Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse… err… bat.
Having returned to the Batcave on Christmas Eve after intervening in a breakout at Blackgate prison, Bruce Wayne suddenly finds himself the prized target of eight deadly assassins after a $50 million bounty is placed on his head by Black Mask. He, therefore, sets out to avert those threatening Gotham’s citizens by chasing such a lofty reward, whilst investigating Black Mask’s true dastardly intentions.
If you’ve thwarted DC Comics archive of villains in either Asylum or City you’ll know precisely what you’re letting yourself in for this time around, although Batman: Arkham Origins feels more like a game that throws in expected ingredients rather than conjuring up its own recipe.
Gotham once again becomes your open-world playground, Batman quietly gliding around its districts as he pursues each situation thrown at him. A more gruff, hot-headed hero than we’re used to, this largely leads to instances that a more calculated Bruce Wayne wouldn’t find himself in, whilst exploring not only the vigilante’s relationship with trusty butler Alfred early on, but also his first ever encounter with The Joker.
Your time within the crime capital is split between combatting swarming mobs, which remains a relatively seamless chain of attacks, counters, and stuns, whereas more stealth orientated sections invite you to employ Detective Vision which grants a more analytical view of your surroundings for those that choose not to rush headlong toward patrolling foes.
Batarangs, the Batclaw, Explosive Gel, and the Cryptographic Sequencer lead Batman’s returning array of gadgets, whilst Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition‘s kinetic-powered Battle Armoured Tech (B.A.T.) mode finds itself reimplemented as a pair of Shock Gloves, which can be used to power generators whilst delivering supercharged attacks during combat.
A Dark Knight System sees you complete exploration and combat challenges for additional XP, aiding your levelling for the chance to unlock new skills or gadget upgrades through the WayneTech interface. Yet, aside from health and armour boosts, these feel largely superficial to the experience and hardly required for you to conquer the game’s campaign. Heat signature concealment becomes redundant when there are barely any encounters where you’ll find your location threatened by enemies that can discover you in such way, which can be said for many of the gadgets at your disposal.
Whilst Asylum and City served up Riddler-themed collectables for you to discover, Batman: Arkham Origins provides a rather meagre offering compared to the wit of those crafted by the green-clad villain. You’ll instead be destroying Penguin’s arms cache, Black Mask’s drug stash, and severing network relay points, with passable side quests involving the Mad Hatter and Anarky beyond this.
An in-game Accomplishments system replicates that found on other consoles for those wishing to objectify their escapades across Gotham, whilst New Game Plus and the perma-death I Am The Night modes await you beyond completion for you to truly rinse the game for all it has to offer. Whereas Challenge Mode proves a far more enjoyable are to focus your efforts, honing your skills between more combat or stealth-orientated objectives with the quantity of levels having already expanded by the separate Deathstroke and Initiation Challenge Packs available through the Nintendo eShop.
Wii U GamePad implementation is largely limitive, hardly becoming the next candidate to adorn Batman’s utility belt. Quick access to an interactive map saves you frequently pausing with double-tapping in any location placing a custom waypoint, with players also able to search crime scenes using motion control rather than button input, if desired. Beyond this there’s nothing else of merit, with the GamePad used far less than that seen within last year’s Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition which is troubling to find that the studio’s previous experience hasn’t come to the fore, to say the least.
Sit through the game’s extensive credits, and you’ll wonder precisely why that is. It’s not the least of Batman: Arkham Origins troubles either, with a choppy framerate affecting cinematics and gameplay alike – which is worrisome when much of the game’s assets are recognisable from Rocksteady’s own efforts. Gotham also feels sparse and uninhabited, with side missions achieving little in further bringing its corrupt world to life. Which is a shame seeing as the game’s narrative can secure itself praise through the efforts for character exploration between Batman and The Joker’s relationship, aided further by Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker voicing their respective roles commendably.
Batman: Arkham Origins is played safe, then. Failing to elevate itself beyond that which came before it, those that are eager to return to Gotham will still find enough to enjoy whilst the ride lasts. Just don’t expect it to revolutionise the series any further beyond that which you’ve already experienced.