It’s fun. The Shock Gloves are a great new addition to combat gameplay, as is the Remote Caw for stealth. I’m also a big fan of the more advanced enemies that not only are capable of countering your attacks, but can themselves throw a double or triple attack at you that you have to counter in a special way. It keeps the combat fresh, which is a huge sticking point for me, since that’s what I sink the most time into. The combat is a little more challenging in that your opponents are a little smarter, their punches come a little faster, and you’d be surprised how often getting his once will get you hit three or four more times. The combat has never really felt more organic than this, and I applaud the developers for that. Boss fights were varied enough in the tradition of Arkham City that kept me satisfied. Not only that, but quicktime events were part of the core gameplay, not just scattered randomly throughout cutscenes, so I suspect even Yahtzee won’t be complaining about that one.
Stealth is still fun, but I found myself almost always using the Silent Takedown and not needing very many others except the smoke pallet. I have a feeling that the challenge maps will do a better job on stealth than the campaign did.
Furthermore, the voice acting is great. Some of the dialogue is a little too comic-book-y (Arkham City probably had the best writing of the three even if Asylum remains the best game simply for its originality and contained universe) but it’s done well and definitely in the Christmas spirit. Roger Craig Smith is an awesome Batman. Troy Baker is a phenomenal Joker, and Martin Jarvis really hits it for Alfred. And as long as we’re talking about sound, Christopher Drake’s soundtrack is absolutely perfect – easily giving “Origins” the best OST of the trilogy.
Side Note: it was actually kind of hilarious to see Julian Day get arrested in the very beginning – as if the game was saying “hey, it’s Christmas and crazy crap’s about to go down, but guess who WON’T be participating in it – Calendar Man!!!”
Now for the problems.
The story’s fine; it’s even got its moments of brilliance too, none of which I’m going to spoil, though I will say that similar to City, there was nothing that could even come close to the Scarecrow moments of Arkham Asylum which were defining trademarks of that game. Little too much Bane in this game too. I was glad to see him here, and I was gladder too to fight him, but the game probably could have toned it down just a bit. There’s an earnest attempt to make something reminiscent of it, and it was certainly cool, but nothing mind blowing.
Arkham Origins is a prequel, so we obviously know that it ends with the opening of Arkham Asylum, but arranging the story to be a night where the entire city finally realizes that the masked vigilante they’ve all been hearing rumors about for the last two years is actually real, and that Batman has yet to truly realizes just what kind of precedent he’s started, as the story depicts his very first encounter with The Joker – in a very The Man Who Laughs kind of way. That said, I really do wish that we got to see more of Black Mask. He’s a great villain that never seems to get much screen time in general.
The problem is the side stuff. Arkham Asylum did a great job shrouding the whole environment in mystery that made you want to look for those Riddler question marks and the stone tablets even though they were totally optional. They also gave you access to audio tapes of the criminals that were really great to listen to. City kept that, even if it did get a little out of hand. But here, the side missions feel even less important to the overall plot. Arkham City felt like you were maintaining a kind of order that needed to be maintained for a place like a city-wide asylum. But here’s, it’s an entire sandbox of Gotham. I understand that Batman is the silent guardian and watchman of the night, but surely a man like him has better things to do than collect a bunch of Anarky tags scattered about just to appease an idiot kid, or look for a few scattered weapon caches owned by Penguin. Granted, a few of them were worth doing, but the Riddler trophies are literally just for getting them and they barely unlock anything of note. Yes, the Riddler has “plans” to start riots in the streets with the information he’s collected that you need to take down, but there’s literally no reason for him to actually be in this game. Not only that, but the game dresses him up as yet another stranger Batman’s never heard of. So Batman meets both the Joker AND the Riddler in the same night? This is what focused narrative-oriented people call “clutter”. There just doesn’t seem to be a point in playing the Riddler’s little game unless you’re begging for achievements. Not to mention how considerably out of character it is. There will always be distractions, but that usually implies that it’s connected to the bigger plot and rising the tension. Here, it’s just a thing Bats will be tied up with for the rest of the night.
If I had to compare it, it would be that the game has fallen into the same trap Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood did, where the collectibles are there just for the achievement whores. If games are going to have such side objectives, they should give the player a reason to do it. This was something Assassin’s Creed 2 did extremely well, and a reason it’s one of my favorite videogames of all time. AC2 had 100 feathers scattered across all the city landscapes that you could choose to collect or not. I chose to do it, not because I’m insane (though I was for achievements at the time), but because I decided that Ezio was exactly the kind of person who would do that for his family. After his work was done and he could screw around to his heart’s content, it would be in his nature to collect those feathers so that his mother could have something physical to cherish the memory of her youngest son Petruccio. And seeing her hug Ezio and finally speak after silencing herself in mourning for the duration of the entire game upon his presenting of the feathers to her was extremely emotionally rewarding. Arkham Asylum and City did have their rewards for the Riddler trophies, and that’s why I did them all in the first and did most of them in the second. Here, I don’t really want to do them, though I probably will, just because the game has made it ridiculously easier and being Batman never really gets old for me.
I realize I spent a lot of time talking about this side optional thing, but I suppose it contributes to the bigger problem and a similar one that City had, which was that a straight sandbox set-up that got so big it could only get bigger tends to kill its story of the a more rigid structure this kind of story requires. It’d be different if it was a Spider-Man game where it doesn’t feel like you’re pressed for time so you could screw around until you got to the next place where a mission triggers. With these games, it’s a tighter story with detective work, mystery, intrigue, and suspense – all things that make for a great thriller, but are undermined because of the open world. Origins has a more extreme version of the same problem because it’s bigger. Though I will say that it seemed a little more ridiculous in City given that the story featured Batman literally dying from poison in his blood for the entire game.
All in all, it’s definitely a good game, though I think this would be the last game where the Arkham franchise could call itself ahead, so it would do well to consider quitting here.
Arkham Asylum: 9.5/10
Arkham City: 8.5/10
Assassin’s Creed 2: 10/10
Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood: 7.0