Review: Batman: Arkham Origins — a potent sequel to two smash hits

Jon Mercer
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A screenshot from the game “Batman: Arkham Origins.” — Submitted image

Batman: Arkham Origins

PS3, Xbox 360, PC

It’s a snowy Christmas Eve in Gotham City. The public are nestled safely away in their homes due in part to a severe winter storm warning, and due in part to the fact that when the sun goes down in Gotham, chaos rules the streets.

A particularly violent crime boss known as Black Mask is spending his holidays making an ambitious play to take control of Gotham’s underworld — starting with putting out a $50 million bounty on the head of the beleaguered city’s shadowy protector, Batman. This attracts eight of the world’s most skilled assassins for a shot at big money, and undying glory as the one who finally brought down the bat.

Only two years into his campaign against the forces of evil, Batman now faces more dire odds than he has ever faced before. It’s a marvellous setup to a game that doesn’t stray far from the path walked by Rocksteady Games’ “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City,” mainly because it doesn’t have to.

In fact, that’s the biggest knock I have seen levied against “Batman: Arkham Origins” — new developer WB Montreal simply doesn’t stretch beyond the foundation laid before.

My question? Why would they? I am still amazed at how well these games understand the deep-rooted thrill of stalking through shadows, perching high above a pack of cowardly and superstitious crooks, watching the icy tendrils of fear grin at their hearts. They know what is in the room with them.

“Arkham Origins” is an empowering game to play. It’s by no means easy, as the free flowing combat can take a while to really get a feel for, and demands snappy reflexes and attention to detail on the higher difficulty settings — but there has never been another comic book game franchise that has been this successful at putting gamers in the boots of a hero.

Gotham begs to be explored, and soaring from roof to roof via Batman’s grapple gun and glider is great big ol’ hoot. For a city that is essentially populated by street hoods and corrupt cops, Gotham is a pretty exciting place. Not to mention how a light dusting of snow and some Christmas lights make the gloomy borough look even more sinister. What Gotham lacks in open-world life, it makes up for with an animal-like sense of danger.

More than anything, I couldn’t help but be swept up by the rollicking story. It’s simple, traditional even, but a welcome reprieve after two games of Titan monsters and Post-Apocalyptic prison cities.

The main campaign sets Batman on the tail of Black Mask, and puts him up against awesome foes such as Deathstroke, Firefly, Copperhead and Bane — not to mention a run-in with The Penguin, and setting up his first encounter with a certain psychotic trickster with a penchant for purple and green. There are side quests involving Deadshot, Lady Shiva, The Mad Hatter, The Riddler, and others.

“Arkham Origins” is the sort of title that makes five hours of playing fly by like 45 minutes. There’s always that ravenous need to finish one more mission, clear one more level, bust up one more robbery, or try to make it to one more of the game’s stunning boss encounters with Black Mask’s menagerie of assassins.

New enemy types and renewed focus on skillful countering (introduced in “Arkham City”) have made combat in “Arkham Origins” the star of the show. Brutes need to be stunned before players can unload with a hellacious beat-down to keep them floored; Martial Artists will use speed and skill to break Batman’s counters with their own flashy moves, keeping gamers on their toes.

And when the waves of foes that surround and strike the Dark Knight seem to be impassable; new tools like the Shock Gauntlets can even the odds in a way that can only be described as explosive.

As a sequel to a pair of smash hit Game-of-the-Year winners in their respective release years, “Batman: Arkham Origins” isn’t the most original of sequels. But as a standalone Batman game, it’s just as potent as its predecessors, with a more traditional story, some interesting baddies who finally get a crack at the spotlight, a solid multiplayer component for up to 10 players, and a pair in the role of Batman and Robin.

Now, how could any of that sound like a game you shouldn’t be playing?

Platform: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC (360 version reviewed)

Developer: WB Montreal

Publisher: WB Games

Release Date: Oct. 25, 2013

Rated: T for Teen.

Walking through the wastes of the digital frontier, Jon Mercer fights a lonely war against the nefarious agents of boredom and mediocrity. If you seek his help, or wish to join his cause, send a communiqué via

thejonmercer@gmail.com.

Organizations: Gotham City

Geographic location: Arkham, Montreal

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