The Caped Crusader returns in 'Batman: Arkham Origins,' which follows a younger superhero in search of his Dark Knight persona. Villains expected to appear include Deathstroke and, no surprise, The Joker.
(Photo: USA TODAY via Warner Bros. Interactive)
Brett Molina, USA TODAY
Not even the Caped Crusader is immune from showing signs of weakness.
His first two video game adventures -- 2009's Batman: Arkham Asylum and 2011's Batman: Arkham City -- astonished players with their attention to detail and developer devotion to the character. Although the series' third chapter, Batman: Arkham Origins, features many of those hallmarks, it can't seem to measure up to its predecessors.
As the game's name suggests, Arkham Origins revisits the early years of Batman, from what caused him to don the cape and mask to his first encounters with some of Gotham's most notorious criminals.
The story is framed around a Christmas Eve plot hatched by villains including Black Mask and Deathstroke to take out Batman.
Players who have tackled the first two Batman games (Arkham City in particular) should have no trouble adjusting to Arkham Origins. Gotham is an open metropolis players can explore by gliding through the skies or zipping between rooftops with the Batclaw.
Players' most important asset is Detective Mode, a view that allows Batman to break down enemies (armed vs. unarmed), check their moods (nervous, calm, scared) or uncover exploitable areas around Gotham, such as a weak wall that can be destroyed with explosive gel or a grate Batman can crawl through.
Combat breaks down into two varieties: straightforward brawls with criminals and "invisible predator" scenarios where Batman must quietly clear a room of villains.
Beating up throngs of enemies wielding fists, riot shields and baseball bats remains one of the series' most satisfying aspects. The simple control scheme makes fighting feel effortless, as Batman pummels multiple enemies with ease, gracefully bouncing between each one before leaving a room filled with unconscious foes.
The "invisible predator" segments are equally entertaining. Batman hops out of vents, leaps from ledges or strings up foes from gargoyles, leaving his foes in a state of panic. Arkham Origins provides Batman with a few new tricks, such as the Remote Claw to fling objects at foes or the Smoke Pellet to escape encounters with armed foes. Enemies have new tactics as well, from gadgets that scramble Batman's Detective Mode to hostage situations Batman must solve without being spotted.
Developers at Warner Bros. Interactive spice up action with the expansion of crime scene investigations. When Batman approaches a crime scene, he can seek out clues to lay out the sequence of events. Players rewind or fast forward through scenes -- such as a helicopter crash or a murder -- to find more clues and eventually discover how a crime unfolded.
Just like Arkham City, Origins allows players to stick with the game's story-driven missions or enjoy side quests featuring villains including the Riddler. Unlocking a series of radio towers scrambled by Riddler provides access to the Batwing for fast travel. Also, Arkham Origins provides quick access to the Batcave, where players visit to change suits or try out a variety of training challenges.
Along with the campaign, there's also a new multiplayer component, featuring gangs led by Joker and Bane as well as cameos by Batman and Robin. Teams of three duke it out as either a member of Team Bane or Joker in a traditional firefight. However, there are two more players working as the Dynamic Duo. The gangs work to take over the match, while Batman and Robin work to maintain order.
Fundamentally, Arkham Origins is a good game. The mechanics remain simple, the combat still feels rewarding and gliding through the skies of Gotham is enjoyable. Yet, Arkham Origins fails to achieve the highs delivered by the series' first two titles.
Let's start with the concept of the story, which is supposed to feature a young Batman finding his way toward becoming the Dark Knight. It's hard to buy into this when players are working with a character that feels more advanced thanks to all that new gear he's carrying. For example, "invisible predator" sequences are easier when using the Disruptor, which permanently jams weapons. During standard combat, Batman can wield shock gloves that easily knock down enemies. Combine that with a Batarang move that knocks out several enemies at once, and Batman can cruise through battles.
Some of Batman's most recognizable foes appear, including Bane, Penguin and, of course, The Joker. But there are also a lot of enemies that are difficult to get excited about. Firefly? No thanks. Copperhead? Pass.
Frankly, Arkham Origins may simply have faced the difficult task of following up two extraordinary superhero video games. Arkham Asylum set the bar with an intense battle against The Joker, not to mention that memorable faceoff with Scarecrow. Arkham City went to another level by opening up Gotham and delivering every noteworthy Batman villain fans can imagine. By comparison, Arkham Origins feels like a game that's staying the course, trying not to do anything too risky.
Overall, Arkham Origins is a solid game, but not even this Dark Knight could escape the shadow of his first two adventures.
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Warner Bros. Interactive
Platform(s): PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii U
Rating: T for Teen
Release Date: Oct. 25
Score: 3 stars (out of 4)