[Note: This post contains spoilers regarding basically everything about “Batman: Arkham Origins.”]
If I could express my thoughts and feelings on “Batman: Arkham Origins” in one sentence, it would be that “Arkham Origins” is a game of false advertising and empty promises. Quite literally nothing the developers, WB Games Montreal, said about the game was accurate or factual, leading many people, myself included, to buying a very different game than what was advertised. Everything from the gameplay, to the story, to the multiplayer, was misrepresented in some way, either erroneously or on purpose, to create the idea of a product that simply does not exist. And while I certainly believe in the concept of not giving the audience what they expect, this game is akin to paying to see “The Dark Knight” in theatres and instead being shown “Batman Returns.”
To say that I was excited for “Arkham Origins” was an understatement. Despite the bad press of WB Games Montreal essentially creating their own spin on Rocksteady’s fantastic Arkham franchise, and the fact that a single player experience was going to have multiplayer jammed in, I remained hopeful. WB Games Montreal assured us that yes, we are getting slammed for not being Rocksteady, but we’ll earn your trust. I wanted it to be good. And while I’ll cover my disappointment in the following paragraphs, I want to speak to WB Games Montreal directly: you may have created a competent product, but it is a soulless husk of a great franchise. You robbed it of everything that made it great in favour of your own suspect idea of art. You have lost my trust irrevocably.
The story is perhaps the part of the game that I hate the most. When we have seen everything the Arkham franchise can do in terms of reinvigorating its own gameplay, the only thing that remains is to tell a good story. The loss of Paul Dini as the lead writer was troubling, instead being replaced by some people I’ve never heard of. Apparently they wrote a Deathstroke comic for DC Comics that everyone hated. That should have been my first clue.
If there’s one thing that can positively said about “Arkham Origins” that encompasses everything about it, it’s that it rehashes things that were made by better creators. The absolute best praise I can give “Arkham Origins” is that it’s really good at ripping other people off. Case in point, the story. So what is the story? Well, this is the plot line that was advertised for about six to eight months before the game came out:
“The game’s main storyline is set five years before that of 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and follows a younger and less refined Batman who has a bounty placed on his head by crime lord Black Mask, drawing eight of the world’s greatest assassins to Gotham City on Christmas Eve.” – Wikipedia
That sounds like a great storyline. Too bad not one single bit of it actually occurs.
Black Mask is one of my favourite Batman villains (really, he’s in the top five), and seeing him headline an ensemble cast of famous DC Comics mercenaries was something that really excited me. After this game came out, I noticed a lot of people bashing Black Mask for being “boring” and “uninteresting,” and generally not a character that a story could comfortably rest on the shoulders of. And while yes, there have been a lot of mediocre stories that featured Black Mask as the principle antagonist, I don’t quite understand how that would disqualify a competent writer from crafting a tale that shows Black Mask can be a truly compelling enemy for Batman.
There was an air of mystery following the game’s announcement and leading to its release as to the identity of the assassins. The trailer showcased Deathstroke and Deadshot, so those two were basically given. But the other six were very much up for interpretation. I had my own “wish list,” which included David Cain, Bronze Tiger, and Merlyn, who would have made a particularly awesome boss battle. WB Games Montreal claimed that each assassin was going to be the boss of a section, and that they would test Batman in a certain skill that the player had been using quite a bit of in that section. That sounded very cool. So who were these elusive assassins?
1. Killer Croc, who you fight in the prologue. Not once in any of Killer Croc’s stories is he anything other than a grunt or combatant. He doesn’t do anything particularly threatening other than throw people across rooms and pick up explosive canisters to hurl at Batman. Furthermore, the game does absolutely nothing to sell him being an assassin, and certainly not one that is going to attempt a fifty million dollar hit. In fact, he is ultimately the character who tips Batman off about the assassins, so I’m not sure how he is then retroactively an assassin himself? You defeat him at the end of the prologue of the game and the story already makes no sense.
