Monday, 28 October 2013

Return Of The Bat – Arkham Origins

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It was with some trepidation that I approached Batman: Arkham Origins. It’s predecessors Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were both stellar examples of how to craft a meaningful action-adventure game around a comic book licence. They are arguably the best comic book games of all time. Rocksteady, the London based developer of both Arkham games, came from relative obscurity to create what will be for many two of the best games of this current console cycle, myself included.

As the first game in the series not developed by Rocksteady, Arkham Origins has a lot to live up to, but I’m happy to say that it mostly delivers on the expectations players have from an Arkham title.

WB Games Montreal have made sure it features all the gameplay mechanics from the previous titles, so you can look forward to stealthily taking down a squad of goons from dark corners, solving Riddler challenges (Enigma at this point), investigating crime scenes and swooping over the streets of Gotham. Your back-up comes in the form of the ever faithful Wayne family butler, Alfred, who runs things back at the Batcave (Making it’s first proper appearance in the series) and keeps the Batwing fueled nicely for you.

In terms of additions to the single-player there is nothing earth-shatteringly new to be found. Gotham is split into two halves, Old and New, and Bats finds himself swooping from one end of the city to the other as he follows leads and clues. Those who have played through previous title Arkham City, will find Old Gotham very familiar as it’s basically the same space from that game, except this time it’s still in use as a City, rather than a massive Prison. This gives a strange sense of Deja-Vu, knowing that you’ve visited these places before, but now you get to see them as they were before the Arkham City storyline takes place.

As well as the extended play-space, which is open from the start, you have fast-travel points which utilise the Batwing to quickly drop you close to where you wish to go, although these need to be unlocked via some of the Enigma challenges. It’s a welcome addition as while gliding through the streets of Gotham is perfectly fine, it can take some time to move long distances.

The storyline is every bit as strong as previous titles, this time focusing on a younger, more aggressive Batman as he encounters some of his most notable villains for the first time. Mixed into this is a public that don’t believe he exists and a corrupt Police force out to bring him down, meaning that beyond Alfred, Bruce is very much alone in his quest.

However, despite the overall quality of the game there are some things that just don’t feel right.

Combat seems slightly off. Not by much, but if you are used to the combo timings from Asylum and City it can take some time to re-adjust to the tweaks made here. It’s most apparent when facing groups of five or more, which the game loves to do quite often, and can mean you making what seem to be very silly mistakes and missing obvious counters.

The grapnel seems quite flaky about what it will or won’t lock onto, often pulling you in completely the opposite direction if you aren’t paying attention. Sometimes it won’t lock onto a ledge five meters away, instead favouring the top of a crane in the distance. It’s a small annoyance that I found really noticeable, very quickly.

Coupled with the weird grapnel lock-on is what seems to be a lower ceiling for the glide manoeuvre. It just doesn’t seem to be able to get the height I would think it could. As mentioned before the grapnel just seems to refuse to lock onto certain things, especially over a certain height. I found the most notable example of this was on the bridge connecting Old and New Gotham. It’s not possible to scale the towers to the top, instead you get about half-way there, which leaves you very open to gunfire from below when gliding past.

There are other small things too. Sometimes I find Batman won’t climb on something that he very clearly should be able to. Sometime he appears to slide around on top of railings that he’s perched on.

There’s also at least one major bug in the PC version that requires a reload of your save game if you attempt to open up one of the Fast-Travel points. The only way to do it just now is to purposely activate a glitch within the game, which takes practise and patience, although a patch is surely on it’s way.

It’s a lot of mostly small things that all serve to make the game slightly less enjoyable as you’re hitting up against strange effects that draw you out of the experience. Luckily they are all fairly simple to ignore and you can continue on with the game more-or-less unimpeded.

This is definitely not a game I would recommend to a first time Arkham player. Arkham Asylum and City are both superior games and should be used as an entry point first before Origins.

However, if you are a fan of the previous titles Arkham Origins is very much a game worth your time. While it perhaps lacks the polish of Asylum and City it’s so very close to being there. Had they pushed it back a month or two to clean up those complaints you would easily be reading nothing but praise for it right now. As it stands it’s an ever so slightly flawed Gem and well worth considering.

Batman: Arkham Origins is out now on PC, PS3, 360 and Wii U

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