Batman: Arkham Origins | game review
Batman Begi- wait... The Dark Knight Ris- no... Screw it, it's just a prequel to Arkham Asylum.
Game summary: Years before the Arkham incidents, the neophyte Dark Knight finds himself the target of an open murder contract courtesy of Black Mask that draws eight of the world's deadliest assassins and a new criminal named The Joker. (IMDb)
I remember when Batman: Arkham Origins came out and a common criticism was that it was 'just more of the same', which is an odd thing to view as a negative considering the quality of the first two Batman: Arkham games. After all, most forms of media struggle to have successive entries in a series capable of maintaining a consistent level of quality.
Playing it for the first time, I thought the biggest issue was that it simply wasn't as good as Rocksteady's efforts (WB Games Montréal are the developers for Origins), but I still enjoyed it a fair amount. My patience is clearly fading as I'm getting older though, as I can't say that I enjoyed it all that much playing through it again for this review - too many frustrating sections and one-off gimmicks for me to put up with now.
There is still a certain level of basic quality here, which includes the audio-visual side of things - the snowy winter setting certainly adds to the atmosphere - but there are plenty of issues even with what should've been directly imported from Rocksteady's games that don't work here. The biggest of them all is that the combat - a medium-influencing highlight of Asylum and City - really doesn't work here.
I will make an allowance that making Batman a little stiffer to control could be seen as a design choice to reflect that this is still an inexperienced Dark Knight, but that doesn't make it any better to play. Rather than feeling like a fluid and graceful combatant, you end up feeling like a clunky brawler with pretty poor reflexes thanks to the slow response time to button presses meaning you can end up taking hits you absolutely wouldn't in the first two games.
Then there's the heavily QTE-driven 'boss' battles, which come across as a little too much like the developers couldn't figure out a way to implement these encounters a little more elegantly than they did. I get that there were special prompts in the same kind of encounters in the previous games, but it does feel like Rocksteady managed to incorporate more of the basic gameplay elements into those battles.
There's also some weird transitions between the surprisingly low quality (visually) cutscenes - that look especially bad compared to the sharper images of the actual game - where there'll be a break in the video for you to do a quick QTE and then jump straight back into a cutscene. I ended up wondering why every single one of those moments couldn't have just been left as part of the cutscenes, as they don't add anything to the experience at all.
And I've got to say that I'm well and truly sick of the Joker showing up all the time now in every form of Bat-media, with his presence here diverting the story from what was an interesting set-up into yet another Batman vs Joker saga that I was bored of way before it finally ended. Or, if you like the Joker, you'll absolutely love this as he just won't go away despite there being more than one occasion he could've left proceedings.
I know all of this negativity doesn't sound great, but there are still some decent moments in Batman: Arkham Origins - it's just a lot, lot harder to find them this time. I'll also admit to leaving a lot of the side content unfinished too, including most of the fast travel points because I simply couldn't be bothered, as I just wasn't enjoying the lesser quality of the moment-to-moment gameplay - there's plenty to enjoy if the game does click for you.
Batman: Arkham Origins is quite a let-down after Asylum and City, showing that Rocksteady really knew what they were doing with those two games. The controls here are less responsive and stiffer, which makes the combat irritating, and too many of the encounters with the 'big name' criminals are far too gimmicky to draw you in, which the story - including Joker, yet again - won't help with either.