By Shane Tyas
If ten years ago I told you that computer games based on the Batman Series would be one of the most successful games franchises of the moment, you would have probably laughed in my face.
Sure, Batman has always been on of the most popular superheroes of all time, and in particular the incredible success of Christopher Nolan directed movie series in recent years, but with huge franchises such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto dominating the gaming world, many were initially sceptical about how well a Batman computer would fare in comparison
However, in 2009, a year after the phenomenal success of The Dark Knight, and indeed, the release of Lego Batman, came a release by Rocksteady studios which became a surprise smash hit.
Following Batman: Arkham Asylum, came Arkham City, which was named by many as the greatest superhero game of all time. With an amazing story, incredible voice actors and extremely addictive gameplay, it seems hard to imagine how anything can top it.
And now with the recent highly anticipated release of the third game in the series, Arkham Origins, the question on everyone’s lips is; “Will it live up to the success of the first two?”
This latest instalment doesn’t actually follow the story of Arkham City, it’s actually set five to seven years previously, at an early stage in the caped crusader’s career. It features a younger, less experienced Batman, not exactly out on his first day on the job, but up to this point, has only had to deal with small-time drug dealers, thieves and general run-of-the-mill scum.
On Christmas Eve, however, he finds that everything is about to change when, after his escape from Blackgate Prison, The Black Mask, Gotham City’s most ruthless crime lord, has hired eight of the world’s greatest assassins to put an end to him once and for all.
Because of the absence of Rocksteady, now replaced by Warner Brothers Montreal, a few gamers were apprehensive over how different Origins would be to the previous two. In actual fact, though, Origins is not much different at all.
The gameplay and fighting style is generally the same, as are the gadgets, though there are one or two new additions, like the remote claw and a pair of Electro-shock gloves. Gotham City, also is largely expanded compared to Arkham City, but also features some familiar landscapes previously shown in the former.
The Riddler and his challenges are back, except on his first encounter with Batman, he is simply known as Enigma, and the Riddler trophies found so frequently in the previous two are now replaced by Enigma data packs scattered round the map of Gotham and protected by the usual array of puzzles. He has also taken control of several radar towers which Batman has to hack if he hopes to use his Bat Wing Jet to fast travel round the city
Origins also welcomes the return of the highly enjoyable side missions, which usually feature one of Batman’s many foes, presenting him with a challenge, or just generally distracting him from his primary objective. A personal favourite of mine in Origins has to be the Mad Hatter side mission, in which after being “invited cordially” by three thugs in micro-chipped White Rabbit masks, Batman must track down the Hatter to (unsurprisingly) a Hat Shop, where he must rescue a young girl named Alice (again, no surprise), but not before being warped to a dark version of Wonderland, with the surrealism echoing that of the Scarecrow’s twisted world in Arkham Asylum.
Though not actually an Origins story as such, the game focuses on the first appearances of many of the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery including Bane, Killer Croc, The Mad Hatter, The Penguin, The Riddler and of course, The Joker. Lesser known villains are also included, such as Firefly, Lady Shiva and Copperhead, which gives them the chance to shine and take some of the spotlight. The boss fights are enjoyable and exciting, and have less of the running at you like a bellowing rhinoceros and crashing into a wall, as shown previously with the Bane boss battle in Arkham Asylum
What is interesting is the somewhat hostile reception he receives from Commissioner Gordon, then Captain, who, along with the rest of the Gotham City Police force, believe that Batman is nothing more than a winged vigilante and is just as much of a menace as the criminals they apprehend. Gordon’s relationship with Batman has usually been one of a close ally, who has always defended his actions to other authority figures like the Mayor of Gotham, but this version shows how Gordon is initially distrusting of Batman and is unsure of his true intentions. Harley Quinn makes a brief appearance, but as a Blackgate prison psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel before her descent into madness. We catch a glimpse of her meeting the Joker, and so arises the beginning of one of the most tempestuous and dysfunctional relationships in the DC Universe.
Another worry for Batman fans were the absence of long-time voice actors such as Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamill (Joker), who many agree are the ultimate incarnations of those characters, but Roger Craig Smith provides an impressive new take on the Caped Crusader, and Troy Baker’s deranged performance of the Joker is eerily similar to Hamill’s.
A completely new addition to the Arkham series is the much talked about multiplayer mode which largely features Bane and the Joker. In it, three of Bane’s follower’s and three of the Joker’s henchmen shoot it out with each other while another two players take on the role of Batman and Robin. As gang member players claim territory and massacre their opponents, the players portraying the dynamic duo have to neutralize all the gang members and restore peace back on the streets of Gotham. Gamers used to multiplayer will adapt to this quickly, however less experienced players might find it slightly confusing to begin with.
In general, Arkham Origins is a fun, enjoyable game, with pretty much everything you can ask for in a Batman game. There are some aspects of the game that are slightly repetitive, but given that it’s trying to follow in the footsteps of the first two, it’s not very surprising. While not exactly measuring up to the brilliance of Arkham City, Origins is still very good, and perhaps on par with Arkham Asylum. Long-time fans of this series will almost certainly have fun playing it, but newcomers should probably warm up with the first two instalments first.