November 17, 2013
The story takes place five years before the events of Arkham Asylum, in the middle of winter in Gotham City where the mob boss Black Mask has ordered eight deadly assassins to hunt and kill Batman. This would make it his second year as a crime fighter, but still before he was well established as the caped crusader and known vigilante, and instead was more of a myth or a legend.
As such, familiar villains of Batman’s Rogue Gallery have had little to no contact with the Bats before this entry. It’s interesting to see faces like the Penguin, who was once horribly disfigured with a broken bottle jammed around his eye socket as his monocle, now perfectly normal. Some of the more notable differences are the absence of Batman veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, who are the Animated Series voice actors for Batman and The Joker, respectively.
Instead, Roger Craig Smith, who some may know as the voice of Ezio from the Assassin’s Creed series, or the most current voice actor for Sonic the Hedgehog, has been cast as the voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Troy Baker, who has most recently played Booker Dewitt in BioShock Infinite has taken on the role of the Joker. To be perfectly honest, I was worried they wouldn’t live up to incredible talent of the former actors, but to my surprise both not only sound believable as their characters, but do a bloody good job with their performances.
The game’s world this time around is not in an enclosed prison, but is rather a much larger part of Gotham City. A quick look at the game’s map shows that it’s roughly double the size of Arkham City’s map. One of the best things about Arkham City was that Rocksteady paid an absurd attention to detail and crammed Arkham City with Easter Eggs and references to other Batman villains, or comic books. WB Montreal attempts this, but doesn’t quite reach the same level. It becomes even more apparent when you realize how big the game’s map is and the missed opportunity to put even more content. That being said, you can expect some clever and subtle Easter Eggs, like a transport crate with Queen’s Industries’ label, or Calendar Man’s cell in the opening level at Blackgate Prison.
One of my absolute favourite additions to Arkham Origins is having a fully realized Batcave that you can come back to at any time. There, you can interact with Alfred, who may shed some more light on your current objectives, or access the challenge maps in the designated training area. It’s great gliding around to see things like the Batmobile being constructed. It adds level of immersion into Batman’s character and you really feel like you are in this secret hideout that looks like a work-in-progress.
Gameplay has largely remained the same, which is great in the sense that it doesn’t try to fix a near flawless mechanic, but at the same time it feels like there should have been something more. Many of Batman’s gadgets have returned, like the explosive gel, the remote controlled batarang, and the cryptographic sequencer. The electrically charged gauntlets that made their debut in the Wii U version of Arkham City have returned, but they don’t make sense in a prequel as they were introduced where Arkham City by Alfred talking about this “new” gadget. Still, it’s one thing you can appreciate about a lack of new gadgets – it fits the context of the story, and respects the nature of a prequel. It wouldn’t make much sense if Batman had a beefier arsenal now, and it would make even less sense when you wonder why he never used them in Asylum or City.
Aside from the main storyline, you can complete Riddler challenges scattered throughout the city , partake in some side-quests, and of course hone your skills in the challenge maps. Deathstroke is a playable character for said challenges, and he controls completely differently from Batman. His moves are orchestrated around his pole staff and he looks incredibly well choreographed with in motion.
There was a Multiplayer mode that was announced for the first time in the Arkham series; however Warner Brothers and WB Montreal have completely omitted its inclusion in the Wii U port. To see developers not even give an online community a chance for a new console is disappointing to say the least, but the pricing of the Wii U version has been adjusted to compensate for its missing content.
For the Wii U‘s Arkham City: Armored Edition, we previously wrote that the game’s visuals were certainly better than the PS3 and 360 in some cases, but also noted some glaring frame rate issues. It's pleasing to note that Arkham Origins looks and performs in a far more stable way than Arkham City, which says a lot considering the much larger game world. While you won’t find much in the way of pedestrians thanks to a convenient curfew set during the game’s story, the city itself is full of gritty personality. You will retread familiar places from Arkham City, and it’s great to see how different they look. The framerate does dip in rare occasions, but nowhere near the rate of its predecessor. Character models look great on the dated Unreal engine, and Batman definitely looks much younger and trimmer than the previous games.
If you are a fan of the Arkham series, then you’ll be able to play and enjoy this game for what it is: more Batman. It’s a game that didn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but there is nothing inherently bad about that. What they did do is craft a much bigger world, with the largest cast of boss battles to go up against while keeping the core mechanic that wowed us in 2011 intact. Batman Arkham Origins is a worthy successor to the series, and a great prequel story about a much younger Dark Knight – just think of it more as a precursor to Rocksteady’s next experience.
Batman: Arkham Origins was reviewed on the Nintendo Wii U. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.