Batman: Arkham Origins Review (or Dark Knight on Laundry Day: The Game)

Wash... Rinse... Repeat.

Warning: This review contains spoilers from the entire series of Arkham games, if you’re looking to get into the series I suggest starting with the original Arkham Asylum.

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Going into Batman: Arkham Origins has been a cautious experience for me. As a kid, I grew up reading comic books, and I know all too well how fast a series can go south when you have a new writer and artist following up a run by an incredibly talented team. Very often the first issue by the new team would feature a cover drawn by the previous artist to disguise the fact that the new team just simply isn’t as good. WB Montreal is the new team here, following an incredible run of games by Rocksteady Studios… a run so good that the bar for super-hero games has been raised significantly.

Perhaps even more disappointing than getting a comic with a new team disguised behind the cover of the previous artist is when the new artist tries to copy the style of the previous one. Rather than having confidence in themselves, they’re simply trying to “give the fans what they want”. That’s Batman: Arkham Origins in a nutshell.

I’m going to take the whole cover thing literally here for a bit… let’s examine what the cover of Arkham Origins promises us.

Facing off against eight of the deadliest assassins in the DC Universe sounds great…

If only that were true. The main story of the game sees you actually fighting only five of those eight assassins, two others are optional side quests that can be easily missed (I actually finished the game without ever encountering one assassin), and one assassin is pretty much thrown in as a joke. Here’s a hint… it’s the guy you never heard of before this game.

This would also lead you to believe Black Mask is the main villain of the game… bullshit. Just like the previous two Arkham games, the Joker is by far the main villain–you’ve been duped, bat brain! Black Mask is a great Batman villain too, with a very complicated connection to Bruce Wayne that’s totally overlooked in this game. Even though the setting is a prequel, it totally undermines Arkham City, where the Joker was killed off rather fantastically.

Rocksteady was obviously setting the stage to give other villains a chance at the spotlight… Arkham Origins craps all over that. This also leads to a new team trying to follow the legendary voice team of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Roger Craig Smith as Batman and Troy Baker as Joker do some fine voice work, but it comes off as an imitation of the voices of their predecessors.

The other thing that Rocksteady really nailed in the Arkham formula was the integration of Batman’s utility belt and gadgets. Arkham Origins does very little to expand on this formula. The Remote Claw is really just the Line Launcher from the previous game with the added ability to be used as a weapon. The Shock Gloves actually appeared in the Wii U port of Arkham City under the name B.A.T. mode (WB Montreal handled this port btw) and basically serve as an unnecessary power-up during combat. The new team undermines the work done by Rocksteady by adding an item that breaks many of the core combat mechanics. No longer do you have to learn how deal with armored enemies, large enemies, or shield carrying enemies… because the Shock Gloves will burn through all of them.  

Everything feels recycled from the previous games

Ice grenades are now glue grenades, rather than tripping balls from being poisoned by Scarecrow, you’re tripping balls from being poisoned by Copperhead… rather than fighting Ra’s al Ghul and his ninjas, you fight Shiva and those same ninjas re-skinned. In fact the game feels so heavily recycled it makes me question the developers. The end credits of the game list a pretty sizeable team from Rocksteady Studios… which begs the question: is this Arkham City with some new textures and assets?

This also invites the question: do we really need a new Arkham game every 2 years? Putting a series on an annual or semi-annual release schedule can often lead to franchise fatigue like we’ve seen with Assassin’s Creed, Call of Duty, Gears of War, and so on.

When news of Arkham Origins first came out, I immediately thought of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and Dave Mazzuchelli, and how awesome it would be to see that in game form. I had hoped given that this wasn’t a direct sequel to Arkham City, they’d go wild and be really creative. There is a slight nod to Year One in having James Gordon try to clean up a very corrupt Gotham Police Department… but that’s where any similarities end. The story is exactly what the title says: Arkham Origins sets the events of the other two Arkham games in place and lazily covers plot holes with explanations like venom causing Bane to lose his memory and forget certain events that happen in this game.

I realize this has become more of a rant than a proper review.

I can’t help but feel I’ve been trolled by this game. Arkham Origins was publicized as a new entry into the Arkham franchise with a new main villain and a progression of the design and mechanics from the previous titles.

That’s a lie… it’s still about Batman fighting the Joker… it’s still identical mechanics with no new attacks or predator takedowns. This game is a rehash, albeit a very nice looking high budget rehash. WB Montreal does a competent job on this game, even though most side missions involve just fighting a mob or racing to an objective, and the ones that aren’t, like the Mad Hatter, are so poorly designed I thought the game was bugged.

Yes, there are quite a few bugs as reported on this site and others. I personally encountered the bug on the PC version on one of the Enigma side quests at Burnley tower. Updating the game after this bug caused me to fall through the floor and die… I also noticed a significant decrease in framerate and performance after updating the game. Console versions of the game also have several reported bugs and glitches. The game definitely has its moments though, with certain portions feeling very well written and polished. 

Arkham Origins is an unnecessary game in the series, bringing little (if not nothing), new to the table.

Having the game take place on Christmas Eve seems like an arbitrary decision to possibly explain why Gotham has no traffic or pedestrians. They tacked on a multiplayer mode I’m not even going to discuss and just put a new coat of paint on a game we’ve already played. We do know Rocksteady is working on a new Arkham game, with Kevin Conroy as Batman, with rumors that it takes place in the Silver Age or possibly has ties to the Justice League. If you stick through the credits of Arkham Origins, you also see a scene that heavily hints at a new Suicide Squad game–which DC comics confirmed was in development already.

This could see WB Montreal working on “side” games in the Arkham universe and leave Rocksteady to continue on with the main series… after all that’s a very common practice in comic books. The only difference here is picking up a comic done by the uninspired B team of the series only costs you a couple bucks and about a half hour of your time… not $60 and eight hours of your time.

Batman: Arkham Origins Review (or Dark Knight on Laundry Day: The Game)
Wash... Rinse... Repeat.

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Ryan Kerns
Lifelong gamer, artist, writer, lurker, occasional troll, and 1994 Blockbuster Game Tournament Store Champion.