Missteps keep Batman game from being great

by Max Saucedo

Nostalgia is a tricky thing. We can relive the glory days of “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and its sequel “Arkham City,” both of which were games of the year in terms of innovation, storytelling and gameplay. How does the nostalgia factor affect the new kid in town, “Batman: Arkham Origins?” Actually, it affects the game heavily.

For now, it’s safe to conclude that “Origins” and its developer Warner Bros. Games Montreal bear the almost impossible weight of the previous two installments in the series, both of which were developed by Rocksteady Studios. Having played those games, I was more than aware of what I enjoyed the most and what I thought could be improved. I wasn’t initially on board with opening Batman up to a sandbox-style environment for this reason: atmosphere counts for a lot. “Asylum” had it, but “City” fumbled it. Where will “Origins” fit? Is it a thriller like “Asylum?” Is it a sandbox like “City?” The answer is a resounding, “Kind of … not really.”

However, throughout the course of “City,” I appreciated the level of storytelling in the game and how it managed to take a solid concept of the original and make it better. “Arkham Origins” does make good improvements. The Gotham City setting has been fleshed out and is visually spectacular. A quick transportation system utilizing the Batwing makes fast traveling to different boroughs of Gotham much easier than it was before.

Combat continues to impress, but doesn’t reinvent the wheel. More thug types are introduced, such as martial arts experts who can counter Batman’s attacks and counters. The new XP system rewards players for trying out different combat techniques, favoring a hybridization of martial arts and Batman’s array of gadgets. The more XP earned (and you’ll need as much as you can get), the more gadgets and combat moves you will unlock. Of course, this isn’t so much innovation as it is extrapolation. But “Origins” does make it fun to grind for points, at least. Different takedowns and use of gadgets during the “predator” challenges (challenges emphasizing Batman’s lethality from the shadows) also increase the difficulty of eliminating as many guards without being seen or taken down.

Now the other foot drops. I mentioned earlier how nostalgia has affected the weight “Origins” must bear. However, for all intensive purposes, this game is more about Batman’s origins than it is about how Arkham’s Batman is no longer the career-hardened crime fighter known from previous incarnations. Instead, he is an angry, young vigilante with a whole lot of cash. And make no mistake-he is a jerk in this game. When we first meet him he’s a mean, heartless and downright sociopathic vigilante. This is probably as close to Batman’s shattered psyche as we’ve ever been, before he becomes the legend Gotham will one day see him as. Certain actions will make you feel uncomfortable, posing the question as to if the future hero is in the right at all.

WB Montreal has dug deep into the Batman lore, bringing in characters that haven’t seen much exposure, such as Copperhead, Deathstroke and Electrocutioner. Each boss battle suits the mechanics and gadgets that have been taught early on One of the best is the encounter with Deathstroke, who engages Batman in one of the best hand-to-hand fights ever developed. Other well-known characters from the series’ earlier installments also have their first interactions with Batman, including Bane, the Penguin and the Joker. No super villain has become as synonymous with his or her superhero as the Batman and the Joker. Making an explosive introduction, we come to learn the Joker’s origins. In what is easily one of the finest sequences in Batman storytelling, the Joker’s background is finally explored and given the credit it deserves.

Where “Origins” falters and ultimately prevents itself from being a great adventure is the story and bugs. In the middle of a fight with Bane, the game froze on me, leaving me to crazily howl at the moon. This was not the first or last of the many bugs and plaguing “Origins.” WB Montreal has promised patches to fix said bugs, but for offline gamers such as myself, the product I have is the product I get. As far as innovation goes, however, this game doesn’t so much as shake up the formula as it simply continues with what works. “Origins” has too many moments that leave you scratching your head thinking, “Really? They went in that direction?” Certain liberties are taken with how the assassins’ angles develop and leaves me wanting more and feeling somewhat cheated. Hopefully, the ability to make a good game like “Origins” will inspire WB Montreal to make a truly great Batman game in the future.

Photo courtesy of MCT

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