Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Batman: Arkham Origins review

Batman is back for a third offering, and this time development duties have fallen to Warner Bros. Interactive Montreal for the single player portion, and Splash Damage for the multiplayer.  While I really enjoyed the first of the Arkham games, by the end of City I found myself starting to tire of the formula a little, to the point where I wasn't all that excited about the prospect of a third game - especially one that was a prequel.  However, the game was quite heavily discounted in the post Christmas sale last year, so I ended up getting it, where it languished on a shelf for quite some time.  I eventually played some of it in March, and was quite surprised at how much fun I was having, until I got stuck on a certain boss battle with Deathstroke.  I then stopped playing until last month, when I decided to pick the game as one of my ten candidates for the 2014 Summer Backlog Challenge, and just this past week I finally completed it. Let's break down what I thought of it in the end...

Graphics: 8 out of 10
On the whole I was really impressed with the visuals of Arkham Origins.  Everything is extremely moody and atmospheric, which works really well in single player.  I found the sheer darkness of the levels was a bit if a problem online though, which is where your enhanced vision comes in.  Batman can use detective vision as much as he wants, and indeed it is key to solving puzzles offline, but if you're playing as one of the Joker or Bane's thugs online you only have limited use of it before it goes on a cooldown.  For a lot of the rest of the time I was blundering around in the dark.  However, combined with the sound, the excellent graphics really drew me into the world of Gotham and the story that was being told.

Sound and Music: 8 out of 10
The music in Batman: Arkham Origins, whilst definitely echoing the work of Hans Zimmer on the Christopher Nolan movie trilogy, still manages to add something new with the embedded Christmas music in the score. The game is set on Christmas Eve night, you see, so it makes a lot of sense, even if I happen to playing the game in the middle of summer.  Voice work is once again top notch, even if I personally prefer Mark Hamill as the Joker and Kevin Conroy as Batman over the new guys.  The game also features top quality sound design, from the trademark boom of Batman's exploding gel, to the cool effect that pulses through your speakers every time you level up.  Top quality stuff, overall.

It's good to see some of the more unusual villains from Batman's pantheon get a chance to shine, such as Black Mask, Copperhead and Firefly.
Game Mechanics: 8 out of 10
Batman: Arkham Origins brings back the mechanics that have worked so well in the previous games in the franchise, so you have the incredibly satisfying combo / counter system for fighting large groups of enemies.  As the game goes on, it introduces more and more special enemy types, each with their own way of being taken down, from armoured henchmen, ones that wield knifes, shield carrying guys and more. It keeps the player on his toes as you constantly have to switch your tactics and dart around the battlefield to stay out of danger.

Then we have the "Invisible Predator" system, where you're frequently locked in a room full of armed goons, and have to take them all down to move on. Simply wading into their midst with your fists flying will quickly get you killed, so you need to make use of conveniently place places to perch on and other hidey holes such as grates in the wall, and strategically take them out one by one.  It's still incredibly satisfying to lurk in the shadows until an unsuspecting gang member happens to walk right underneath you, then dive down and string them up!  Should you happen to be detected and are at risk from gun fire, you can quickly throw down a gas pellet and make your escape.

The online multiplayer mode is extremely well designed and adds something new to the genre in the same way that the multiplayer of the Assassin's Creed series did, yet I think I left it a little too long to try and get into it.  My own ineptitude combined with the dark maps and the extremely high levels of those still playing, meant that I was hopelessly outmatched in the handful of games that I took part it.  I expect if I persevered I would improve, but I'm not really an online kind of guy so I would prefer to move on to the next single player experience.  The unique thing about the online mode though is that as well as your typical gang vs gang gameplay with fairly standard weapons, a third team plays the parts of Batman and Robin.  They win by intimidating the members of the Joker and Bane gangs - which is achieved by taking them down in as quiet and as varied a way as possible.  Indeed I had the most fun when I played as Batman for one match, as he is far more agile then your common thug and can make use of his detective vision at all times.

The online seemed to be having a few technical issues when I tried it though - often whilst waiting for a match the entire lobby would be reset so that I was waiting on my own, and once or twice I was dropped from a match in progress.  There aren't a huge amount of people still playing, either - though that's only be expected as the game has been out for around 9 months already.  People move on quickly in the gaming world.

Innovation and Cleverness: 6 out of 10
While the game is indeed cleverly designed, the single player mode is essentially retreading the same formula that has been used in the two previous games.  I would have given this game a lower score in this category if it weren't for the rather innovative online mode, which does add something genuinely new to both this franchise and online gaming in general.

Value and Replayability: 7 out of 10
The single player campaign is fairly brief, yet I was satisfied overall with the length of it.  Hardcore players can go back for more with the New Game Plus and I Am The Night modes, which increase the challenge significantly.  Then if you can find sufficient people to play with the online mode potentially extends the game play for a long time, though as I mentioned previously the community seems to be dying off a little bit, at least on the Xbox 360.

Overall: 8 out of 10
I was quite surprised just how much fun I had playing through Batman: Arkham Origins, especially when I thought I was done with the series after Arkham City.  I really enjoyed the story in this one, which was a fairly slow burn for the first half.  Once the "twist" happens it's a fairly rapid plunge towards the end of the game.  Before I sign off, I must also add that I quite enjoyed most of the side content this time.  I still haven't got the patience to find and solve every single of the the Enigma puzzles, but I did take the time to do everything else, and had great fun doing so.  This game really brought me back on board after the double disappointment of Arkham City and of The Dark Night Rises at the cinema, so I'm now really looking forward to seeing what Rocksteady Games brings to the table with Arkham Knight.

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