Arkham Origins: The review you can use [tm]

Do you like Batman? I like Batman. Both Kevin and I have written about Batman pretty frequently.

If you like Batman and video games, there are the excellent Arkham Asylum and Arkham City to grab your attention. Arkham Origins isn’t quite as good as those, but still very Batman-esque.

The story: Black Mask hires eight assassins to kill Batman, for a prize of $50 million. You punch them in the face. A lot. Finis.

There are some very entertaining plot twists and a moment that actually made me tear up a little. The gameplay is fine, with a couple of annoying glitches. Combat remains excellent, based on rhythm and strategerousness instead of pounding buttons. No real new wrinkles except the remote batclaw (which is a lot of fun) and shock gloves (you punch harder, and every hit is worth 2x for your combo instead of 1x). The remote batclaw is superior; you can use it to throw fire extinguishers at people or even hook them up to gargoyles without you being near.

Most of the boss battles are challenging without being unfairly difficult (except for Deathstroke — I HATE HIM SO MUCH — and for whatever reason, Bane was a tough one). You still have the Riddler and collectables, but now they’re bits of audio files that reveal extortion data on various thugs around the city instead of trophies.

On the whole, I’d rate it the easiest of the three games. The side missions are rarely difficult; solving more mundane crimes is a nice change of pace.

Roger Craig Smith (that is, Ezio Auditore) plays Batman; this is a younger, much angrier Batman, who you can tell actually struggles with not killing people. He’s not Kevin Conroy, and to his credit, he shouldn’t have tried. He turns in an entirely believable and excellent performance.

Troy Baker is also a talented voice actor (recently Booker deWitt in Bioshock Infinite), but I didn’t like his Joker as much. Since Arkham Origins is a prequel, this is a Joker that’s never met Batman before; their first encounter is absolutely glorious and brilliantly done, and the game delves very well into the Joker’s psyche. But Baker himself is only passable; he’s not really playing the Joker, he’s playing Mark Hamill playing the Joker.

As far as other villains are concerned, it’s a good mix of old and new. You’ve got Bane, the Joker, and the Penguin, but also Deathstroke, Copperhead, Firefly, and Shiva. Mr. Freeze’s origins are detailed in a DLC I chose not to purchase.

Arkham Origins caught a lot of flak, but not deservedly so in my opinion. There are glitches, but nothing game breaking. Batman is familiar, but different, as a character, maybe for the first time in a while. It’s fun to see how the Arkham Universe envisions the origins of certain characters. However, I do have to admit the series is finally getting just a bit stale. The stories are still engaging, but the gameplay isn’t getting better with new directions. This is partly because the original system was pretty great, but partly because Rocksteady didn’t develop this one.

There’s no reason not to play this if you liked Arkham Asylum and/or Arkham City. If you didn’t play those, I actually recommend this one more, since you’ll build up to the other two games very nicely.

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