conroy's style with a slight touch of Bale's interpretation that doesn't sink to the level of self-parody his did in the end. Troy Baker similarly holds up well as Joker, though he offers less deviance from the part than Smith does for the Dark Knight. Ultimately, they do just fine without the classic duo of Conroy and Hamill, missed as they are.
Start?: This series remains the best superhero games ever made, and while you can feel Origins just slightly leaning into the territory God of War did with their later entries it is still an incredibly solid title. Batman is back again, and nothing compares to that.