Batman Arkham Origins

I struggle to call this a review – it is at best a biased opinion and at worst a rant about everything that is wrong with video games as a modern media. I started complaining on Twitter and I think people were getting annoyed, so I’ll write it out more long form here.

Disclaimer: I have not yet finished. I may never finish. Frankly, the amount of gameplay I’ve gone through so far to get mere percentage points of completion is ridiculous. Congrats for making a long game, and given the AAA pricetag, probably for the better. Fortunately, I received the game packaged with a new GPU I bought for rendering (okay, and gaming, you caught me) and I say fortunately because I wouldn’t have bought it otherwise. I would have waited several years and then hesitated about pulling the trigger when it’s a $10 Steam sale like I did with the first two games.

But First, Let’s Do This…

This is the main catchphrase of all the missions. Everything seems so simple and then it folds inwards, adding more new sidetracks at every turn. Some of these are big things, major missions and events to deal with (you could argue that every mission is merely a distraction from the ultimate game arch) but then there are the things that I wonder about, the things that feel placed there merely to add time or make us feel like we did more. Conveniently, everything that pops up is at the other end of town. This would be no problem as we’ve introduced the Batjet fast travel to get around… two open zones. Oh. Right. You need to do these other little side annoyances to unlock the other zones for fast travel use. You can run around everywhere freely (which turns into a sloppy Spider-Man wannabe repetitive cable swinging action if you want any speed) but you have to do work to get to use the jet. And by work I mean:

Henchmen #1-5, Again and Again

This was my main complaint with the first two games. I can see how the melee brawling was praised in the first game for it’s fluid action and dynamic use of takedowns based on where you and the enemies were relative to each other. Some of the fights still do feel really satisfying. Most, however, do not. It’s a lot of “Go here, Batman, but look out for those goons guarding the door!” over and over. Same mob of guys, same button mashing, same drop in interest. Everywhere you go there’s just a convenient group of baddies waiting for you. I realize that’s what the game is, but I feel like it’s detracting from what the game could – nay, should be.

Boss fights are similar: a blend of quick time events, button mashing and quick time events that require you to button mash. Bad guys make ludicrous taunts the whole time and you prove them wrong provided you hit the dodge button quick enough every time it pops up. At best they’re tedious, at worst they’re inducing carpal tunnel syndrome into my right thumb.

Choose A or A

I can’t figure this one out. It’s not really a game that’s supposed to have choice, but it’s free roam. But the levels are linear. But there’s a few different upgrade trees you can take advantage of. But it won’t let you advance the plot unless you do everything their specified way. But they reward you for doing those things in a variety of ways.

For example, there’s a laptop on a rooftop I needed to hack or access or whatever and beating up the same baddies seemed trite so I opted to sneak around carefully and just do it with them still alive and unaware. Masterfully get to the laptop and nothing. It won’t allow me to access it. So, I sneak back over to each guy and silently take them out one by one. Now I can access the laptop. Why did I have to break everyone’s legs to get that to work? I opted for the sneaky-sneak bonuses on the upgrades tree and they won’t even let me finish the objective being completely sneaky. I literally have no other choice but to go through the human mob roadblocks at every location.

There’s more meta-choice problems too. I’m on Penguin’s ship and some Anarky fellow hacks the TV screens with a message for me (how he knows I’m there or accomplishes this is never mentioned) about how he’s set up a bomb and it’s my choice to let it go off and kill innocents or disarm it. He actually says in the dialogue that my choice will affect how he treats me in the future. “Okay, cool” I thought “This could be a novel thing: getting on certain villains’ good sides” thinking that it would affect the later game. So I ignore the bomb and redirect my compass to the more main mission. The timer ticks away but I’ve chosen to ignore it. It clicks down to zero and… I’ve failed the mission. I have to repeat it from the checkpoint. Wait, what? So I can choose to disarm it or… disarm it. Great. And guess who was waiting for me at the bomb location. Henchmen #1-5.

Batman the Merciful Arm Breaker

This is bigger than just this game. Batman doesn’t carry a gun and refuses to murder even the most psychotic of villains even when their death would save countless others. Yet he will happily punch everything in his way to a bloody pulp. What kind of bizarre morals are those? You leave, as Batman, swaths of gang members with any number of broken limbs laying face down in the snow or in industrial factories or underground lairs or in cavernous sewers and somehow that wake of violence is better than shooting the villains who lead these gangs and kill the civilians? I just don’t understand him, and that adds into the bigger mosaic of immersion that comes from the story: would I actually behave like this? Not in the ‘would I dress up in a silly costume and run around at night beat up crims for fun in real life’ sense, but in the ‘does this character’s actions make any sense’ sense. Much the same way as we watch horror movies screaming “DON’T GO DOWN THE STAIRS, BECKY” we sit and watch Batman with a “Why are you even doing this?” firmly planted in our brains. This goes for the movies too, by the way. The entire character is hand-waved away with his graveling voice in some confused “Well, because I’m Bah-man” reasoning.

What I Did Like

The CSI thing was cool. They’re playing up the Detective Comics thing here and the crime scene reenactment actually has some cool features, like a simulated playthrough of the crime that you can scrub and look for clues. They’re really rather linear and Batman talks to himself to lead you through it, but if they used that same engine they could actually make a pretty cool straight up crime scene game (Castle game, anyone?). Oh, I should mention, the Batman talking to himself thing is awful and appears everywhere. You’re standing in front of the only door around, the only progression through the level and he chimes in “Those are Black Mask’s men. I bet I can make them tell me where he went” yeah, okay Batman. I wasn’t sure what I should do next, but you really helped me out. Worlds Greatest Detective indeed. They’re just silly and unnecessary and I don’t understand why they’re there.

The narrative sections of the story are actually pretty good. If you remember the scene from Arkham Asylum where Bruce is remembering the alley with his parents and the world around him starts to shift into that memory, it’s more of that style. The Joker > Harley interview is a remarkably elegant way for him to narrate a deeper inner emotion without relying on just the voice acting or just staring at him talk the whole time. As far as plot devices, this is where the game should go. Beating up another group of dudes doesn’t do anything for the story. Give us more of this. Go into the characters. Flesh them out.

Graphically lovely. The PhysX support is really neat with foggy hallways that flow around as you move and papers that flutter in the wind. The cape is still dynamic and the snow leaves actual footprints. Environments are much the same as earlier, but with sheer amounts of them (the game is 16.2 GB to download). The world feels empty, but it is Christmas Eve, so I guess there aren’t civilians just wandering about.


More of the same if you liked the first two. I can’t say I did.

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