In 2009, developers Rockstead released Batman: Arkham Asylum. The game was built with enough fail safes (Paul Dini, incredible voice acting talent Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill) to be a huge critical and commercial success. It's successor, Arkham City (released in 2011) came with just as much acclaim and success. Arkham Asylum was my favorite of the series, perfectly balancing the criminal noire feeling of the Batman universe while accurately portraying the eerie and sinister tones of the more recent comics. Its combat was smooth, fast, aggressive and fun. It allowed for a freedom of movement, and choice, while being pushed along in a linear narrative worth pushing forward on. Arkham City followed in the same footsteps, featuring a larger map, a 'bigger' story and more characters. While Arkham City might be a better 'technical' achievement, Arkham Asylum, to me, was the better game. When I heard things were slightly changing (Rocksteady leaving, new voice actors, prequel story line) I was intrigued, but put off enough to be hesitant. However, my undying love for the character that had treated me to lush story lines since my childhood was worthy of a risk. Was Arkham City worth the risk? The answer is perhaps as raw as the game itself.
Arkham Origins flourishing moments are perhaps in the game's incredible storyline. In terms of intrigue, quality, and storytelling, Arkham Origins is the best Arkham game. I found myself wowed, or even impressed by certain story designs, dialogues and segments that properly put the game's characters in display, while paying homage to previous games. This Batman is different than the previous games. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City showed a Bruce Wayne/Batman that was matured, knowledgeable and even patient in his ways. Arkham Origins' Batman is a younger, raw, more cocky than confident Batman, at times utilizing his incredible physical talents more so than his high intellect. Its things like this that make the game's storyline compelling, compelling enough to make scenes we have seen before (Joker and Batman talking) more interesting because of the youth in the characters, and uncertainty of those situations.
Origins storyline is simple, The Black Mask (ruthless Kingpin) decides to put a $50 million dollar bounty on the head of Batman, enlisting 8 of the world's deadliest to find, and kill him (some of these are Bane, Deathstroke, Firefly, etc). The idea of incorporating multiple bad guys makes for interesting boss battles, boss battles that feel more like 'battles' than puzzles, a problem Arkham Asylum and Arkham City both felt awkward on. The Deathstroke fight scene was just that, a large, more counter based fight scene that had more on the line, and because of that , I felt more in control, and far more interested to beat him. This change, while small, and perhaps insignificant, made for a better play through.
The famous saying: If it ain't broke, don't fix it, is perhaps the most telling elements of Arkham Origins. At times, more hindering than helpful is Arkham Origins inability to break from what made it successful and continue on with the same countering system, predator system and story system. At times, repetition was felt, and at times, made for a more tedious play through, if not tiresome. Batman himself, in combat feels a bit lighter, but his movements, hits, streaks and counters all have the same feeling. Sure, that feeling has a rewarding brutality that a lot of games rarely appreciate you with, but even still, the feeling, like having a bag of chocolate, loses momentum halfway through. The challenge maps, both combat and predator are still here, and they still have entertaining elements to them, but still have the 'been there, done that' feeling.
As production values go, Arkham Origins is very, very good. Cinematic qualities are sprinkled throughout, and at times, cut scenes inspire a sort of attention that makes you almost cringe when the game returns back to it's standard, fighting state. The music, inspiring, loud, big and epic feels like it was written by a student of Hans Zimmer. Its over-powering, and very presence make the game reek of pure awesomeness that brings a smile, and cheer over you as you crush heads. Voice actors, and veterans to the Batman universe, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are noticeably absent. Replacements Troy Baker (The Joker) and Roger Craig Smith (Batman) are solid replacements. But, being a child of Bruce Timm's incredible Batman: The Animated Series, it's hard not to miss the supreme talents of Hamill and Conroy. The graphics noticeably---aren't. Nothing is different, at least from the Arkham City to Arkham Origins jump. The game, in general, is a solid looking game. You will find worse, and you could definitely find better but none of this ever disrupted me from having fun.
Batman: Arkham Origins is a high flying, action packed, compelling and enthralling epic. I found myself in pure awe during story moments that felt as captivating as any comic or any movie of recent memory. It's a shame core gameplay elements from it's predecessor games feature little to no change. However, thought and love went into making an excellent story line that is worth playing through, both for true Batman fans, and someone wanting to experience production values as good as many CGI films.