Reviews: Batman: Arkham Origins
I’m not entirely sure I played the same game that other reviewers have played. Indeed the reviews elsewhere have been lukewarm at best or frothing mad at worse. In some ways I can understand the vitriol, but only as far as it pertains to the actual development and underwire part of this game. Arkham Origins is a game that feels painfully under tested and this really hurts what is otherwise (I feel) an exceptionally good time. That’s the only thing I’m going to talk about before the cut and everything after that will likely be spoilers.
Edit: Turns out I didn’t really spoil much of anything after the cut. But still enter at your own peril?
I played this game (and will continue to play it seeing as I want to get 100% on New Game +) on the Playstation 3. On the PC I can at least accept when a game has problems because I understand that there might be something wrong with my PC. But on a console there is no excuse. No game should ever have framerate drops, no game should ever crash, and no game should ever freeze on a console. This is the entire point! This is why people buy consoles! They want something inexpensive (ish) and consistent.
Console players want predictability in the stability of the games they play. They want it to work the first time and work every time. Arkham Origins fails this miserably I’m sorry to say. I’ve had buildings not load, people not load, I’ve had weapons in their hands not load, I’ve had framerate drops into the teens, and I’ve even had the game freeze. Sometimes the audio doesn’t load and when video sequences start up they cause incredible lag and jumpiness. All this is very serious and very very very bad.
Yet, I beat the entire game and am working my way towards 100%. I am willing to put up with all the things listed above and when my game freezes I end up restarting my PS3 and playing for even longer. This is why I have such trouble shrugging off poor opinions of the game (but I understand they are opinions, just like mine). I’m not looking at Naughty Bear, this is something special.
Onward then we go into the guts of this third installment of the Arkham series.
I’ll begin by covering something that I think needs to be said (which is why I’m saying it). There is no reason why this game should be docked for being “more of the same”. In the video game world there is this weird fetish with games being something different and I don’t know where it comes from. Most of the time when games change dramatically between sequels what you get is something terrible.
Dawn of War II did nothing for fans of Dawn of War I. It was a competitive squad combat game and had nothing to do with the original title. Front Mission 2 was terrible and the weakest in the franchise. Dragon Age 2? Resident Evil 5 & 6? Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts? Duke Nukem Forever? Bomberman: Act Zero? Perfect Dark Zero? The list goes on and on. There are dozens of examples of game developers trying this and failing. I feel like Super Mario 2 (US) was one of the only times where anything positive came out of a drastic shift.
The best I can muster is that this must be a result of the hedonic treadmill. People experience something amazing and then they get used to it. Naturally we never blame ourselves so the problem must be the stimulus. The stimulus must change to fit our new desensitized desires. We demand something fresh and new.
Yawn…throwing suckers off of buildings again. How boring. Why can’t I strap rockets to them and send them into the sky?
And for me I just don’t see it. I don’t see how something drastically different would do as well as these three games have done. And I don’t mean monetarily, I mean as experiences. These games do so well because they solidify the experience of being batman. There are some minor changes that I think could be interesting. Perhaps having the game not take place on a single night. Allow Bruce Wayne to build up funds during the day for neat gadget upgrades.
Have the villains come over the course of a few “arc” storylines instead of all in one quick splurge. Stuff like that. I can think of little changes but they don’t mean that what I’ve gotten is lesser for not having them. I punched the shit out of people with gloves that were brimming with electricity. I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this but that is something that I’ve always wanted to do. (In a video game)
Did you hear that Alfred? There is a face that needs a Thor fisting.
And sure you can point out that the glue grenades are just a reimagining of the frost grenades from the first games but I saw nothing wrong with that. There is something incredibly satisfying about knocking out a sniper and then subduing his partner with my sticky substance. (Don’t read into that) I even loved the discourse between Alfred and Bruce where Alfred tries to give the grenades a fanciful name and Bruce looks at him deadpan. “You mean Glue Grenade.”
Alfred with an expression of defeat agrees.
That I suppose is the first thing I should praise. I loved the dialogue in this game. While some of Penguin’s henchmen had ridiculous accents the actual writing overall was exceptionally good. There were moments where my jaw literally dropped and even the one viewer that was watching me play mentioned that certain twists had caught them by surprise. I felt like there were times where Arkham Asylum did not get the Joker and a few more times in Arkham City. Origins on the other hand seems to grab him handedly. Every little moment with him feels right.
That might be why I love this game so much. I am a bit of a DC addict, lately I’ve been putting far too much money into their comics and reading their wiki. Just engrossing myself in the world. For me this story seemed to capture that essence that DC has been shooting for with the New 52 and while it is not the same universe it has that quality about it. I’m saddened when I hear that people didn’t like the story. That fall scene about midway through the game has some of the best delivery and character development moments that I think we will find in a hero game.
