There’s a point at the end of Batman: Arkham Origins where I thought the game was trying to tell me not to give The Joker what he wanted. He wanted a beating, that much was obvious, and as Batman stood at the ready and Joker pranced around, I was reminded of the boss battle at the end of the Mysteries of the Sith expansion for Star Wars Jedi Knight. In it, Mara Jade sets off to find Kyle Katarn who had become corrupted by the Dark Side of the Force. I tried like hell to beat Katarn but no matter what I did, he was too good. Looking at the stone panels in the hall we were in, panels that depicted one Jedi kneeling in front of another, I realized what I had to do. The point was to not fight, to not submit to the violence of the Dark Side. I switched off my lightsaber and the fight was over.
I hoped that Arkham Origins, a game that had been relentlessly raising the stakes on stupid up until this point, was making that kind of move, making the player deny what The Joker wanted, letting Batman realize that the only way to beat this madman was to not beat him.
After the jump, yeah, not so much.
I guess this is where the spoiler alert would go, but the game wasn’t as smart or as clever as I wanted it to be. I actually walked, nay stalked, around the room for a bit, hoping I could leave and put Gotham City in my rear view, but the open doorway was only for show. Had I been thinking, I would have shut the game off, choosing to write my own game in which comics’ most famous hero-villain pair stayed locked in a standstill for all eternity, a digital metaphor for their four panel relationship. I wasn’t thinking though. I just wanted it to be over, so I punched him. A lot.
Arkham Origins is a follow up to Arkham City despite taking place before Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. At this point in the game universe, Batman has been on the job for two years and most people think he’s a myth, except for the guy who is willing to pay fifty million dollars to have him killed and the group of nitwits who take the job. He is alternately awesome at his job (punching, kicking, gadgeting) and terrible at his job (letting people die, not tying up criminals, leaving the Batcave with a 5 o’clock shadow).
Origins uses the same combat system as the previous games but fails to be as smooth or seamless as either game that came before it. I still don’t know if whiffing a punch or having a lamp post prevent me from locking on to a nearby enemy is supposed to be part of the whole “rough around the edges” Batman or is simply bad code but it really doesn’t matter. When Leon the two-bit check washer lays out the Dark Knight because of an errant half wall, I don’t feel much like one of the greatest hand to hand combatants in the DC universe. I also don’t know if Leon gets the 50 million. He really should. He earned it.
Luckily, about half way through the game, Warner Bros. Montreal gives you shock gloves. Once you have those, any notion of stringing together carefully constructed combos filled with quick fire gadgets, artful dodges, masterful counters and tooth shattering super moves goes right out the window in favor of bouncing around like an electric pinball and blasting dudes into unconsciousness. It’s almost as if they realized partway through development that they couldn’t get the free flow system to be as free or as flowy so they threw us the gloves as a bone. To make matters worse, Batman has the opportunity to get the gloves earlier in the game, a moment at which I yelled “TAKE THE GLOVES” at my screen more than I am comfortable admitting, but he doesn’t because of being rough around the edges. Also, Alfred hadn’t suggested it yet. Stupid Alfred.
Once you have the gloves, as long as you can stay alive and get in enough punches to charge the gloves through the power of violence, fights become pretty easy. Well, until the end of the game when a slog through one interminable boss battle after another brings your 360 to its knees and the end villain repeatedly tears you a new one because the game stutters so much that you can’t dodge his attacks and getting knocked into a corner means that Alfred will need to find a new angry orphan to shepard through crazy nights of vigilantism.
But, you say, I already had awesome combat in Arkham City, I’m here for the story. Ha! That’s funny. It’s funny because this story makes very little sense. In Arkham City, it made sense for armed bands of thugs to be roaming the city. Here, not so much. Loudspeakers set up around the town continually remind you that there’s curfew in place on account of all of the hooliganism, but you would expect there to be some police presence to try and take down the rooftop snipers and car door wielding thugs. Expect there to be a rash of car insurance claims in the wake of this game on account of all of the ripped off car doors.
The only police you’ll see are the corrupt ones which you beat up, and Jim Gordon who is not corrupt and also not commissioner because this is two years ago. He doesn’t think Batman is a good idea, but he comes around because of his daughter, the details of which are as dumb as they sound. Don’t worry though, because along the “Jim Gordon is uneasy about teaming up with Batman” story beat you’ll also get “villains wouldn’t be villains without Batman”, “Batman inexplicably saves Joker’s life, irritating Joker in the process”, “Batman is as bad as the people he fights”, “Someone figures out who Batman is”, and “Batman and Alfred fight over Batman’s responsibility”. It’s like the writers read a bunch of Batman comics and then put together a checklist of all of the story beats they thought a good Batman story had to have without giving any consideration as to whether or not the beats worked well together or at all.
The conversation Batman and Alfred have about Batman’s responsibility, right after casually chatting about Christmas dinner, is one of the most abrupt conversation turns I’ve seen since Uncle Larry got drunk at Thanksgiving. Batman says that the reason he has to go out and beat up people is because criminals are scared of him and they stay away. Never mind that once the story is over, not only are there more armed thugs roaming the streets and rooftops than when the game started, but they are exponentially better armed. I realize that the game needs to give you things to do because it’s open world and all, but it takes away from your whole reason for being if criminals set up sniper’s nests on every awning like it’s the opening day of duck season.
I’m certainly not the arbiter of why games should exist, but I really can’t figure out why this game exists other than the desire to cash in on the work done by Rocksteady. The combat isn’t as good, the story is weak and meaningless, all tension drained from it because we know that nothing bad happens to anyone as they’re all around in Arkham Asylum, and the gadgets are either exactly the same or have the barest of cosmetic differences to distinguish them from previous games’ gadgets. I guess there’s multiplayer if you like the idea of playing a third person shooter in which you either shoot gangs and shoot Batman in the face or take down gangs as Batman whilst getting shot in the face. Thankfully no one was willing to join my lobby, saving me the indignity of having the World’s Greatest Detective repeatedly executed by xXxWeEdMa$ter59xXx.
If what you want is more Batman, go back and replay Arkham City or try the challenge maps that you no doubt ignored in either Arkham game that came before. Both are better ways to spend your time than with Batman: Arkham Origins and neither game has an idiot in a unitard repeatedly calling you “pendejo”.