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In my opinion, Rocksteady Studios has developed some of the best Batman games of all time. Arkham Asylum was the first in the Batman: Arkham series and established the gameplay we would come to know and love. Arkham City expanded on it further with refined mechanics, additional features, and a larger world to explore. Arkham Origins came next and wasn’t developed by Rocksteady because they were pre-occupied with Arkham: Knight. Developed by WB Games Montreal and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, Batman: Arkham Origins was released for PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U in October, 2013. For this review, I played the PC version. I have beaten this once before on 360 and out of all the games in the series, I’ve played this one the least so I was excited to revisit it. Arkham Origins introduced a multiplayer component to the series but the online services were retired in 2016 so the multiplayer will not be covered in this review. However, I will be covering the DLC Cold, Cold Heart.
Arkham Origins is a prequel and the events here take place several years before the events in Arkham Asylum. The story is set in Gotham City on Christmas Eve before part of the city was turned into the Arkham City prison. It’s early on in Batman’s career as a crime-fighter so nobody really knows who or what he is. The people of Gotham have heard rumors and the GCPD does not approve of his approach to fighting crime. Black Mask has put a bounty on Batman’s head which attracts some of the hero’s deadliest foes like Killer Croc, Deadshot, Bane, and Firefly, among some others. The plot also shows Batman’s introduction to the madness of the Joker. In the Cold, Cold Heart DLC, Batman sets out to find Mr. Freeze after he storms Wayne Manor and kidnaps Ferris Boyle, the GothCorp CEO. I like the prequel concept and enjoyed the developer’s interpretation of Batman’s early crime-fighting days but I didn’t think the plot was as strong as the plots in the previous titles. And the plot in a Cold, Cold Heart is kind of a like rehash of The Animated Series episode “Heart of Ice” only more fleshed out. I did like the game’s presentation and overall dark tone the Batman universe is known for. I enjoyed voice performances even though some of the veteran voice actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill do not reprise their roles. Nolan North delivers another great performance as Penguin and Tara Strong returns to voice Harleen Quinzel. Roger Craig Smith voices Bruce Wayne and Batman and I think he does a great job. Batman sounds very intense all the time. I found it somewhat humorous, actually. But he passes for a younger Batman and that’s one thing I really like about the voice performances overall. Several characters do actually sound as if they’re younger, compared to their older selves in the previous games. If you’ve played those or watched The Animated Series, then you should be familiar with Mark Hamill’s performance as Joker. I’m a big fan, myself, and it was disappointing to know he wouldn’t return to voice the character in Origins. Troy Baker was chosen to fill the role and it turned out to be a great decision in my opinion. I’ve always liked Troy Baker’s voice work and he does a pretty good job at mimicking Mark Hamill’s Joker. You can tell it’s a bit off but in my opinion, the performance could pass for a younger Joker and Troy got the personality, attitude, and inflections down.
Arkham Origins plays a lot like the previous games did. As Batman, you can walk, run, crouch, jump, slide, and glide. The Gotham City depicted here is a pretty large place and Origins implements a fast-travel system which I think is a welcome addition. You can fast-travel to any of the Batwing Drop Points on the map which need to be unlocked first. You can still grapple around and most of Batman’s moves and gadgets from the previous games are present here. When navigating around the city, I would often grapple onto the wrong things which also happened to me here and there in Arkham City, but it seemed more frequent here and it is annoying when you’re just trying to get somewhere or avoid enemies. And sometimes there were objects or structures that appear as if you can grapple onto them but you can’t and it makes navigating around certain areas of the city tedious. Most of the time, grappling and navigating around the city was fun and once I unlocked the Batwing Drop Points, getting around was never a problem. Batman can activate Detective Vision at any time to see important information in the world. This includes being able to see enemies through walls and solid objects, making it one of Batman’s most useful tools. You’ll get to investigate crime scenes using Batman’s evidence scanner and now you can reconstruct crime scenes which is pretty cool and makes investigating crimes a bit more interesting.
