Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (Wii U)

I had a sneaking suspicion as I was playing Batman: Arkham Origins that I had been here before:  Gotham in the midst of winter, thugs out and about just begging to be trounced, and collecting more Riddler...I mean...more Edward Nigma trophies to collect than anyone should ever have to.  Origins bears a striking resemblance to 2011's Batman: Arham City, but is that necessarily a bad thing?

To start, while this is indeed a prequel to Rocksteady's critically-acclaimed Arkham titles, the title is very misleading.  It has nothing to do with Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, and is instead relegated to the streets and rooftops of Gotham City.  Batman is a younger incarnation of himself, taking on more of a Year Two role.  He's still relatively fresh to the hero business, and while he has the brooding demeanor down pat by this point, he's still going to make mistakes, and is still trying to find his place amidst Gotham society.  He's well aware of his own intentions, but isn't so much aware of how he can bring them to fruition.  Alfred provides assistance and insight from the confines of the bat cave, but also acts as a moral compass to Bruce through the duration of the dozen or so hours you'll spend soaring through the skies, beating goons to a pulp.  They don't always see eye-to-eye in some instances, but Warner Bros. Montreal deserves a fair amount of credit for making the player care about the budding dynamic between the ever-mindful butler and the brash young man seeking change.  Said dynamic is certainly put to the test however, when Black Mask, a notorious crime lord in Gotham, hires eight assassins to bring Batman down for good.  Gotham meanwhile, is in the middle of a blizzard, forcing its denizens to remain indoors.  And to make matters worse, it's Christmas Eve.  Clearly, Black Mask needs a bit more of the holiday spirit.

Other familiar faces make an appearance as well, from a younger Jim Gordon to the venom-infused Bane.  Fans of the characters from DC's Batman universe are sure to find something to love in the cast that's presented here.  Most of which lies in the introduction of a certain clown prince of crime, and how he so effortlessly shows that signature maniacal genius in many situations.  I loved the interactions between Batman and the Joker, and the various nods that were thrown in for good measure to older Batman lore.  I can't spoil anything here, but fans of Alan Moore's brilliant The Killing Joke will be pleased.  What's more, the characters are brought to life through some superb vocal work.  Unfortunate as it may be that Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill aren't reprising their roles as Batman and the Joker respectively, they are replaced by two men who are most certainly up to the task.  Roger Craig Smith delivers a wonderful performance as the titular Dark Knight, bordering on echoes of Conroy with a bit of Bale's cinematic growl in more intense situations.  The show-stealer however, is Troy Baker, a man that's had a fair amount of success in the last year, voicing Booker DeWitt in Bioshock: Infinite and Joel in The Last of Us.  Here, Baker shows incredible range, by mimicking Hamill's trademark style remarkably close.

So with all of that out of the way, how does Arkham Origins play?  Well, if you've played either Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, you know exactly what to expect:  an open-world Metroid-inspired adventure that has Batman exploring every nook and cranny of the game world with his various gadgets that he acquires over the course of the story, and fighting baddies with dyanmic free-flow combat.  It's as fluid and easy to control as ever, so if you're a fan of the franchise, you'll be able to jump right into Origins with minimal fuss.  In fact, there's not really anything new here, and while that's not necessarily a bad thing, it lacks the natural developmental progression that we saw in the jump from Asylum to City.  The sandbox is bigger this time, but rather than having more to do as a result, it feels more like the same amount of content spread over a wider surface area.  While you might worry that this translates to an increase in tedious backtracking, WB Montreal saw fit to incorporate the Bat Wing into the adventure, allowing for fast-travel between previously discovered locations.  This is insanely helpful during optional segments of the game that have you pursuing the regulatory trophies scattered throughout Gotham.

The presentation in Batman: Arkham Origins is something of a mixed bag.  On one hand, the Unreal Engine looks quite nice on Wii U, with appropriate definition and detail given to character models and environments.  On the other, there are a multitude of bugs present, ranging from enemies darting across the screen, to falling through floors, to simply freezing.  All of these can be fixed through a simple firmware update of course, but it's unfortunate that they were present during the time I spent with my review copy.

Game Pad functionality is minimal in Origins, and has less features than its implementation in last year's port of Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition.  You are given the freedom to play the game off-screen, but aside from a map in your hands, it's a glorified squawk box for the audio of incoming transmissions to Batman to play through.  This is definitely a Wii U title that I felt more at home playing with the Pro Controller.  One last interesting thing to note about the Wii U version of Origins is its inclusion of MiiVerse achievements.  An in-game prompt in the initial boot-up of the game asks you if you would like Origins to post to MiiVerse on your behalf, and should you complete one of the in-game achievements, a screenshot will be automatically posted to the Origins MiiVerse community.  Here's hoping that achievement fans like myself will see more titles take advantage of this feature in the future, as it feels really good to see the community give "yeahs" and positive feedback for your accomplishments.

In conclusion, Batman: Arkham Origins isn't the Batman game we deserve, but the one we need.  It's not the best outing for the dark knight, but for Wii U owners, any third-party support is appreciated.  Don't be swayed by the "I think I've done this before" feeling and technical bugs to be had here:  Batman: Arkham Origins is still a considerable amount of fun, and has enough content included to make you swear to it (I think I'm done with the Nolan trilogy references now). + Bryan King

7/10 - Again, Batman: Arkham Origins is by no means a bad game.  On the contrary, it's quite good, but it's simply not up to par with what we've come to expect from this franchise.  It plays things a bit too safe, and at times feels like an obligatory sequel rather than a natural evolution of a franchise.

Review copy provided by WB Interactive Entertainment

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