Batman: Arkham Origins PS3 review – step in studio fleshes out Wayne’s world admirably
Helping the feeling of being the bat is the scale of Gotham. It’s huge: a grim industrial procession of heavy buildings and cavernous alleys that stretch out before you, with the Christmas Eve setting giving it all a slightly Burton-esque feel (due in part to Batman Returns’ similar backdrop). You can lose hours here simply gliding from rooftop to rooftop, intercepting police calls or pursuing collectible side objectives – things like Riddler relays or Penguin weapon caches – or more fully formed side missions such as tracking down a series of bombs planted by the politically-motivated villain Anarky, or a great run-in with Mad Hatter.
It really is the open world Batman game you’ve been waiting for. It’s easy to get distracted and go off mission as you zip from billboards to rooftops to gargoyles. The impressive vastness of the place means the bat-hook boost that flings you into the air really comes into its own here – you can soar for minutes at a time, patrolling the map in swooping, speed-gathering divebombs and whooshing, building-clearing bursts.
The scale of things is made more manageable by it all being broken down into districts. While countless markers slowly fill your map, you can tackle them one zone at a time, which makes certain tasks far less daunting. You can also fast travel to areas once you’ve taken each zone’s jamming towers offline by working out how to reach a console that requires hacking. If that reminds you at all of Far Cry 3’s radio towers then it’s a just comparison. Like Ubi’s island jaunt, Origins’ emergent events and periphery activities can distract and entertain just as much as the main mission, while also providing tangible benefits. There’s no crafting of monitor lizard bat-pants here, but there are rewards for going off the beaten track. Much of the additional activities are also gear-gated with areas and objectives only reachable once you’ve unlocked new stuff along the way.
If anything, the game’s opening hours
struggle under the weight of content
thrown at you in one big fanboy gush
If anything, the game’s opening hours struggle under the weight of content thrown at you in one big fanboy gush. In the first few hours Killer Croc, Deathstroke, Penguin and Electrocutioner among others have all rattled past like a chorus line in a rush. Depending on your mix of main missions and side quests, you’ll most likely be encountering a name villain every couple of hours. It belittles the potency somewhat. Where previously baddies were teased and built up into big events, here it’s like walking into a small cage full of socially deprived puppies with bacon in your pockets and trying to avoid attention. It’s unclear whether the new team were eager to please or just massively overenthusiastic, but the development strategy appears to have been ‘PUT ALL THE STUFF IN’, without questioning why it’s needed.
Boss fights in particular suffer, partly because they’re so frequent and partly because they’re not very good as a rule. They were always the series’ most hit and miss moments at the best of times. Here, while there are highlights, there are more than a few occasions when the planning meeting obviously got as far as ‘lots of punching?’ on the whiteboard before the team decided to break for lunch and never go back. For example Killer Croc, such a tense highlight of the original Arkham Asylum, is reduced to a lumpen fist-swinging chore, with a helicopter that keeps dropping off two extra goons every couple of life bar pips for no reason other than it’s really, really irritating.
Outside the variable boss encounters the combat’s as great as ever: a methodical mix of timing and reactions that can see you dismantle entire gangs in one amazing combo. There are new enemy types to further up the mix of tactics you need. Joining the shield bearers, knife guys or armoured types are martial artists that involve lots of counter countering on both sides. Or mini-Banes, Envenomed gang members that have unblockable attacks and can restrain Batman until he breaks free. New gadgets like shock gloves or concussion grenades (stun people and make them attack anything) help add variety to tactics as things progress.
At times though, as in other areas, it can feel like Warner Montreal has gone overboard here with encounters often involving 15-20+ people, and taking as much patience as skill to get through. On more than one occasion I turned around and did something else entirely when I saw there was yet another huge fight ahead. I also regularly found myself having to fish the camera manually out of the wall – something I don’t remember ever being an issue before. I’m not sure if it’s a tech problem or a result of smaller, slightly constrained interior environments. It’s not massively damaging but when you’re trying to deal with a large angry mob you don’t want to be fiddling with a view that’s ridden up to the ceiling and cut off one side of your vision as well.
I also had a bit of an issue with the objective markers in some places. While the big bat signal arrows point clearly to a destination at a building level, it wasn’t always clear what door, tunnel or whatever was the actual ‘in’. Again, it’s a problem I don’t remember having in previous games, and it spoils the illusion of being Batman when you have to do two or three laps at every floor to find the bit that opens.