2. The Electrocutioner, who you encounter on The Penguin’s boat. Never mind that The Penguin contributes absolutely nothing to the story in any meaningful way and feels like a blatant attempt to shove a familiar character into the story, The Electrocutioner also does literally fuck all. Look, I understand that Lester Buchinsky is a somewhat stupid character in the comics, but during his tenure on the Suicide Squad, he was a pretty okay dude who did some cool things. But in “Arkham Origins” he is literally a vehicle to provide Batman an upgrade. His “fight” consists of him getting knocked out in one hit, then fleeing, and then later being murdered by The Joker. I also don’t see how he could have been an actual contract assassin either.
3. Deathstroke, who you also encounter on The Penguin’s Boat. Finally, a real assassin. The trailer for the game and all the subsequent marketing made Deathstroke out to be this awesome character who would really impact the game is a substantive way. He was even packaged as pre-order content as a playable Challenge Map character! But like the trend that this game has already set, Slade Wilson really does nothing. In fact, his boss battle is pathetically easy once you realize that you can just Bat-Claw slam him over and over again, and he does nothing to stop you. Then, when he is defeated, you never see him again until the end of the game, when he’s in prison. Wat.
4. Copperhead, who you fight in the Sionis Steel Mill. In this game, Copperhead is a woman, which I guess is alright since the actual Copperhead isn’t very memorable or iconic. And neither is the boss battle, which lifts its entirety from a section of the Ra’s al Ghul fight in Arkham City, right down to the hallucinations of multiple opponents. Once Batman injects himself with the cure to her poison, he defeats her in less than a second. If all she brings to the table is poison, can she really be considered an assassin? Also, when will this trend of women killing people via poison just die? She influences exactly zero of the plot in any way. Whatta surprise!
5. Firefly, who you fight near the end of the game on the Gotham Pioneer’s bridge. Perhaps the most boring boss of all time, WB Games Montreal decided to take a page from Deathstroke’s boss battle playbook and make Firefly easily defeat-able by using one gadget over and over again. Batman has the Shock Gloves by now, and I have no idea why he couldn’t have used them on Firefly’s equipment the first time he grappled onto him. We definitely see Batman activate the Shock Gloves instantly when he revives Alfred, so it’s not a leap of logic or anything. Firefly has no personality and effects nothing in the story at all. At best, he provides a source of tension between Batman and Gordon – tension which is meaningless considering “Arkham Origins” takes no risks and instead panders to the same Batman status quo that has always existed. More on this later.
6. Deadshot, a side-quest character. Firstly, using an assassin, which was mentioned as the major source of conflict in the game, as a side-quest is fucking stupid. Deadshot was also shown in the awesome trailer, attempting to prevent Deathstroke from killing Batman. His fight in “Arkham City” was very dry and anticlimactic, but despite also being a side-quest in “Arkham City,” actually contributed to the plot. Deadshot in this game is essentially a glorified armored goon. He does nothing interesting, contributes nothing to the plot, and the area which you fight him actively goes against his own method of killing. A criminal under use of an interesting character.
7. Lady Shiva, another side-quest. You encounter her in a stupid way involving a baby crying, which makes little to no sense at all, and is never explained. First, you complete a simple puzzle, fight some ninjas – again stolen straight from “Arkham City,” and who, following the Shiva quest’s resolution, still inexplicably show up later. You then fight Shiva in the lobby of Wonder Tower. Long story short, she is boring and painfully easy. She does nothing except kill a guy off-screen, making her the most successful of the assassins thus far! Seriously, these are the “world’s deadliest assassins,” and the most successful one killed a cop and did nothing else.
8. Bane, the only assassin to graduate to “actually affected the story in any meaningful way.” You fight him not once, but three times. He’s not even really an assassin, since his motivation is not to collect the money, but instead… Actually, it’s never really said why he wants to kill Batman. He just does. Brilliant work there, writers. His first two fights are the only times that I was really frustrated during the campaign, and that’s because they are so stupid. You dodge him while he runs at you, even though the game sometimes chooses to expand Batman’s hitbox so that Bane hits you despite him being on the edge of the screen. Then you have to fight him and a few grunts. After a few tries, I learned that it was much easier just to fight the grunts and jump over Bane, ignoring him completely except when my combo meter was high enough to Instant Takedown his venom tubes.
