- Developer - Warner Bros. Games Montreal
- Publisher - Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
- Platforms - PlayStation 3 (tested), Xbox 360, Wii U, Microsoft Windows
- Release date - Out now
- Price - £39.99
Batman: Arkham Origins
Before writing this review I replayed Arkham Asylum, watched the Christopher Nolan Batman films (well, two of them) and read Alan Moore's The Killing Joke, just to remind myself that in the right hands, Batman can be done well.
He can be complex and afflicted. His feuds with supervillains can be psychological as well as physical. And when it comes down to it, he can batter even Superman into chunks with all the style and confidence you'd expect from a man who's comfortable flashing his underwear in public.
I'm not a comic book fan, and I'm even less interested in superheroes. But even a jaded, born-at-55, doubting Thomas like me can admit that, given the right director, Batman can be brilliant.
Not the right director
Warner Brothers Interactive, creator of Batman: Arkham Origins, isn't the right director. When it was announced earlier this year that the company would inherit the Arkham franchise from Rocksteady, I'm sure a few people heard the distant ringing of alarm bells. I certainly did.
Rocksteady had created one Batman game that was at least competent, Arkham City, and one absolute ruddy masterpiece in the shape of Arkham Asylum. If the studio had decided to wash its hands of Batman then, surely, that should have been the end of the Arkham games. Rocksteady's vision and style was too strong. Without them at the helm, what would be the point?
Arkham Origins is the work of money-spinners, of executives trying to squeeze a few more coins from one Batman franchise before they launch the next. I don't want to sound like a first-year undergrad - I'm not anti-money or cross with The Man. It's just that Arkham Origins is so flagrant, so unashamedly financial, that I can't enjoy it.
Before you even start the game it's prompting you to sign up to this to get exclusive access to that. And when you're exploring the streets of Gotham City (more on those later) you're bombarded with pointless bloody fetch quests and mini-missions and collectibles, as if the designers will do anything to keep you tied to the game so long as it gives them opportunity to push you virtual junk.
Not all of these things are Warner Brothers' crimes - Arkham City would do anything for a dollar as well. But here it feels somehow dirtier. Maybe it's because the original creators have left. Or maybe I'm just inherently mistrustful of movie studios that also make videogames.
Or maybe it's because, at least with Arkham City, the money-grubbing was offset by a few new ideas - you felt like you had something to pay for. In Origins, that's not true. This is Just Another Arkham Game. Any new ideas it attempts to introduce are superficial or uninteresting. And all the old stuff, all the great work done by Rocksteady, is somehow muddled up and ruined.
Where the environments used to be attractive, now they're dull. Where the combat used to be stylish, now it's unwieldy. And where the structure used to be tight, but somehow still feel loose at the same time, it's now baggy and directionless, and you spend hours just running down empty streets wondering where to go.
That's my chief complaint, actually. Though I hated the open-world nature of Arkham City and the way it bombarded you with optional quests, at least in that game, the city felt alive. I loved all the neon lights and the snow; the choppers flying overhead and all the policemen fighting on the streets with criminals. It sounds a bit beat poet, but that city had a pulse.
The one in Origins, Warner's version of Gotham, doesn't. It's a lot of dead streets and repeated colours. And when you come across an optional mission, which you'll still do every 30 seconds, they feel artificial and out of place.
In City, you'd stop someone being mugged and it would feel right - it would feel natural given the environment you were in. In Origins, you just find ten blokes having a fight in the middle of the motorway for no reason at all. There's nothing else around them, no context for why they're there. It's just "here, we spawned a quest for you." It's such a plastic world.
And it ruins the combat. In Arkham Asylum, the combat was about discipline and precision. You had style. You looked good. But in Origins, the combat arenas are big and featureless. There aren't as many hidey-holes to crawl into or gargoyles to perch on, and instead of skilfully avoiding being seen, and slowly dispatching your enemies, you end up charging them head on, throwing a few punches, then firing off a smoke grenade and whizzing back up to the only ledge in the room.
Then you swoop down again, charge, punch, grenade, repeat. It's graceless. You feel less like Batman and more like, I dunno, Robin.
So, I guess Arkham Origins is - oh hang on, the story. Sorry. It's just I completely forgot about it.
The plot of Origins goes like this. Black Mask, one of the lesser-known baddies from the comic books, has hired eight assassins to each have a pop at the Dark Knight, the deal being that whoever caps Batters first gets $50 million. This all takes place over one night - Christmas Eve - and while Batman fights off his would-be killers, he also stumbles across other stalwart baddies like Penguin, Killer Croc and of course, The Joker.
The other thing is that this is an origin story, sort of. This is supposed to be Batman as he's just starting out: less experienced, less equipped and unfamiliar with Gotham's criminals.
But that's a premise the game does nothing with. Batman has the same gadgets and the same fighting ability as the other Arkham games - you don't feel less experienced or less able. It would have been interesting to play an angrier, rougher, weaker version of Batman, who rather than wearing a cape and fighting crime syndicates is some guy in a thrown together outfit, beating up car thieves.
But the writing in Origins simply isn't that clever. It's not enthused or different, or even slightly brave. Even that intriguing eight assassins, one night set-up goes Batplane-ing out the window after the first few hours. It's no good.
So, I guess that really is Arkham Origins. It's a corporate, imagination-less game. It wants your time and it wants your money and it hasn't a shred of originality to offer in return.
- Gameplay: 3/10 - When you aren't wandering aimless around empty environments, you're having scrappy, graceless fist-fights.
- Sound: 7/10 - I should have mentioned this in the review as a plus point. The voice acting here is super, especially from Troy Baker, who takes over from Mark Hamill as The Joker. The score, however, is plain plain plain.
- Graphics: 6/10 - Another up, sort of. The characters all look great but the world is grey and empty.
- Writing: 4/10 - There a few good exchanges and the writers are good at moving things along quickly, but they do nothing with the premise. Bland.
- Replay value: 5/10 - You could look at this two ways. If you want to buy into the whole Origins package, do all the optional missions and pay for the extra content, there's loads of replay value. If like me however that kind of thing makes you feel a bit dirty, then, this isn't a game you're going to want to spend much time with.
- Overall: 3/10 - Arkham Origins is a shameless money-spinner, pushed out from the same versificator as Dead Space 3 and Dead Island: Riptide.
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