Saturday, 2 November 2013

Review: Batman Arkham Origins (PS3)

We got back in time to early years of the Bat when he was wanted by the cops, Gordon isn't his friend, Robin still has his parents, The penguin is a nobody and The Black Mask is the biggest criminal in Gotham city.

The setting of this origin story is once again Gotham city on Christmas Eve.  Batman has been operating for a couple of years now and is still considered a myth by some of the criminal elements of the city.  Batman responds to a breakout attempt in the massive prison facility of Blackgate led by Black Mask.  Subsequently Batman also finds that Black Mask has put a bounty on his head, bringing eight assassin's into Gotham to hunt down the Bat.

Gotham has gotten bigger
And so the story begins.  Gotham is still pretty cool to glide around and it's nice to see the city prior to Hugo Strange's alterations.  All of the landmarks from Arkham city are there to visit from the museum to Amusement mile to the Sionis steel mill albeit now with extra buildings spread around to make it feel more dense.  Warner Bros. Montreal though have added a few new districts to the map along with the massive Pioneer bridge.  These new districts obviously make the map bigger but unlike Arkham City they lack any of those memorable buildings or nods to the characters lore.  There are no buildings owned by other villains or iconic locations to see and make note of, they just feel like places you visit to complete side objectives.  I also think they have altered the existing Arkham city locales a little as you can no longer see Catwoman's home and the GCPD building is now attached to the Gotham Casino building which is wrong.

The games combat is the same tried and true counter, combo, counter system from the previous titles, but here Warner have added a couple new wrinkles to the formula.  New enemies such as the enforcer act as a type of titan thug only with new tactics such as grabs and charges. while the martial artist actually gives Batman a run for his money if you're not careful as he can counter Batman and start his own mini counter combo against you.  Venom thugs are fun to face off against and these new enemies mixed in with the regular bunch make some encounters really fun.  There is still a lot of fun to be had in heel kicking a man in the face in slow motion to finish a fight that makes it so cool.

Boss battles are big deal here and although I won't spoil them I do think Rocksteady should take note of these battles for their next game.  They were fun if not a little repetitive at times, but it was cool to go toe to toe with some of Batman's more physically capable foes like Deathstroke.  Another neat addition is the crime scene sections which make use of Batman's detective vision to effectively recreate the crime.  Rewinding and fastforwarding events to discover new clues is cool and is a great foundation for future iterations of this feature.  I hope again Rocksteady take note of this since the previous games made little use of Batman's detective skills.

The poor fools, they don't stand a chance
Batman also has a couple of new gadgets in the form of the remote claw which replaces the line launcher.  The changes here though is that the remote claw requires specific points to attach but can be used to create new routes across silent predator challenges allowing for new takedown opportunities.  The remote claw also allows you to string up targets for a ranged version of the inverted takedown.  Finally the remote claw can also be used to fling objects into targets such as fire extinguishers or gas cans or even other thugs to knock them down.  It's a flexible tool that was my personal favourite of the game.

Batman also acquires a pair of electrical shock gloves which work during combat via a kinetic charge module and in parts of the environment that for instance allow Batman access to area's previously locked off.  The shock gloves are extremely powerful in melee because they negate the need to stun or dodge armoured, large or shielded foes allowing you to simply beat them down in seconds.

The new concussion grenade is a mixed bag which allows you to temporarily stun groups of enemies for quick attacks or surprise takedowns but it is never really called for any specific use in the story which was surprising considering every gadget in the Rocksteady games had a reason to be there.  The concussion grenade was just there to fill out the d-pad really.  It's derivative, the glue grenade works exactly the same as the freeze grenade and was far more useful during gameplay.

Outside of those it's the usual lineup of grapnel launcher, batarangs and explosive gel all of which get regular use.  I did have to question why Batman suddenly couldn't punch through loose assortments of wooden boards in game when he was able to in Arkham city.  Using the explosive gel on boards was sort of weird really. 

The remote claw is really fun to use.
The collectible hunting wasn't as bad in this game as it was in Arkham City though.  You still have to track down around a hundred or so enigma datapacks to finish the e.nigma side plot while also searching for Anarky tags and Pinkney plaques.  There is a nice little nod to the earlier games which this precedes chornologically for fans.  I really hope Rocksteady drop this in their next Arkham game because it becomes pretty monotonous, travelling around the map to find these things.  They do unlock more intel as you play and expands the story a little so they are worth getting obviously, especially for 100% completion.

Warner Montreal have also included a fast travel mechanic which was a nice idea in theory but in execution it doesn't pay off, at least on the PS3 version.  When you choose to fast travel you have to watch a loading video of Batman flying the Batwing to the location before he drops out of the plane, then wait for another load sequence as it launches back into the game.  Sometimes you're better off taking a minute or so more to simply glide your way there since it doesn't require any loading.  These videos are also much louder than the games sound and didn't really need to be there for the loading screens frankly.

The other major addition here is the mandatory multiplayer mode.  Origins online is a mixed experience that could have been better had it received a few tweaks to it's formula.  The only mode available is silent predator online which pits a maximum of eight players split into three teams against each other.  One team is the dynamic duo of Batman and Robin while the remaining six players fill out the gangs of both Joker and Bane.  Each gang has a set of special abilities and gadgets and a smattering of weapons.

The objective in every match is the same.  Batman and Robin have to try and defeat the gang members without being killed to raise an intimidation meter.  If the meter reaches maximum then the gangs retreat.  The gangs however only need to kill all of the opposing gang to win in a similar way to Battlefields conquest mode.  Both gangs have tickets which drain as they take losses so it's imperative to survive as long as possible to win.  The games do have a few extra twists to them though such as the ability for one of the gang members to become Bane or the Joker, complete with their own weapons and gadgets, giving their gang a massive boost in firepower and damage.  The other twist is that a team who has lost all of it's tickets but still has a surviving team member can have a second wind by killing either Batman or Robin.  Doing so brings back the entire team, giving you the chance to make a come back.

It's all fun and games until someone doesn't get an antidote.
The multiplayer is fun to be honest but I do think Batman and Robin have a pretty tough time winning.  Since the gangs need not really focus on killing the heroes they don't have to worry as much.  Batman and Robin have access to all of their gadgets but it still isn't enough to allow them to win just as easily as the gangs.  Personally I would have upped the player numbers so the gangs are five a side at least and the tickets tripled or quadrupled in number for longer matches with more chances for tactical play.  Batman and Robin would then have a better chance of winning and the gangs would have to be aware of them as the match drags on.

Sadly Arkham Origins isn't a stable game.  Bugs and glitches abound in this version of Arkham and almost derails the entire experience at times.  The list is large and range from game breaking to annoying.  Thugs that surrender but you cannot interrogate them, doors that are open but the graphics show them as closed, elevators that move on their own sometimes trapping you in areas, maps that have markers missing such as the alternate exit in the gotham sewers, datapacks that show on the map as available but are actually underground, camera angles becoming stuck making gameplay impossible, rooms that are accessible earlier than they are meant to be thus trapping you inside, loss of save data, glitchy movement which can Batman to become stuck on certain environmental objects and more.

It's clear that the team had less time than they would have liked to work on this project and despite the time frame they have made a pretty good game it's just a shame these bugs break the flow of gameplay at times.

Overall Arkham Origins is a good game that is hindered by it's bugs and glitches.  Warner have apologised for these issues and plan on patching these in the coming weeks so if you haven't bought already you may want to wait a week or two before picking this up. 

SCORE: 7.5/10


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