This moment was a butthole clincher for sure.
The emotional moments have an impact that I don’t usually get from video games. My biggest gripe with them is that the writers didn’t quite have the conviction necessary to make them stick. Sure we know who can live and who can die but Bruce doesn’t know this. Give him time to stew and really drag out the terror.
The villainous cast do a great job of setting up stories for future games and also providing a bit of variety. Bane was a villain in the previous two games but we finally get to see Bane as the character I’ve always liked him to be. A super strong genius. This is where that character shines, when he has the mental capacity to take on Bruce Wayne and the physical strength to break the Batman. Unfortunately they don’t keep to this for the entirety of the game but I can forgive them given how ridiculous the ending to Arkham Asylum was.
Look at this. Gordon is even saving the game. Is there nothing he can’t do?
Combat is as solid as ever with one major caveat. The camera is dog shit. Most of my deaths came at the hands of the camera. It targets whoever hit you, which is fine, except that if someone behind you hits you the camera spins throwing off your sense of direction and in that spinning moment another person can swing and hit you (their swing hidden behind the blur of the camera twist) and then it swings to them but while it does another person hits you. Ad infinitum until you are nauseous and pissed.
Additionally the bugs with the game meant that occasionally the camera itself would bring me out of cover and into the view of a guy with a gun or a really powerful South American super villain. The latter of which killed me quite a few times because of this.
The boss battles are varied and I liked all of them. For once Killer Croc didn’t get crap for a boss fight, Bane’s fights are mostly great, Mad Hatter’s take on the Scarecrow levels is gorgeous and well done, Deadshot was dandy, Deathstroke was a blast, Firefly was a hoot, and so on and so forth. Each one has its own character and their dialogue is moderately varied but always enjoyable.
The world design is pretty good. I noticed critics complaining that it looked like Arkham City had already happened. To those folks I would suggest actually paying attention during the introductory portion of the game. Seeing as the regions largest high security prison has just unleashed an army of criminals onto the lower end of the city (and caused an emergency quarantine of citizens in the area) it would make sense that the only people you see in this industrial slum are criminals.
The commercial district is across the water and it would be there that you’d find the shining beauty of “real” Gotham.
The music is pretty good and I didn’t find anything annoying about it. It also helped me predict when the game was going to lock up on me because it would start to skip. The actual character dialogue and other sound effects are all as good as you’d expect (or hope for). I can’t really say much on it since I’m usually too engaged in the game. I think the best sounds are those that don’t draw your attention away from the experience and in that respect this game does that well.
The game content is just fine to me. I put in quite a few hours and never once found myself dragging. It could have been longer but so then could have the first two games. Batman games are unusually good about getting me to the apex of happiness and then ending. It’s like they are tailored made to be emotional teases.
The challenge maps are the same as previous titles and they just as fun. If you liked them before you’ll like them now and if you hated them before you’ll hate them now. Speaking of hate the VR Glide training missions are infinitely better in this game than in Arkham City. A small favor for someone who hated doing those in Arkham City.
The most unlikeable character in the entire DC universe.
I don’t know what else to say. I really enjoyed the gadgets (many of which I admit were the same as before). I really enjoyed the story (possibly my favorite if not just behind Arkham City). I really like the gameplay (fairly solid as expected). The sound design did its job. The level design did its job. The Christmas Eve setting was a wonderful idea and reminded me of the Long Halloween (a comic arc that should get an Arkham style game). Everything falls into place as it should.
The thought of them making Batman games much like the film industry makes movies to cover various pivotal moments in Batman’s career tantalizes me in ways I can barely express.
Is this a revolutionary experience that will cause you to lose your mind? No. In the wake of Pokemon Y and Disgaea D2 (two other games I need to write reviews for) I can see how this title might get punched in the gut. Where those games create incredibly streamlined and beautiful updates to their mechanisms this one merely replays what it has done before.
But I’ve been playing Pokemon and Nippon Ichi games for a decade (or longer in the case of Pokemon). For me I don’t demand everything be infinitely better than the game before it. I also understand that critics of this game are not asking for that. But to say this is anything beneath a good experience is impossible for me to do with a straight face.
Once they fix the bugs (and I mean most, if not all, of them) I whole heartedly recommend you check this title out. Not a second before though. Also as an owner of the collector’s edition I can say that the statue that comes with is really nice. I’ll probably be setting it up at the desk at my new job and pining over the scene that it is taken from.
This game is like a Krispy Kreme original donut. Sure it’s the same thing but gosh darn I love me those donuts.