(NB: No Mii-Time this week. Instead… Eurogamer games! Let’s start with the biggest, shall we? Over to you Oli…)
OK, I’m not (unless I’m drunk), but thanks to the wonders of video games, I can be. Thanks to the excellent Rocksteady and their abilities to make a very decent Batman game. When Arkham Asylum was released, the hype was huge and the reaction was even better. The words “Game of the Year” were bandied about, and most gamers agreed it was a feat of gaming. The gameplay was brilliant (especially the combat system), the story was exceptional and it just felt like a Batman game.
This wasn’t the Batman game we needed, it was the Batman game we deserved.
So no shocks were had when a sequel was announced, especially when Rocksteady revealed there was an easter egg hinting to it in Arkham Asylum. Arkham City was bigger, badder and to most, better. There was a host of new villains (Hugo Strange, Two-Face) along with the old classics foes (Bane, The Joker), as well as the dulcet tones of Kevin Conroy as Batman, and Mark Hamill as the Joker.
And yet… for me something didn’t quite click. The open world of Arkham City was very good, and the vast array of supervillains was cool, but the game itself felt like a copy and paste job. I zipped through the game in less than a week, including nabbing some extra achievements and in-depth puzzles, and yet felt strangely unsatisfied. I was Batman, for Wayne’s sake! I should have been loving the whole damn show! The place his parents died… the Ra’s Al Ghul boss fight… there were some definite highlights to Arkham City. Yet the game left me, in the words of Mr Freeze, cold.
So it was with trepidation I sat down to play Arkham Origins. There were several reasons for this, in addition to my apathy at Arkham City. The first was that it was a prequel, not a sequel. Arkham Origins is set before Bruce Wayne became the skilled dark knight we all know and love. He’s rougher, he’s tougher, and he’s not quite the lean, mean fighting machine yet. The second was that this wasn’t a Rocksteady joint. WB Montreal had taken over the franchise, and so beards were rubbed as to whether another company could bottle the same magic. After all, there have been some terrible cross-company game efforts in recent times (*cough* Aliens Colonial Marines *cough*). The last, and most flippant, was the change in voice cast. Gone was Kevin Conroy, in was Roger Craig Smith (Chris Redfield). Away was Mark Hamill as the Joker, in was Troy Baker (Booker DeWitt). It is a fleeting, and almost aesthetic, concern, but enough fan fury was there to weigh heavily on my mind.
However, watching the opening FMV, I was hooked. It told me the story of Arkham Origins, how super-villain Black Mask had set a bounty on Batman’s head during Xmas in Gotham, and every other super-villain was out to grab it. Simple set up, for a simple story. This throws in a few new faces to the franchise, including Deathstroke, Firefly and Copperhead, to try to stop the Bat.
So, after seeing a particularly vicious interrogation by our young Master Wayne, we are in Gotham City and ready to rock. The demo gave you plenty of room to whizz across, with the controls coming back naturally to a person who had played the earlier games in the series. Nearby ledges would allow you to fly across the city, while a quick glide would also suffice.
Then, came a message. There was trouble afoot, and it was up to me to stop a crime in progress. Here, you had a chance to try out the combat system against a variety of regular foes, and one big bugger. Those who were worried will be glad to hear that the combat has remained as free-flowing as it was before. You string moves together, leaping from foe to foe, punching faces and crunching bones. However, strategy comes into play when facing the larger thugs, and a quick stun move leaves them open to a few beats to the chest. The animations still looked gorgeous, and it was a pleasure to perform the moves and counters.
From there, you whizz across the city, seeing hints of other foe Anarky, until you reach a hotel building for your next familiar Batman challenge: the old Invisible Predator.
Yep, once again we’re swinging from the rafters, picking off grunts from above with a wide variety of special weapons. The suggested device (which name I can’t bloody recall) attached enemies to various explosives, resulting in some rather amusing scenarios taking place below you. But soon enough, I was getting down and dirt, glide-kicking gunmen and pummeling them to the ground.
Job done, I entered and elevator, and cut to…
Bane beating the ever-loving Hell out of me, while the Joker looked on amused. Taunts, explosives, and cut to black…
First off, those worrying about the voices shouldn’t. Both men take up their roles valiantly and in truth, the transition is so fine you don’t notice any difference at all. It’s a pithy reason to doubt the game anyway, so throw it away and get to real meat, which is the game itself. WB Montreal have done a fine job here, replicating the style of the games preceding it and producing a worthy addition to the series. The combat is still beautiful, the look is still gritty, and the whole experience is bliss for Batman fans.
Yes it’s a prequel, yes it’s a different company, and yes different people do the voices. But it’s bloody Batman! Even I admit Arkham City was a good game, and Arkham Origins is more than a fancy follow-up to that.
I look forward to flying the skies of Gotham once more…