Batman: Arkham Origins – Warner Bros Montreal’s excellent Rocksteady impression
One of Rocksteady’s less celebrated achievements, alongside making The Dark Knight a menacing yet thrillingly vulnerable videogame protagonist, is that it fashioned a pair of games that make for surprisingly good companion pieces. Arkham Asylum’s crumbling, narrow corridors perfectly suit a tightly focused game about Batman the stealthy predator. Arkham City lacks that potency but instead offers the opportunity to be Batman the Gothic hero, swooping over a city lavishly packed with incidental detail and DC lore. Rather than round out the trilogy with a third, final take on the Caped Crusader, though, Warner Bros Montreal seems to have made Arkham City 2.
That’s no bad thing, of course, but there’s no escaping the fact that the new studio’s additions are bolt-ons to existing systems. For instance, Batman has a Remote Claw now, a device that adds a dash of slapstick physics fun to stealthy encounters by letting you attach enemies to items, environmental features and even each other. It’s a fun toy, perfectly suited to the kind of experimental sadism that the series’ stealth sequences encourage, although in its current form it threatens to turn Batman into a gargoyle-perched sniper, picking off enemies from afar.
Arkham Origins’ combat, meanwhile, is still built on Rocksteady’s familiar, rhythmic foundation, in which you chain attacks and counter-attacks against throngs of thugs, while identifying and subduing advanced enemy types with more specific techniques. Origins adds variety to these brawls via two new enemies: Enforcers are armoured brutes who can only be put down with a stun attack and an armour-wrecking flurry of blows, while Martial Arts Experts can counter Batman’s own counters (and, yes, you can counter their counter with another counter), stalling the flow of combat.
Even the game’s biggest addition turns out to be effectively cosmetic. Rocksteady’s Batman has always struggled to live up to the moniker of World’s Greatest Detective, but Origins wants to fix this by expanding the brief Detective mode segments of previous games, in which you’d follow trails or scour sections of the map for obvious clues. Now, you can fast forward, reverse and walk around wireframe simulations of crime scenes in search not just of clues, but the moment they appear. In the section we play, Batman needs to pinpoint the location of a sniper who shot down a helicopter, and we must reverse back to the moment the bullet hit the chopper in order to work out its trajectory. The potential is here for more involved puzzles than those Rocksteady offered, but in practice Batman’s inner monologue walks you through it.
Still, Warner Montreal’s take on a yuletide Gotham marks a genuine departure from the previous games. Arkham City’s industrial setting will be reused (though given Origins’ prequel status, the area will be distinct from its incarnation as a walled-off correctional facility) but much of Origins takes place in skyscraper-filled New Gotham. Between them, the two settings encompass both takes on Bruce Wayne’s home city: the tumbledown Gothic slum of Tim Burton’s movies and Batman Begins, as well as the surrogate New York seen in The Dark Knight and its sequel. The variation is welcome, and New Gotham’s predilection for towering office blocks should also make for some fine swooping grounds.
Arkham Origins might feature a younger Batman facing supervillains for the first time, but the series has reached comfortable middle age. After the shock of Asylum and the bold transition of City, Origins seems to be assuredly offering more of the latter game.