The freeflow combat system and stealth mechanics make a return and you’ll feel right at home if you’re a veteran of the series. You’ll get to beat up a ton of enemies and also quietly move through areas and take out thugs one by one. There are multiple difficulty modes and as expected, none of the fights are very difficult but the challenge is keeping the multiplier going. You can strike, counter, evade, and stun enemies and more moves are unlocked through the Wayntech upgrade system. Landing hits in succession without taking any hits or messing up increases your multiplier and the higher the multiplier the more experience you earn. Experience is also earned by completing missions and/or objectives and after earning enough experience, you can spend a point on a Waynetech upgrade. You can improve Batman’s armor and unlock new moves and gadget functionalities. However, not every upgrade can be unlocked with points. Auxiliary Upgrades are only unlocked by completing certain missions or reaching certain ranks within the Dark Knight System. Batman is ranked in multiple categories and to reach certain ranks within a category, you need to complete certain tasks or challenges like taking down enemies in certain ways, gliding a certain distance, complete an encounter without being seen, and other things along those lines. The system encourages you to try new things and you’re rewarded for doing so. In a Cold, Cold Heart, most of your gadgets are available from the start but you don’t earn experience and cannot unlock upgrades which makes the DLC feel less rewarding than the main story.
Gadgets are used to get around but they can also be used as an aid in combat and stealth. You’ll acquire new gadgets as you progress and some are required to access new areas. Batman can use his grapnel gun to grapple around the environments, drop smoke pellets to escape from enemies or disorient them, throw Batarangs, use the cryptographic sequencer to bypass security systems, use explosive gel to blow through certain areas, and he can use his Batclaw to grab and pull things. None of this should be new if you’ve played the previous games. My favorite gadget from Arkham City, the Disruptor, returns and I don’t think I will ever not enjoy using it to disable an enemy’s firearm and then watch him struggle to shoot me. You can also use it to disable speaker boxes which villains use to communicate with their henchmen. Arkham Origins introduces some new gadgets like the concussion grenades, shock gloves, remote claw, and glue grenades which is basically the equivalent to the Freeze Blast from Arkham City. The concussion grenades can be used to disorient enemies and the shock gloves are used to short circuit objects in the environments. The shock gloves can also be used during combat and they actually make the already easy fights even easier. The gloves have a battery that charges as you fight enemies and when fully charged, you can activate them and they basically make your strikes more powerful. They can penetrate armored enemies and enemies with shields and stun batons. My favorite new gadget is the remote claw. You can use it to string together two objects creating a zipline. But it can also be used to pull enemies together and when upgraded, it can be used to string up enemies to objects which I found to be very satisfying. Cold, Cold Heart adds new gadgets in name but they’re really just alternates of existing ones. At a certain point in the story, Batman will acquire a new suit that comes with Thermal Gloves and Batarangs which are used to break ice. They replace the Shock Gloves and standard Batarangs respectively. Other than breaking ice, they function exactly like their counterparts in the main story.
The city is filled with thugs and cops who won’t hesitate to try and take you down and baddies with guns are easily the most dangerous. Many of the enemy types you’ve encountered in the previous games are present here including snipers, dudes with shields, guys with stun batons, heavily armored thugs, large baddies that need to be ultra-stunned, and enemies with knives and swords. Some stealth encounters include bad guys with signal jammers, preventing you from seeing anything of importance in detective vision until you take the jammer guy down. You’re always outnumbered and if you enjoyed the freeflow combat system in the previous games, you’ll enjoy it here. Sometimes multiple enemies will try and attack you simultaneously, they’ll grab things in the environments to throw at you, some run to get guns, and the bigger dudes can grab you. New to the enemy roster are Martial Artists and what makes them unique is that they’re capable of countering Batman’s attacks. In a Cold, Cold Heart, enemies with Cryo Weapons are introduced and they can freeze Batman during a fight which can be very annoying, actually. As mentioned before, surviving a combat encounter isn’t that difficult. It’s all about keeping that multiplier up which can be challenging when there’s multiple enemy types thrown at you at once. Once you master the controls and moves which isn’t that hard to do, then you just need to master timing. The stealth or predator encounters require you to actually think and be aware of your surroundings. Once your spotted enemies will start shooting and can drain your health rapidly so you’ll want to take them down silently and separate the ones who stick together.
