After finishing Batman: Arkham Asylum, I swore it was probably a one off. Superhero games that aren’t fighting games tend to be a bit rubbish, after all, and that game really felt like some sort of special moment in time. As such, I didn’t play Arkham City on launch - and was amazed when I discovered in some (but not all) ways I preferred it to the original six months later.
I won’t be making any such mistake with Batman: Arkham Origins. This time I’m ready for more of the Dark Knight, even from a new studio, and a continuation of one of the best break-out hits of the generation seems like a particularly natural way to conclude the console generation.
Being something of a finale for this generation of console hardware, Arkham Origins has no intentions of reinventing the wheel. That much is clear the moment I get my hands on the game; the controls are familiar, as tight and as responsive as we’ve come to expect from the series, and clearly running on the framework built by Rocksteady even if that studio is absent this time around, likely hard at work on a next generation take on the character.
This is instead a younger Batman from a younger studio, the first game from Warner Bros. Games Montreal. Everything feels largely familiar at first, and I’m able to jump in and take down thugs with the kind of precision that older Batman boasted easily.
The changes that are there initially are subtle; a warning that tells you how difficult a battle is to be, and a letter grade that tells you how well the game thinks you did once all the enemies are safely knocked out. Without a side-by-side comparison it’s difficult to tell just how changed the core hand-to-hand combat is, but the basic answer is, I think, ‘not very’ - but that isn’t necessarily a negative thing.
Folks coming to the game for more story in the compelling take on the Batman universe built by Rocksteady will get it. Being a prequel, more major events from Arkham Asylum and City aren’t an issue, and so the game will feature the return of a ton of classic villains - even if the Joker only appears to be a part of a much larger scheme this time around.
Black Mask has put a massive bounty on Batman’s head, and through this one night on Christmas Eve he’s to be hunted - while he also tries to hunt down Black Mask for issuing the bounty. It’s likely, of course, his armour will end up well worn and damaged before the end of the game. There’s side missions, an expanded Gotham City to explore, and a greater emphasis on Batman being a detective over a martial arts genius.
The latter actually has a large effect on the gameplay on offer, with the ‘detective vision’ built into Batman’s cowl receiving a significant upgrade from previous titles. Scanning evidence puts together a visual version of the crime that can be played back in full wire-frame-looking 3D to give a better idea of exactly what happened. In the demo I play, I piece together how a helicopter crash came about through evidence on the ground and then watch an alarmingly real reconstruction of the events of the crash through detective vision; it looks cool.
My mind is immediately dragged back to some of the more basic uses of this concept in previous Arkham games, such as tracking the trajectory of a bullet, and this feels like the next step down that line. It looks bloody cool when the reconstruction plays out, and one can imagine a ton of gameplay scenarios where this could be used to great effect - so one can only hope the final game increases the amount of detective work and pares back the combat encounters a touch.
There’ll be more in the final release - new gadgets, more exploration, and new takes on Batman villains not yet featured in the game series - but most interesting is the concept of a different, earlier take on the characters the series has already explored - seeing how they reached the relations depicted in the previous games.
That I’m certainly excited for - the fact that the same great gameplay is still intact, slightly refined, is great too - I just hope that the next time we see Batman after this, he has some truly new tricks up his sleeve.
Batman: Arkham Origins is due to launch this October for PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii U.