Picking up the mantle from British developer Rocksteady Studios, fresh Canadian outfit WB Montreal’s Batman: Arkham Origins takes a cautious approach to the established Arkhamverse, which – in typical superhero fashion – serves as both a blessing and a curse. The good news is that it proves to be yet another hugely entertaining entry in the series. The bad news is that it does little to innovate beyond its predecessor’s accomplishments.
What you get is an unmatched sense of empowerment that comes with mastering Batman’s pugilistic power, delivering a flurry of kicks, punches and counters to hordes of goons that bear down on the screen. As one of the most accomplished combat systems in modern gaming, it’s little wonder that it returns without alteration, the developer instead investing in varying enemy types (ninjas and Bane-like brutes that require a bit more dexterity from the player) to offer a fresh challenge. Gotham itself faces a similar problem, here the city is less dilapidated and slightly expanded compared to last time, but it has too much déjà vu about it: desolate, full of familiar iconography and scattered with hidden trophies courtesy of the Riddler. The first couple of hours feel like a particularly generous downloadable expansion.
Thankfully, it turns out that during the opening chapters the developer is just playing its cards close to its chest. To begin, Black Mask’s $50 million bounty on Batman’s head, which attracts eight of his (albeit more obscure) enemies to Gotham on Christmas Eve, is something of a red herring. Instead, we get a study of Batman during his formative years, recklessly impulsive and bitterly petulant, catapulting him through several key relationship introductions that will later define him as a hero. And it’s only then, as the game begins to chip away at the character’s insecurities and sense of duty, that the world map finally begins to show some character itself, filling with tantalising diversions – such as missions to track down other rogues gallery villains and CSI-style murder investigations.
Credit is due then to WB Montreal for sketching out its own version of the character, albeit using sturdy framework built by Rocksteady. The fantastic combat, exploration and stealth elements are all present and correct, with some deft storytelling touches worthy of its lineage. It may lack the spark of originality that distinguished the previous two instalments, but it’s the closest you can get to actually being Batman.