Review: Does ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’ top ‘Arkham City’?

(CBR) “Batman: Arkham Origins” is worth playing. It’s a fun and satisfying experience that makes players feel like they’re really in control of the Dark Knight.
The same was also said of “Batman: Arkham City” in 2011.
Incoming developer WB Games Montreal had a herculean task ahead of it: to take on the massive legacy of Rocksteady’s “Batman: Arkham City” and apply it to a Batman origin story, and while “Arkham Origins” certainly has the graphic and artistic charm of Rocksteady’s previous installments, WB Games Montreal fails to progress the franchise in any real way, leading to a fun and satisfying, but somewhat disappointing and repetitive, experience.
Those who played “Arkham City” into the ground will feel right at home with “Arkham Origins'” gameplay, which includes few changes from the “Arkham” formula. Batman still uses the Freeflow combat system to build up hits and perform devastating finishers, Detective Mode is still omnipresent in its utility and stealth plays a key role in making it out of encounters alive. Riddler trophies are back (called “Enigma Data Packets” this time around, because Riddler doesn’t exist yet), as are the many side missions that characterized “Arkham City.” “Origins” adds a few new wrinkles in terms of execution and utilizing Batman’s skills (such as the fringe murder cases Batman can choose to investigate), but it all feels like it retreads old ground in a less interesting fashion.
The “Arkham” series has historically been about cleverly constraining Batman, making feats players could pull off all the more impressive as a result, which means that an “Arkham” game that expands the world for the sake of expansion is somewhat of a problem. “Arkham Asylum” took place entirely inside its namesake, which allowed Rocksteady to tell a controlled story while still maximizing freedom of exploration. Similarly, “Arkham City” saw a walled-off Gotham divided into districts controlled by its criminals, giving a perfect story reason for thugs to be wandering around outside. Although “Origins'” world is admittedly larger than “Arkham City,” much of it is a reskin of “Arkham City” with a few more districts added — and unlike “Arkham City,” there’s almost no reason for thugs and dirty cops to be wandering the streets during record blizzard conditions for Gotham. Plus, whenever Batman goes somewhere he’s not supposed to in “Arkham Origins,” he just gets pushed away by an unconvincing gust of wind.
Another unfortunate casualty of the origin story angle are the nods to the greater DC Universe and Batman universe at large. Previous games would have tiny Easter Eggs all over the game for eagle-eyed Bat-fans. Unfortunately, there isn’t much in “Origins” for players to find. Other than a Flying Graysons circus poster and a few communications from Barbara Gordon, the hints to a greater world beyond Gotham City just aren’t there.
Plus, the “Origin” concept of the game is fundamentally flawed. Players never feel like they become Batman. It feels like Batman has already been pretty well established in terms of arsenal and combat experience by the time the game starts, which makes for a somewhat misleading story. It’s true that none of the other characters really know who he is, but the player does, and instead of allowing the player to see Batman develop, the game simply piles on the gadgets for more forward momentum. It gets the job done gameplay-wise, but doesn’t do much in terms of building Batman as a character and a legend.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of “Origins” is the boss fights. Every single boss character has his or her own set of challenges, and bringing them down is a truly satisfying and unique experience. That said, the game treads some old ground when it comes to villains. The concept of Black Mask hiring assassins to kill Batman on Christmas Eve had the potential to offer a unique and new experience, but WB Games Montreal makes a story decision partially through the game that makes it feel like even more of a carbon copy of what’s come before. In some cases, it even takes a few steps back; characters like the Penguin are far less menacing than their “Arkham City” counterparts and it’s tough to view them as a real threat.
Although the voice actors do an admirable job bringing the characters to life, Batman still feels a bit off at first simply because players have gotten used to hearing the iconic voice of Kevin Conroy. Roger Craig Smith does a good job of stepping into Conroy’s shoes, but it’s never quite the same. There’s a similar issue with Troy Baker’s portrayal of the Joker as compared to Mark Hamill’s iconic representation of the role. It almost feels like both are doing their best impressions of Conroy and Hamill, but just don’t quite get there.
There are still bugs in the game that make playing it somewhat of a chore. The version I played experienced a bug where Batman was unable to interrogate defeated thugs needed to progress certain side missions — certainly a fixable problem, but considering how repetitive some of those missions were, it was a frustrating disappointment.
“Batman: Arkham Origins” isn’t a bad game — in fact, it would be downright incredible were it actually the first of its kind. It’s just disappointing for those expecting a new evolution of the franchise. Although the origin angle was interesting at first glance, it ultimately forces the game to take a few backwards steps in what’s made the “Arkham” series such an incredible representation of what makes Batman great.

Is it better than… …”Batman: Arkham Asylum”? Yes. “Arkham Origins” mirrors most of the improvements that Rocksteady brought to “Arkham City,” which gives it an edge on “Arkham Asylum” in almost every way. Not being shackled to the Asylum grounds is a huge plus in “Origins'” favor.

…”Batman: Arkham City”? No. “Arkham City” is superior to “Arkham Origins” in nearly every way, from story to utilization of mythology and the way characters are portrayed. Plus, it allowed players to play as Catwoman for story significant portions of the game, bringing a breath of fresh air to break up some of the more tedious segments. In fact, one of Catwoman’s missions heavily impacts the ending of the game. A lot of the charm of “Arkham City” was lost in “Arkham Origins” and it shows.

…”Saints Row IV”? No. “Saints Row IV” embraced the ridiculousness of repetitive open-world gameplay in a way that pokes fun at the genre as a whole, which made it all the more compelling. It also allowed players to really feel like they were becoming super heroes by forcing them to earn powers via challenges, something that “Batman: Arkham Origins” never quite figures out.