WB Interactive must look enviously across at Ubisoft as yet another annual Assassin’s Creed is churned off the assembly line. How can we possibly make something like that? Perhaps we could farm out our biggest franchise to another internal studio and make a game a year. Hence we have Batman: Arkham Origins by WB Montreal, a game that is still part of the Arkham franchise we know and love, but like with the later Assassin’s Creed games, lacks that certain spark.
Origins finds us with a younger Bruce Wayne and therefore a younger Batman. It is Christmas Eve and Black Mask has escaped from prison. If that was not enough, the rotter has only gone and hired the best 8 assassins in the world to kill The Batman. Can our caped crusader round up the villainy that is plaguing Gotham, whilst protecting himself from hired killers? Did he remember to buy Alfred a present? Find out in Arkham Origins.
If the Arkham games were a delicious winter stew, every outing would be made up of the same yummy ingredients. Origins is no different, it takes the ideas of the first two games and expands them even further. Whilst the first game was set in one asylum, the second was set in a district, by now we have access to large chunks of the city. You have to swoop across the length and breadth of poor Gotham to hunt down the various slime balls on Bat’s to do list. The fighting is similar, a flowing mechanic that relies on timing as much as button thumping. The puzzles are also similar, both in terms of level design and finding the clues left by E Nigma (in place of The Riddler).
What does differ is the scope of the game. You unlock fast travel points as you progress, but that does mean earlier on you will have to cross great expanses to get to a goal. I actually think that WB Montreal have made the game too big. Whilst Arkham City had a curio around every corner, Origins is more on every block. There is a lot of real-estate that feels a little grey and not used as part of the game.
There are also slight issues with the tone of the game. This is a game set before Batman’s prime, so it includes many enemies that will be unknown to some, or who have not evolved into the cackling madmen/women that we know and fear. Whilst it is fun for a DC fan who realizes the likes of Nigma may be more than they seem, to the vast majority of players, he is probably seen as a lesser Riddler. The 8 assassins on show are another prime example; whilst Bane remains a force, the likes of The Electrocutioner can be given or taken.
There is a lot of quality on show with Origins that makes being overly harsh with the game a little mean. Graphically, it looks very good, certainly at the same level as the previous games, but would you expect more from the third outing? You also get a lot of game for your money, the expanded city allows for more side missions and collectables. Whilst the main campaign may be of similar length as previous outings, there are also plenty of extras to extend the life of the games for many more hours.
Technically, Origins is a very solid game. Batman fans will love it and if this is your first visit to the Arkham universe you will be thrilled. However, this is the third outing in only a few years and the game is a little jaded. Too many of the gameplay aspects are near identical; the fighting, the stealth, the swooping. Coupled to this is the knowledge that some of that secret sauce is also gone. Why does the world feel a little empty and the characters a little bland? Whilst Rocksteady populated their Arkham games with the crème de la evil of the DC Universe, WB Montreal have been left scrapping around for the scabby bits of yellow cream at the bottom of the barrel. This is not to say that the game is bad, it is in fact pretty good. Just not as good as previous outings and for that reason it suffers.