Okay, we’re crossing our fingers this time. Last time I previewed a Batman Arkham game the day I went to see it Warner Bros announced that the PC version was delayed a month, which spoiled my enjoyment somewhat. As I write this there’s no delay in sight for new game Batman: Arkham Origins on PC, and better still they’re ditching Games For Windows Live at last, so I’m hoping Warners have learned their lessons. My enjoyment of Origins can remain unsoured. Which is good, because there definitely was enjoyment.
The demo wasn’t long but allowed us a good look at how the game’s going to play. Make no mistake: it’s Arkham City. Playing as Batman you grapple and glide around a large open-world slice of Gotham City taking down thugs, stopping crimes in progress, encountering and trying side missions, and eventually getting on with the story missions. There were only two real differences. The first is that we’re no longer in a big walled-off prison and the game’s set in a chunk of Gotham proper. I don’t know how they’re going to explain not being able to go into the rest of the city (it’ll be a flimsy excuse probably) but the reason for the lack of pedestrians is the Max Payne explanation of “big snowstorm moving in”. I assume there’ll be some citizens in danger at some point, but I didn’t meet any in the demo.
These new Martial Arts guys are swines. They force me to type “counter” way too much
Someone else I didn’t encounter, and the other big difference between Origins and City, was the Riddler. He and his Riddle Trophies were totally absent in the section I played, so I don’t know if anything’s going to replace his collectables as tracking them all down in the last two games was lots of fun – Rocksteady’s two Arkham games are two of the few games I’ve ever 100-percent completed. Still, the important thing to remember is that Rocksteady is not at the helm here, it’s new studio Warner Montreal, so there are going to be changes. Although I believe they’ve stated that there will be collectables so there must be a reason for doing it, but using Riddler as that reason was a stroke of comic cleverness by Rocksteady (a puzzle-based enemy who enjoys setting challenges) so I can’t imagine who’ll replace him. Mad Hatter perhaps?
In terms of story, of which we got a taster of, Warner Montreal are only giving away the basics really: set several years before Arkham Asylum around Christmastime, crime boss Black Mask has hired seven assassins to take down The Batman. That’s it. I’m impressed the team have managed to keep anything further regarding the story under wraps since I felt I knew half of Arkham City before it came out, but then that’s also me hoping and assuming the story won’t just be that basic. I don’t think so though, as both Joker and (new to the Arkhamverse) Anarky have their own objectives to play out and twist the plot.
The demo we played consisted of a short roofy bit of Gotham, a few groups of thugs patrolling those roofs, an optional robbery in progress to disrupt, a plot by Anarky to interrupt, a helicopter crash to investigate, a stealth section to sneaky sneak through, and a cutscene to, um, cut. It was certainly a good packed mix of gameplay with the slight illusion of freedom (I could ignore that robbery or not bother to investigate that crash, but then I’ll just be speeding towards that “Thanks For Playing!” message) and I hope the main game keeps the player’s interests engaged. Anyway, enough talk, let’s get to the punching.
The Tether Gun in action. Well, not in action, it's only a picture... oh forget it
The combat system in Arkham Origins works near-identically to how it did in Rocksteady’s games, which I am utterly fine with since it’s arguably the most perfect hand-to-hand fighting system devised in gaming (that many games have tried to copy and not quite succeeded in doing so). The subtle almost rhythm game-like punch-block-gadget-jump-stun-combo controls are polished and just feel right, although while the general idea remains the same there are a few tweaks. Batman himself is younger and so a little faster, and while the gadgets on hand in the demo were mostly Asylum-classics like batarangs and the grapple gun (although there was one I’ll get to) there were a couple of new enemy types that required new tactics. The Heavily-Armoured Thug was almost like an unmutated version of the Titan Creatures (just realised this’ll be the first Arkham game without them, hooray!) requiring some major stunning and smackdown, but the Martial Artist is quite a challenging opponent who could actually counter my counters unless I pulled off a second counter! I’m expecting quite a challenge from these guys in the final game. Not sure how Anarky got hold of them though – have Ninjas R Us got a call-out number?
Another cool new innovation is the revamped Crime Scene Investigation mode. Rocksteady had already improved these a little in City but they still boiled down to just scanning things. In Origins however after scanning a few key exhibits following the aforementioned helicopter crash we could actually create a holographic 3D recreation of the crime, which then could be rewinded and forwarded to get the information Batman needed. In this case, where the shot that downed the chopper came from and who did it. It turned out to be the work of master marksman Deadshot, but while tracking him down in a similar side-quest to his one in Arkham City doesn’t thrill me getting to play detective properly at last in these Investigations does. While a little fiddly to get to grips with I’m looking forward to seeing what Warner Montreal can challenge me with in this expanded mode.
The only new gadget revealed appeared in the only stealth section, the Tether Gun, which after aiming between two items I could attach them to one another, like a guard to an explosive barrel, gargoyle, or even another guard. It didn’t seem quite as useful as some of Batman’s previous gadgets but was still quite amusing, and I hope Warner Montreal expand its use in the main game to something more clever. The stealth section was just plain fun as expected, since they were my favourite moments in the previous Arkhams. It wasn’t particularly challenging for an old hand like me, but it was only a demo anyway.
The Clown Prince of Crime himself shows off his new explosive accessory
The cutscene that finished the demo featured a pre-Venom version of Bane and the Joker, who appears to have something over Bane scary enough to threaten him into handing Batman over (he caught me by surprise, honest). Now’s a good time to mention voices. Despite being nearly all-change in the voice cast Troy Baker (the lead in Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us and probably every other game ever) does an absolutely fantastic Joker even down to getting the laugh right, silly and yet terrifying at the same time, and I’ll be happy if he’s permanently in the role for future games. Roger Craig Smith (Ezio in Assassin’s Creed II) as Batman though I’ll have to get used to, but I’m still baffled why they aren’t going with Kevin Conroy since he’s done “young Batman” fairly recently (the Gotham Knight animated movie). The surprise for me though was that Bane’s new voice actor is apparently JB Blanc, who’s currently playing Alfred Pennyworth in new animated series Beware The Batman (which is pretty good incidentally) – he’s Batman’s most trusted friend and his ultimate enemy, wow. Anyway, then Joker blew up a building while threatening to blow up another, demo ends.
I hope this demo will be released to the public as it was a nice look at a few of the new features in Origins, and also why the hell not? Yes it played very like City, but there were fun new ideas and there’s an air of scepticism lingering around the game that needs all the dispelling Warner Bros can muster. No Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, Paul Dini, or Rocksteady, and an untested new studio at the helm? Still, I’m personally looking forward to playing the game properly and my hands-on only whetted my appetite. Batman: Arkham Origins is down for release October 25th on PC, 360 and PS3, and in case you’re interested I also played the PS Vita/3DS game too and that’s quite fun as well. Anyway, check back with us later in the month same Bat-time same Bat-channel for the review.
Most Anticipated Feature: Seeing how far Warner Montreal go with the expanded Crime Scene Investigations mode.