The Dark Knight.  The Caped Crusader.  The World’s Greatest Detective.  No matter what you call him, it’s hard not to love Batman.  Batman has been part of American culture since his inception in 1939, from comic books and television to movies and video games.  Previous entries in the Arkham series have been great in their own right.  Arkham Asylum introduced us to the Bat in HD while Arkham City gave us an expansive city of corruption to explore.  The latest entry, Arkham Origins, brings us back to the early years of Batman’s career.  I think it’s the best game in the series.

Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg…

  • TL;DR: The best Arkham game to date
  • Platform: Xbox 360
  • Score: 9.2
  • Hours Played: 15
  • What I Played: Main Story on hard mode
  • Recommended: In a heartbeat

The latest entry in the Arkham series takes place only two years into The Dark Knight’s career.  It’s Christmas Eve in Gotham and Black Mask has put a $50 million bounty on your head, enlisting eight assassins in an effort to take you down — Killer Croc, Deathstroke, Firefly, Copperhead, Electrocutioner, Deadshot, Shiva, and Bane.  It’s up to you to not only stop these assassins, but to figure out what Black Mask’s motivation is, not to mention handling other standbys like Penguin and Joker.

Arkham Origins is the first game in the series to be developed by WB Montreal, with the previous games done by Rocksteady.  Despite a new developer, the game has the same gritty feel and dark tone as it’s predecessors.  You’ll immediately notice that you have access to quite a few gadgets, where previous games have started with a more Metroid/Castlevania method of slowly building your inventory.  It’s also clear that boss fights have been taken to the next level.  Within minutes, you’ll be fighting Killer Croc on a rooftop with scope and scale previously reserved for later gameplay.

Thankfully, the new developers used the prequel setting to do some interesting things rather than just say, “You are the goddamn Batman” and move on.  For starters, Batman’s usual ally Jim Gordon doesn’t even believe you’re real when the game begins.  Batman’s voice is also noticeably different, as it should be since it is now done by a different actor.  He sounds much younger, more brash, even defiant.  Batman doesn’t quite have the refined presence he has in Asylum and City.  The most notable effect is that of the Joker, who is also voiced by a new actor.  The Joker seems more violent and truly insane in Origins when compared to the more theatrical showman in Asylum and City.  In those previous games, Batman comes off as having a certain disdain for but expectations of the Clown Prince of Crime.  It’s clear that the Joker’s methods take a heavy toll on Batman, seeming to truly and deeply disturb him.  When you get down to it, Origins is almost as much about Batman as it is about the Joker.  You are given a great insight into the Joker’s psyche and how he became who he is.  I’m only just starting to read Batman comics, but the references I was able to catch were used incredibly well.

It wouldn’t be Gotham without the Joker

As far as gameplay is concerned, Arkham Origins plays like previous games.  You have a wide array of gadgets at your disposal, ranging from old favorites like the Remote Batarang and Cryptographic Sequencer to new toys like the Glue Grenade and Shock Gloves.  Travel is made a little easier with fast travel points via Batwing.  Challenge maps have been integrated into the story in that they can be accessed in the Batcave through a “training console”, a small addition that goes a long way toward immersion.  Alfred is always in your ear, ready and willing to help, along with trying so badly to get you to just come home and have Christmas dinner.  Origins introduces a Dark Knight System, a pseudo-achievement system that rewards you for accomplishing different tasks like finishing a predator encounter without using Detective Vision or hitting a 50x Freeflow Combo.

Side missions can be found all over Gotham.  Enigma, as usual, has collectibles sprinkled all about the city.  There are random crimes to stop and gang fights to break up.  Criminals outside of the eight assassins, like Anarky and Mad Hatter, have their own “Most Wanted” missions to progress through.  Origins delves into the detective side of Batman a bit with an improved but stupidly easy CSI system.  You are tasked with recreating a crime scene in Detective Mode by piecing together video and hearing Batman’s thought process.  Unfortunately, hearing things like, “I should scan the blood spatter for evidence” is made childishly easy by the huge red arrow above each piece of evidence.  It’s too bad there aren’t any pieces of false evidence to be found in these crime scenes, as the investigations turn into an exercise in pointing and clicking.  I hope the next installment builds upon this foundation.

Something else of note for the completionists out there is the length of the game.  The main story can be finished in about 15 hours.  After that, there is New Game Plus as well as I Am The Night mode, which limits Batman to one life and no saving.  Add in challenge maps and the new asymmetric multiplayer mode, which I haven’t even touched, and you’ve got dozens and dozens of hours of gameplay.

NANA-NANA-NANA-NANA BATMANNNN

It’d be easy to shovel out a crappy game with Batman on the cover as a money grab, but WB Montreal has taken the Cowl seriously.  Arkham Origins uses the formula seen in previous games, but gives us new insight on the Bat by placing us so early in his crime-fighting career.  Arkham Origins is a great game on it’s own and, to me, is the best in the Arkham series.  It’s truly not a game to be missed.

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