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Stop me if you've heard this one before. A prequel, seemingly rushed out in an attempt to cash in on a series' brand before the next generation of consoles arrive. This year we have already seen Gears of War: Judgment and God of War: Ascension. Judgment, just like Arkham Origins was made by a different team who made the series what it is, so it is no surprise I was cautious about this one. With Rocksteady looking almost guaranteed to be working on next gen Batman it was up to Warner Bros. Montreal to tell the story of how Batman met The Joker.
The plot takes place over the course of one evening which happens to be Christmas Eve as Black Mask hires a team of assassins to take down Batman. The assassins are of course a bunch of familiar faces from the Batman universe including Firefly, Copperhead and Electrocutioner. Whilst some are not instantly recognisable, it's great seeing all aspects of the universe being explored and not just the ones made famous by the films.
I found the story to be completely unexpected. In that what starts out as a cool premise, it develops very nicely over the course of the game and ultimately was very enjoyable. I feel that in trying to keep many things secret they did the plot a massive disservice during promotion of the game and without spoiling anything I will say that all the elements you want from a good Batman story are absolutely here.
The opening of the game sets things up nicely and gets the plot up and running very quickly and throws you straight into action. I must also take a moment to mention The Joker and the performance of one Troy Baker. Taking over from someone so iconic as Mark Hamill has to be one of the hardest jobs around and I feel Troy was the only person that could pull it off. His performance is incredible and his scenes truly are the best in the game. One sequence in particular which references one of my favorite films was stunningly well put together and my only criticism is that he isn't featured in the game more.
Of course no Arkham game would be complete without boss battles and this game is no different. They come thick and fast with varying difficulty and the result is a mixed bag. The most original is probably the fight with Firefly, but the execution ultimately doesn't quite fit the ambitiousness of it. Copperhead's was very fun and matched the tone of the villain and the multiple fights with Bane are again very solidly put together. There isn't anything as strong as the Mr.Freeze fight from Arkham City, but there still plenty of enjoyable battles throughout the game.
A lot has been said about the combat in the Arkham games over the years and it's wonderful combo system and the praise is warranted. When it ties together you do feel like a complete badass and it hasn't really changed here. My only problem is the challenge is increasingly getting harder in the form of adding more and more enemies to each encounter. At times when I'm fighting what seems like 50+ enemies my fingers can start to hurt from all the button bashing and I would prefer if they scaled it back slightly at times.
The stealth is still present and this to me is where the gameplay shines. It feels way more Batman to me when I'm stalking from above rather than running in head first using my fists instead of my brain. Some enemy filled arenas take the fun away slightly again by putting so many of them in one place you just have to wait till they split up unless you want to get gunned down immediately.
The game is somewhat open world, but not in a traditional sense. There is the whole map out there for you to explore, but the game forces you down a very linear path when you are playing through its story. With the inclusion of fast travel which I relied on more as the game progressed, it does take a level of exploration out of the game. Outside of the main story is all the extra content which is an insane amount. You can help the police solve crimes, go after the Most Wanted criminals which include more boss battles with famous villains and additional side missions. With new game plus unlocked after you complete the story you could easily double your time with the game if you explore everything there is to experience.
All of the best gadgets from previous games are back with the inclusion of a few new ones but nothing too memorable. The best new feature I enjoyed was the crime scene investigating you do via the detective vision. You scan for clues and even reverse and play the scene out to try and gain more information. It is similar to Remember Me's memory remixing but works very effectively. Especially when it is used for a pivotal story moment I thought it worked great and should be used more in the future.
The level of detail and attention paid to the Batman universe and not just it's main characters is incredible. All the usual hints and Easter Eggs at the greater mythology is here in full force and the amount of fan service paid is unquestionable. Even as a casual fan of Batman I thoroughly enjoy the little touches, but a hardcore Batman comics fan will absolutely adore this game once again.
Competitive multiplayer comes to the Arkham series for the first time in the form of the Invisible Predator game mode. It sees two teams of three people controlling the gang of either Bane or The Joker while also taking on the threat of two players of Batman & Robin. So that's 3 vs 3 vs 2. It sounds complicated and it sort of is but I won't go into tons of detail explaining as it's not really worth your time unfortunately.
Playing as either of the three player teams just controls like a bad Gears of War clone and isn't why I play a Batman game. The introduction of new gadgets specific to this mode is cool and it's a shame we can't use them in the campaign in some capacity as this alone isn't worth playing this mode for. I also struggled to find any games and this being the launch week of the game means the long term success for this mode looks troubled to say the least. With the huge amount of the content this game offers already its nice to try and add something new, even if it's something I really won't be playing again anytime soon.
So have the new studio pulled it off? The short answer is yes. While nowhere near as revolutionary as Asylum (or City) but when it comes to a 3rd game in four years it is almost impossible to add new tricks to a series without changing what made it a success in the first place. The game looks and plays as good as the previous titles and ultimately tells a very enjoyable story. The ensemble of villains is as impressive as usual and the amount of hours of content presented is well worth the price of admission. If you, like me, was scared Arkham Origins was just an unnecessary cash grab then fear not. There is plenty of fun to be had here with the Dark Knight once again.