Arkham Origins is far from a flawless game. Putting technical issues aside for a moment (though we’ll get back to them shortly) it is a lesser game than Asylum and City in almost every way. Its open world lacks Asylum’s tight design and Metroidvania feel while also lacking City’s visually distinctive and memorable locations. Its story is simple and straightforward, relying on tricks we’ve already seen and offering nothing particularly new or interesting.
The gameplay is fine but is just a rehash of prior Batman titles. The only “innovation” it brings is the shock gloves, which serve mostly to break the balance of the Batman series’ already kind of shallow combat. Why bother learning the various counters and moves when you can just charge up the gloves and hammer on attack and counter to knock everyone down? Especially disappointing is the lack of Riddler trophies, replaced by much less interesting datapacks that you just pick up in the open world, and network nodes that you hit with batarangs (though a couple require very simple puzzles to access.) Obviously constructing hundreds of puzzles requires a lot of development resources, but those puzzles made the open world much more interesting and gave you stuff to do, and scattering busy work collectibles throughout the environment is not a replacement in any way. The boss fights range from frustratingly obtuse to mediocre at best, often feeling like something you’d see at the beginning of the 7th generation rather than its end. There’s nothing even approximating the Mr. Freeze battle from City. The final battle in particular just feels hastily constructed and confusing, though also kind of easy because of how much health you have at that point.
And then there are the technical problems. The game runs very badly, at least on PS3. It looks decent for a late 7th generation game when it’s standing still but there are relatively frequent frame rate drops to what seems like the mid-teens, commands that don’t come out properly (I know I countered attacks that hit me) and all kinds of other problems including frame tearing and audio hitching. I had to go back and watch one short cut scene on Youtube because the game put the camera behind a wall for it, and that was far from my only collision detection issue. This is a game that clearly needed a lot more polish before it was ready for prime time. Even worse, there are apparently still progression blocking bugs in the game that weren’t squashed because the developers were instead focused on DLC. The fact that the game shipped with numerous progression bugs and then never even finished patching them out despite being from a major publisher with plenty of resources is just plain unacceptable. It deserved every bit of the criticism it got on launch and remains a major black eye for Warner Brothers’ games division, which often seems more focused on selling people additional content than giving gamers good value for the base game, though this is the worst offender. I am in no way excusing the buggy mess this game launched as or remains.
All that being said, while it’s a lesser game than Asylum or City, taken on its own merits as a game it’s not bad. The environments can’t match up to City or Asylum’s, but there’s some interesting stuff there nonetheless and some of the missions outside the open world are really well designed, while the open world portion is compact enough that it isn’t too much of a pain to traverse. The hotel mission is a particular highlight and a truly solid section of the game, and the bridge part has its moments too. The plot is extremely predictable but the script and voice acting are pretty good, if you can put aside the fact that Batman comes off as an entitled jerk (which is something that Alfred comments on so it appears to have been intentional.) Some people have complained that the plot doesn’t really fit in with the other Arkham games, and doesn’t really make sense in a number of ways, and these complaints are thoroughly justified, but the story is really just an excuse to serve up some super villains to fight and some stakes for Batman’s quest, and it functions for those purposes. The music is the same movie-score type orchestral stuff that the rest of the series has and does the job of putting the player in a Batman kind of mood. The gameplay doesn’t innovate but doesn’t have to. It has that tried and true Batman combat and stealth, with enough traversal, puzzle solving, and investigation segments to keep things from getting too stale as you alternate pounding thugs in the face from hanging them from those familiar Batman perches (not all of which are gargoyles now.) There are equipment and skill upgrade systems to keep dripping out new toys for you to play with, and a challenge system that gives you special perks for doing simple tasks like finishing a stealth encounter without being seen. That old Batman formula still works fine, even in 2020, let alone in 2013 when the game was released. I’d say that without technical issues it would be a 7 or 7.5 out of 10 game. A solid, but unspectacular, title, and still pretty decent for a licensed game, given the standards established throughout the years.
As for the Cold, Cold, Heart DLC campaign whose development held up the patching of the game…it’s pretty good. It’s substantial, coming in at something like 3-4 hours, and is focused more on unique new areas than the open world (though it does use a small part of the game’s open world map.) The story is a solid take on the Mr. Freeze character, pun intended, and it has a couple new mechanics in the form of frozen vantage points and stalactites you can drop on enemies during stealth sections. The final battle against Freeze is, again, not nearly as good as City’s but the overall package is far better than City’s Harley’s Revenge DLC, and basically on par, hour for hour, with the main game, which is something a lot of DLC packs struggle with. The lack of a substantial open world or an XP/equipment progression system (all your bat toys except the goo grenade are unlocked from the beginning) really brings home how much these Arkham games are just evolutions of the old Beat ‘Em Up formula, and that’s fine by me. $10 for 3-4 hours of brawling action and a well-made, if pedestrian, Mr. Freeze story seems like a reasonable deal. I should note here that I actually paid $10 for the “complete” version of the game on one of those massive PS3 blowout sales on PSN towards the beginning of the PS4 era, so I do understand that if someone paid $60 for this as a new release and had to deal with all the technical issues at launch they might justifiably have a more negative opinion than I do. I’m evaluating the game as it is now, not in the context of release where it was a giant dumpster fire for a number of reasons. I also think that the rest of the season pass content seems light, and Cold Cold Heart is probably not worth $20. Finally, I obviously didn’t play the multiplayer so can’t comment on that.
Arkham Origins is not a game that’s so bad it needs to be forgotten or discarded, and there have been worse games remastered for the 8th generation. It also is a game that could benefit hugely from a remaster because the original version is so shoddy. WB should have gone back and cleaned up the game breaking bugs in the original release and then put out a version with a steady frame rate on consoles and all those other issues fixed, and they had an opportunity to do so with the Return to Arkham collection, which instead smoothed things out on two games that were pretty good to begin with, ignoring the game that needed the most work. Obviously Asylum and City are the far better games, and Origins is the one to skip if you’re going to skip one, but as someone who enjoys playing through a whole series, warts and all, I would have loved a better version of this lesser title, which is not so bad that it deserves to be buried. There are lots of series that include their lesser games in their remaster collections.
I understand that main series developer Rocksteady seems kind of annoyed that WB farmed out their formula to another developer who did what they view as a subpar job on it, and want to claim that there is only a trilogy of Batman games (Asylum, City, and Knight) but that seems kind of petty to me. It’s not like they created the Batman character and adding Origins to Return to Arkham would have given that collection a bit more value, especially considering that the remasters weren’t that great to begin with.
Regardless, I think Origins is still worth playing for Batman fans and fans of the Arkham series if you can get it cheap. Is it a great game? No. Is it a technical mess? Yes. But there’s a fair amount of fun to be had here, with some above average high points. Removed from the clusterf*** of its release and mostly patched up it serves as an okay action adventure title from an era that did those games pretty well. I just wish WB had taken the time to put together a definitive version for the current batch of consoles I’ve played and enjoyed much worse titles, and Origins doesn’t deserve to be buried or wiped from the series history books.
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