Batman: Arkham Origins: Video Game Review

A very fine game that delivers everything it sets out to in thrilling fashion. If you like beating up people as Batman, you'll like beating up people as Batman here.

The third game for Warner Interactive's Arkham series finds the Dark Knight at the beginning of his crime-fighting journey.

To understand how big a deal Batman: Arkham Asylum was when it hit consoles in 2009, one needs to understand that licensed video games historically suck. They’re usually tied to some new movie or TV show and never given enough time or money to become legitimately satisfying.

But Arkham Asylum — named for the looney bin/prison on an island off of Gotham City that serves as the home for the criminally insane villains that Batman rounds up on a regular basis — was different. It was good. Actually, it was great. It delivered every Batman you could want to play: Batman the detective, who actually solved crimes; Batman the tortured survivor of childhood trauma; Batman the urban ninja, who could move with stealth on the ground or via zipline through the air; or Batman the ass-kicker, who could lay waste to dozens of punks at a clip. Batman: The Animated SeriesKevin Conroy was back voicing the Bat. — and any true Bat-fan will tell you that his is the voice they hear when they think of the Caped Crusader. And Mark Hamill, who’s high-wire voicework in those same cartoons reclaimed the Clown Prince of Crime from Cesar Romero's camp and Jack Nicholson's pomp, was once again playing the Joker.

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Then came Batman: Arkham City, in 2011, which made everything bigger and better. Instead of a rotting island, the Dark Knight patrolled a prison city. He could soar through the air — thanks to a grappling gun and a hang-glidery cape. He could take on even more punks. Conroy and Hamill were back, doing terrific work. Warner Bros. Interactive and developer Rocksteady had, thankfully, cracked the code and could, seemingly, crank these out with regularity, delivering even more of a return on investment every time.

But Batman: Arkham Origins has brought with it some changes. Rocksteady is gone and Warner Montreal has taken the lead. Conroy and Hamill are no longer playing Batman and the Joker — Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker have stepped in. And the results are…not bad. Pretty good, to tell the truth.

Where Arkham Asylum was revolutionary and Arkham City was evolutionary, Arkham Origins in merely more of the same. And, since that “same” was a very good game, so is this. But anyone looking for the heady “thrill of the new” that came with the first two installments will be disappointed.

As the title implies, Origins tells of a Batman early in his development — not quite a fresh rookie, but only a couple of years into his war on crime. Not that the gameplay reflects it: the “free flow” combat — the ability to chain attacks together to devastating effect – is even smoother than it was before and Batman’s ability to navigate his environment is just as seamless.

As for the story, Origins takes place during Christmas Eve in Gotham — before Batman formed his alliance with Detective James Gordon, before he first encountered the Joker – when $50 million is offered to eight assassins for the Dark Knight’s head. So, over the course of the game’s 30-some-odd hours of gameplay, you’ll encounter DC Comics mainstays Bane, Deadshot, Copperhead, Deathstroke, Firefly, the Electrocutioner, Killer Croc and Shiva in boss battles of increasing, occasionally frustrating difficulty.

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You’ve got a couple of new gadgets at your disposal — the ability to virtually reconstruct a crime scene is neat, if totally implausible, and shock gloves add a nice touch to melee combat — and the explorable Gotham is even bigger than before (which makes the addition of a Fast Travel feature handy).

Don’t let what seems to be ambivalence mislead you: Batman: Arkham Origins is a very fine game that delivers everything it sets out to in thrilling fashion. It’s just, when it comes to licensed content, that the last two installments literally changed the game. Though it’s something of a strange sentiment, it’s hard not to be somewhat let down by an Arkham that merely great.

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment

Developer: WB Games Montreal

Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Nintendo Wii U, PC

Voice cast: Roger Craig Smith, Troy Baker, Martin Jarvis, Brian Bloom, Mark Rolston, Michael Gough, Nolan North, Khary Payton, Matthew Mercer, Rosa Salazar, Kelly Hu, J.B. Blanc, Peter MacNicol, Steven Blum