There’s a lesson here to all budding writers (not that I class myself as a good writer or hell, even a competent one, but we’ll gloss over that..) and it is this: don’t use a potentially great review opener on a weekly games update….
So, moving on… Origins. Normally you wonder about prequels. They generally occur because the writers have painted themselves into such a corner that they need to re-write time (or the cannon) to get out of it. Arguably, the dumbest thing they did in Arkham City was kill off The Joker. The Joker IS part of Batman. He’s the other side of the same (arguably insane) coin; without The Joker you lose a huge part of what makes Batman Batman.
So how do you fix that? Simple, you do a prequel. Doing a prequel allows you to bring back The Joker and to be honest, I can’t imagine the game without him.
Origins is produced by Warner and Splash Damage, taking over from Rocksteady and you can barely spot the difference, which in itself is a complement. This is not to say that there are a not issues, but it’s still a good game.
It’s tempting to evaluate this title and developer against the previous lot, as I know other reviewers have, but to do that is to miss the point entirely. Granted, you cannot review a title in isolation, immune from the context generated by its history and the titles that precede it, but nor can you assign a lower ‘score’ because a switch in studio resulted in them basically pumping out the same thing.
Is Origins a leap forward in the genre, an advancement on the template laid down on the previous two titles? No, absolutely not. Is it a misstep, an error and a mismanagement of a great formula? Again, the answer is no. This game builds on a superb formula and attempts to tweak it in places, some work, some don’t, but none detract from the overall experience in the game.
I feel for Warner, they were given the keys to what is arguably not only THE best superhero series bar none, but also a superb series of games in their own right. Their one brief; don’t mess it up. It’s too their credit that they not only manage to do that, but also manage to improve a few areas too. The other issues, a lot of them technical that one can’t help but feel were wholly avoidable, are plentiful and do a good job of tarnishing the overall experience. This game is a schizophrenic as it’s two lead characters.
Playing the game reminds you a lot about Arkham City, while that title was a progression for the series, though not without it’s flaws certainly, Origins feels like a re-run. This is not necessarily a bad thing as Arkham City was a good game, it just feels like a missed opportunity to do something different.
The cornerstone of the whole series is the combat and a few missteps aside, it’s as good as ever. The way it flows, the kineticism and the artistry of the whole thing are still a joy to behold. It has been said many times by many people, but the combat in this series really is the best hand-to-hand combat in any game I’ve ever played. There are a few balance issues, specifically with the frequency of the shield and knife wielding enemies who all too regularly interrupt the flow of the action. The boss battles too are a a schizophrenic affair though some are genuinely interesting and quite fun.
Firefly’s battle for example I found to be particularly engaging, mixing tolerable QuickTime events with an interesting scripting. The way the Bat deals with Firefly too seems plausible, at least in the context of a superhero story. Some of the other boss battles, not so much. Bane for example appears regularly, often, all the time and with some frequency. He wears out his welcome quite quickly for the player, so one can only imagine how frustrating the Bat finds his frequent soliloquies.
Before I give away everything about the bosses, I need to take a moment to address some of the technical issues. They are varied and exciting, some game breaking, some mildly annoying and some just slightly perplexing. I’ve had crashes, inescapable rooms and for one forearm tearing event, Batman was stuck hanging off a vent. Seriously, I had to restart my PC to ‘fix’ it and I haven’t been able to get into that room since. The other issues seem to be the occasional glitch in the combat, where blocking sometimes doesn’t work and the occasional clipping issue for both the Bat and his foes.
The main campaign has a decent length to it and puts you into a few interesting situations with a fee neat twists. The new detective mode for example is a nice little addition. Probably too constrained in its use and implementation, but they do give the impression of a detective at work, which for the worlds greatest detective is probably a good thing. You get the impression that Warner were only just finding their feet with the material and the tech and while they do do a competent job there’s no stand out set-piece that stuck in my mind after the close of the main campaign.
The other aspect of the game is the multiplayer and I think unfortunately it misses the mark. It’s a neat idea and one I’d like to see explored more often, a three way asymmetrical battle has the potential to be very interesting, however the implementation doesn’t quite do it for me. The control of the characters feels heavy and it’s very difficult to move with any real urgency. The shooting too seems weak and overall it just seems like it’s lacking polish. Its hard to feel scared or tense in the multiplayer when you’re being stalked by the Bat or an opposing team member when you’re just as likely to be killed by clumsy controls than one of the other sides. Don’t even get me started on the RC-Blimp grenades…. It is ok, but definitely not as competent as the main campaign, I certainly don’t see myself going back to it.
I think that then sums up the whole experience: competent. It’s a pity too, for any other game, in any other series it’d be a superb title however in this context and with this pedigree (and the rather disappointing and at times serious technical issues) it comes off as just another TV Batman Re-run. Given how cheap Arkham Asylum and City are at present I can’t recommend you buy this game at full price. It’s definitely worth a play, but maybe wait for a sale.
Verdict – On Target
Platforms Available – PC, 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed – PC
Please check this post for more on our scoring policy. Steam review code supplied by PR.