Batman Arkham Origins preview – first hands-on with the controversial return of PS3′s greatest superhero


There’s an incidental system in Batman Arkham Origins – so incidental it doesn’t even have a name – in which the cops and the thugs of Gotham City piece together composites of Batman as more and more reports of sightings flood in. At first, the whispers and radio chatter paint you as a vampire stalking the streets, snatching lonely walkers. Then, you’re rumoured to be a bat – not a man dressed as a bat, but an actual bat – of unfathomable proportions flying above the streets.

Batman Arkham Origins PS3 preview

Later on in his career, Batman becomes the go-to solution for all of Gotham’s troubles, no matter how trivial. “A part of the institution,” points out senior producer Ben Mattes. “‘Batman, can you get our cat out of a tree?’” But for Origins, Mattes wants to get back to the days when the hero was feared. When Batman himself was something of a fish out of water.

Mattes’ proposition is simple: “It’s Christmas Eve. A storm of significant proportions is blowing into Gotham. A new crime lord, Black Mask, hires eight of the world’s best assassins and, in theatrical fashion, says they have one night to kill Batman. And he’ll give $50 million to whoever does it: ‘Go! Bring
me his head!’”

The bounty kick-starts a maelstrom of chaos and destruction with the Dark Knight at its centre. Gotham hasn’t yet been transformed into the prison of Arkham City, but the combination of the storm and the thugs worming through the shadows has seen civilians lock themselves inside.

Those left, including the majority of the corrupt police force, are hostile and zeroing in on your location. When we take control of Batman we’re on the trail of the Penguin. The game is set during Oswald Cobblepot’s pre-bottle-monocle days (might this be the night his eye is punctured?) and he’s got info on Black Mask.

Penguin’s location is a mystery, so we interrogate one of his goons. We then tackle eight of Penguin’s muscle men and lay them out, taking barely a scratch. Playing as an early-career Batman, it’s shocking – but pleasing – to see most of Arkham City’s abilities retained, such as multi-counters and quickfire gadget combos.

“The city’s in full-on Christmas mode, with fairy lights as far as the eye can see – some distance, given the world’s now doubled in size.”

 

We’ve even gained skills: we can now tether two objects with the Remote Claw to clunk thugs’ noggins together and set up traps to drop things on their heads. Armed with the location, we hold off from calling in the Batwing to fast-travel across the city, and instead explore the Museum area. The city’s in full-on Christmas mode, with fairy lights as far as the eye can see – some distance, given the world’s now doubled in size.

The island of New Gotham lies to the south: a playground of skyscrapers and cabling. “New Gotham is more vertical, so gliding and grappling can be explored in new ways,” says creative director Eric Holmes, eager to point out the added landmass isn’t just more of the same. “There’s a bunch of layers to how you work your way through the space, so you can explore higher-speed movement and different types of enemies that take advantage of that verticality.”

The jolly decorations are a good replacement for Arkham City’s Riddler setups, which have been dropped in favour of extra side-missions and emergent challenges. You’ll be intercepting police broadcasts to stop heists and kidnappings (crossing paths with a young James Gordon) and using the new video replay-based detective system to track down Gotham’s supervillains. Right now, though, we’ve got a Penguin to catch, so we sneak aboard a tanker at East Harbour, into an area that reminds us of Cobblepot’s Museum in Arkham City. Vent-crawling, Predator challenges – all the favourites return.

At last we reach the Penguin, prepare to squeeze him for information and… “The assassins who’ve been set loose on this city all come from different walks of life,” interrupts Mattes, catching us off-guard. “They have different tactics. Some are bold and direct. Some take hostages to lure him out. And one of them has stalked Batman to this encounter and chosen this exact moment to strike.”

Sure enough, Batman’s taken out. When we come to, we’re mask-to-mask with DC villain Deathstroke. And that’s it. Demo over. Utility Belt unclipped. Are we disappointed to be left hanging? Anything but. Before our demo, a Batman game without Rocksteady at the helm sounded like a hallucination
from Scarecrow’s Fear Toxin. Now we dare to believe the impossible: that the Arkham series can not only continue with a new developer, but that it might even improve. Holy smokes, indeed.

Get up-to-date with Bats in our Batman Arkham Origins E3 preview.

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