So here’s the condensed version of the story: Black Mask hires eight incompetent assassins to kill Batman. Why? Because it’s not actually Black Mask, but The Joker posing as Black Mask! Because of course The Joker had to be the main villain for some reason. Except, The Joker’s motivation for hiring the assassins is not once discussed by anyone. Then Batman beats up Killer Croc, The Electrocutioner, Deathstroke, and Copperhead, goes to the Royal Hotel to confront The Joker, and fights Bane. Then Bane inexplicably attempts to kill The Joker, and Batman saves him.
We are then treated to a playable cutscene where The Joker’s origins are shown. I want to stress how stupid this overly verbose dump of dialogue is, because it effectively spells out The Joker’s characterization to everyone. It is ripped straight from The Killing Joke, and yet undermines everything that story was trying to accomplish by info-dumping The Joker’s origins and beliefs in a way that is entirely forced and contrived. And after that’s done, we don’t see The Joker again for some time.
Meanwhile, Bane has escaped and he then becomes the chief antagonist for this section of the story. Batman is angry at Alfred for calling the police to save him from Bane. This is supposedly the conflict between Batman and Alfred that WB Games Montreal told us about. It lasts all of two minutes. Bane’s story in the game is even stupider than The Joker’s – he uses venom and is trying to perfect a new chemical formula that will allow him to Hulk out, except this stuff causes brain damage and that’s not good at all. It was at this point in the story that I knew exactly what was going to happen. Bane has figured out that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same guy – how, exactly, is again not explained, but we see some papers and monitors and stuff – and attacks Alfred in the Batcave.
Batman beats up Firefly, bonds a bit with Gordon, then finds Alfred dying. He shocks him back to life, then goes back to Blackgate, where The Joker has escaped and taken over. Despite the plot already being inexplicable in nature, the story really starts falling apart about here, as to how The Joker escaped and did any of this is incredibly hard to believe. There’s some sadistic choice nonsense here that can honestly be glossed over because it’s stupid, you fight Bane two more times, beat The Joker up a bit, and game over.
Seriously, what the fuck.
We’re supposed to somehow believe the idea that two days prior to the events of the game, The Joker came to Gotham, found Black Mask’s girlfriend and stalked her back to a safehouse, killed her, kidnapped Black Mask, impersonated him (ostensibly to steal his money to pay the ludicrous bounty), and had his goons go out and find the eight assassins. Then he rented out an enormous hotel and built a carnival inside of it. He did this without anyone knowing about it, on Christmas Eve no less, when I imagine that people would have been in that hotel to, I don’t know, visit their relatives or something. Yet in the hotel you only encounter employees. In fact, you encounter exactly zero signs of life in Gotham City. There are no people, there are no cars driving around, there’s nothing. Less than nothing. It is completely devoid of life, save for the people who the assassins kidnap so they can lure Batman to their poorly designed traps.
It’s difficult to adequately explain how absolutely fucking terrible the story in this game is. Neither Black Mask nor the assassins have any kind of involvement in plot beyond showing up a handful of times to do nothing. When the game starts, Black Mask is the incumbent crime lord in Gotham City, yet this is not set up or explained in any way. The player learns this only by reading Black Mask’s character file. We’re expected to believe that Black Mask is a dangerous guy, but because we only see the real Black Mask three times in the whole game, there’s no way for the player to actually feel like that’s the case.
Just to rub salt in the wound, prior to the game’s release, WB Games Montreal released a launch trailer that showcased Black Mask’s complete devotion to killing Batman. It was great. I felt like they had really honed in on what made Black Mask a great character in that trailer. There was a real sense of anticipation to seeing him, a regular dude with resources that matched Bruce Wayne’s, take on another mythic character in the city. A fight between titans. Batman and Black Mask were both epic characters in Gotham’s story, set to do battle with each other. Instead the carpet is yanked out from under us, replacing Black Mask with two characters – conveniently the villains of the previous two Batman movies – with no discernible motivations or plans. How amazing would the climax of “Arkham Origins” be if Batman tried to save Black Mask from a burning building, but Black Mask refusing out of disgust and pride, and having the mask burned into his face? We see him like that in “Arkham City,” and for a game that is all about origins, there’s a surprising lack of that origin.