Gotham City is well represented and several locations that were present in the previous game are present here and you’ll get to traverse and take down enemies in numerous buildings. You’ll get to navigate and explore Blackgate Prison, Wayne Manor, the Royal Hotel, and even the Batcave which is pretty cool. Some of the buildings and areas can be a pain in the ass to navigate and get out of. Some just need more exits. Scattered around the city are numerous Enigma Datapacks to collect which are like the Riddler Trophies in the previous games and some of them require the use of certain gadgets to be collected. You will revisit some areas numerous times throughout the story and even more so if you’re a completionist since you’ll have to revisit areas to collect the Datapacks. Enigma has handlers all over the city that can be interrogated to reveal the locations of the Datapacks on your map. There are several comms towers in the city controlled by Enigma and if you can take them over, you’ll unlock Batwing Drop Points for fast travelling. There are multiple side objectives and missions to complete like investigating crime scenes, stopping crimes in progress, destroying Anarky Bombs, apprehending prisoners, scanning Anarky Tags, destroying drug stashes, arms caches, and network relays, and completing these is a great way to earn experience. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock things like character profiles and trophies, concept art, challenge maps, and skins. In a Cold, Cold Heart only a small portion of the city is available and you cannot fast travel. However, you are free to explore the available portion of the city and the DLC comes with its own side missions and tasks like freeing frozen victims, stopping riots started by Anarky Activists, and scanning all of the Anarky Activist Tags. Many of the side missions in Origins don’t feel as fleshed out as the ones in Arkham City but I enjoyed exploring the world and knowing there’s always something to see and do.
The Challenge Mode makes a comeback and it’s very similar to its counterpart in Arkham City. You can access it from the main menu or the Training Console in the Batcave. You can play as Batman, Bruce Wayne, or Deathstroke and each character has their own set of skins. They also have their own equipment and must earn their own medals in the challenges. There’s different types of Challenges available; Ranked, Campaign, Custom, and Combat Training for Batman only. The Ranked game type is accompanied by leaderboards. You choose a combat or predator map and try to earn medals. Combat maps have you fighting enemies in rounds and predator maps have you sneaking around, picking off thugs one by one. Bruce and Deathstroke don’t have as many tools as Batman so you’ll be forced to think differently when playing as them, especially in the predator maps. The Custom game type is similar to Ranked except you can choose different modifiers. Several maps and campaigns are locked from the start but you can unlock more by beating the Campaigns. The Campaign game type has you completing multiple maps in succession and forces you to choose modifiers before each map. The Combat Training maps for Batman are basically combat tutorials but they’re easy medals. Medals can be earned in maps in each game type by meeting specific requirements. In Combat maps, you have to reach certain scores and in Predator maps, you need to complete certain objectives like taking down enemies in specific ways. Just like in the previous games, the Challenge mode will put your skills to the test and force you to think and use all the tools at your disposal. It offers a lot of replay value.
From the moment you start playing, you can see the game is better looking than its predecessors. The presentation and cut scenes look very slick. The character models look great, Gotham City is visually well represented, and I love the Christmas setting and all the little details. Snow will cover areas, Christmas lights can be seen around windows, Batman’s suit will show more and more visible damage as you progress through the story, and in a Cold, Cold Heart, parts of the city are covered in ice. I enjoyed the music overall which is a lot of dramatic orchestral stuff and I really enjoyed the theme heard at the main menu which tosses in some Christmas jingles. The sound effects are solid with satisfying sounds of strikes, weapons fire, and loud explosions and as you navigate the city, you’ll get to listen to thugs chatting about various things. On the technical side, the game is a bit broken. I encountered numerous crashes, some of which were only resolved after deleting an INI file and letting the game recreate it. The crashes happened way too often and my research leads me to believe the crashes are caused by some of the DX11 settings but I can’t really confirm. I kept everything maxed out. At one point, I saw a texture stretch across the environment, I saw little things like papers just floating in mid-air, and there was a few times where I should have been able to interrogate an NPC and I wasn’t able to. In several Predator challenge maps, enemies would get stuck in the environments. Needless to say the game is quite buggy.
I enjoyed Arkham Origins, although a lot of what is here has been done before. In fact, it’s a lot like Arkham City. I did like the story, presentation, and the Christmas setting. I also liked how you’re able to explore Gotham City, itself. There’s a lot to see and do and so fans of the previous games should find a lot to love here. In my experience, the game’s technical issues are the only real thing holding it back. The numerous crashes and bugs peppered throughout the game became really annoying after a while. Otherwise, it’s fine. Cold, Cold Heart is decent DLC and while it doesn’t feel as rewarding as the main story mode, there’s still plenty to do. The Challenge mode is cool as always, mainly because it forces you to use all of the tools at your disposal and all of the unlockable content should keep players coming back for a while.
I would absolutely recommend Batman: Arkham Origins to fans of the series and Batman in general. Veterans of the series should feel right at home and while it’s disappointing that there’s isn’t a whole lot here to make it feel new or refreshing, it’s still a solid and fun entry in the series. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. But funnily enough, the game is a bit broken. At least the PC version. You might want to do some research and tweaking before you jump into the game on Windows 10 to avoid as many bugs and crashes as possible. Despite the technical issues, I still had a great time. Definitely check out Arkham Origins if you haven’t already.