They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery; if that’s the case, then Batman: Arkham Origins is a testament to just how well Rocksteady Studios designed their first two games in the Arkham series. The developers at WB Games Montreal have made no secret of the fact that they are fans of Rocksteady’s first two games in the series, and as such, have done their best to keep nearly every aspect of Arkham City intact, with a few new updates and gadgets that, while technically defying the ‘younger, less experienced’ character idea, change up the formula in some interesting ways.
After seeing Arkham Origins in action up close at E3 2013, and playing it for ourselves, it’s safe to say that fans looking for more Arkham City will take to Origins without missing a beat. Whether that satisfies a majority of Rocksteady’s fanbase remains to be seen, but there’s no question that this take on Batman is a familiar one.
Developing a spin-off game that is destined to be directly compared to one of the best open world titles in recent memory is challenging bad enough, but WB Games Montreal was founded to add their name to the Arkham franchise, meaning they can’t shy away from the task. In an effort to subtly distinguish their game, the developers have turned to a film noir Christmas backdrop, and the layer of snow on the streets and rooftops does help set their story apart from its predecessors.
From a mechanical standpoint, almost every single interaction, combat encounter and cut-scene follows the formula laid out by Rocksteady. So for fans who thought that Origins would be an…origin story, allow us to confirm that Batman isn’t going to be stumbling off of ledges or getting overpowered in combat any time soon. His suit may be less streamlined, but for all mechanical intents and purposes, this is Arkham Batman through and through.
The extended cinematic trailer for Origins showed that Deathstroke would be taking a direct approach in dealing with Batman (much to his surprise), but he won’t be the only sparring partner for the dark knight on this particular evening. We’re not just talking about the seven other assassins (some confirmed, others we’re still hoping to see) descending on Gotham, but the new enemy types introduced to make combat a bit more varied.
A new armored thug offers Batman an enemy too strong to counter, and too well-protected to simply punch into submission. The strategy used to take him down doesn’t vary too greatly from the heavies of Arkham City, but having Batman tear off pieces of body armor to weaken the thug was a nice touch. The same is true of the new ‘martial artist’ enemy type, more adept at hand-to-hand combat than the standard hired muscle. With a fighting style much closer to Batman’s own, the martial artist could give players more reasons to think defensively.
Although this Batman is not the master detective and strategist from a a fictional standpoint, WB Games Montreal has a added a few new gadgets to make their own mark on the property. First, a Remote Claw has been introduced, capable of being fired over a distance, and connecting two separate points. If they are hard points (like gargoyles or walls) then the rope between the two grants the player a tightrope from which to attack. If it is attached to two soft point (enemies or loose objects) the line retracts, slamming the objects or people together.
An additional refinement of both the standard Detective Mode and some of the evidence scanning implemented in the studio’s Arkham City: Armored Edition for the Wii U is the new ability to reconstruct crime scenes digitally. Analyzing the wreckage of a downed helicopter allowed Batman to scrub back and f through a holographic reenactment, looking for more evidence along the way. It may not have a massive impact on the experience, but seeing the trick in action was entertaining, and forward helped show how Batman became the ultimate sleuth fans know so well.
Although it is odd to hear a voice emitted from Batman that isn’t provided by voice actor Kevin Conroy (he’s busy working on Rocksteady’s next Arkham game), the new additions all work fine. Troy Baker’s psychopathic Joker lacks some of the grit and complete lunacy that Mark Hamill brought to the part, and the same is true for Batman himself. One might wonder why Roger Craig Smith was called on to provide a voice as close to Conroy as possible, but the lighter, less weary tone does fit with the story of a younger, untested Batman.
We also got the opportunity to try a quick demo of Arkham Origins Blackgate for both the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. Although the demo did prove that Catwoman would be reprising her role as Batman’s most elusive rival/love interest, there was little of the more complex puzzle rooms glimpsed in early screenshots to experience.
First, the obvious: Blackgate looks much, much better on the Vita than the 3DS’s massively scaled-down graphics and assets. But despite some interesting uses of the Vita’s touchscreen – placing a finger on the screen switches into Detective Mode, highlighting items of interest and evidence – there was sadly little of Armature’s ‘Metroidvania’ heritage on display, at least early on.
Generally, the basic rhythm demanded players move from one side of the screen to the other, punching a handful of thugs here and there, and taking the one action made possible with a button-press to advance. We still hold out hope that Armature is keeping the finer points of the game’s more elaborate challenges quiet, but fans hoping to see an exquisite handheld experience may want to temper expectations, at least in the game’s early goings.
All things considered, Origins looks to be providing moreof what gamers enjoyed so much about the previous game in the series, erring on the side of caution in changing too much of the established formula. For those who felt content ending Arkham City where they did, jumping back into Origins may not be as tempting as it is to those who couldn’t get enough. At least based on what’s been shwon so far.
For more information on Batman: Arkham Origins and Blackgate, and all the other games coming from E3 2013, stay tuned to Game Rant.
Batman: Arkham Origins will be available on Wii U, Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC October 25, 2013.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate will be available on Vita and 3DS October 25, 2013.
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