And that’s just the problem: “Arkham Origins” is apparently about the origins of key relationships in the Arkham franchise’s mythology. But really, what are those origins, and why should we care if they are copy pasted from the comic books or movies? The plot of “Arkham City,” while not revolutionary in any way, was at least original. Hugo Strange trying to succeed Ra’s al Ghul by killing all of Gotham’s criminals in this incredibly complex scheme was a fresh take on Strange as a character. Every side-quest in “Arkham City” reinforced the plot, every character was there for a reason, and the relationships between the characters were incredibly authentic. “Arkham Origins” had nothing. It was a story assembled by committee, taking bits and pieces from existing Batman stuff and shoving it together to makes some sort of patchwork game designed to appeal to everyone. An in doing that, sacrificed what little bit of soul it had left for profit.
The gameplay is not any better. The combat in the previous two games were great, and the predator sections were exhilarating. WB Games Montreal somehow decided to completely destroy all that by making Batman’s counter not work correctly, by locking all the upgrades that bring the FreeFlow combat system to life behind side-quests and by removing the ability to choose your own unlocks by locking everything behind health and armor upgrades. I played “Arkham City” on hard and never needed to upgrade my health the whole game. Yet I am constantly forced to spend my experience on useless crap I don’t need before the game lets me use anything.
The enemy placements are even worse. You encounter shielded enemies and armored enemies fairly quickly, yet you don’t have access to Disarm and Destroy until the end of the game, meaning that every fight is tedious and artificially difficult. This is primarily because once you unlock the Shock Gloves, you can just punch every enemy in the game, regardless of what types of protections they have. This completely removes any element of challenge. In “Arkham City,” armored enemies showed him quite sparingly. In “Arkham Origins,” they are everywhere. They show up extremely frequently in predator maps, making those sequences very boring as you have to isolate and take out each goon individually, which is so fucking boring.
The combat itself is also disproportionately more frequent than the predator maps, which is a great way to make the player fatigued from all the pointless fights that occur. Any instance of a puzzle or platforming bit is replaced with a combat sequence, and the puzzles that do exist are pathetically easy. Whether it’s using a Batarang, throwing a remote Batarang through some electricity, using the Shock Gloves to turn on a generator, or sealing an air pipe with the Glue Grenade, it’s all so mind-numbingly simple.
And speaking of the Glue Grenade, way to add insult to injury, WB Games Montreal. Not only did you lift the entirety of your game from Rocksteady’s games, you also didn’t bother to address continuity in any way. So Batman has a Glue Grenade, which is functionally similar to the Freeze Grenade in every way, yet he doesn’t bring this with him or have Alfred air drop it at any point in “Arkham Asylum” or “Arkham City?” Remember the Disruptor from “Arkham City?” Batman made that on the fly from Freeze’s suit. Or not, because apparently he just steals the technology from some random goon in “Arkham Origins.”
Really, that’s all that “Arkham Origins” is. It’s a rehash of a better game that you already played and remember fondly, and it shits all over that game so it can take your money. As a gamer, it makes me sad, and as a Batman fan, it makes me angry. WB Games Montreal took a great game, copied it without remorse, made it worse, introduced a bunch of bugs – some of which are still present after five patches – and added a multiplayer mode that doesn’t actually work. Seriously, the matchmaking is actually terrible. When it does work, the controls are clunky and the shooting is god awful. There are even microtransactions, which are there for stupid people, I guess? I don’t know.
It’s a perfect storm of trash. I would have Platinum’d it by now if not for the multiplayer trophies. I may never get those. I bought the Initiation DLC for $7 and it was pretty bland, so I can say with confidence that I will never play the single player again.
“Batman: Arkham Origins” – 4/10.