by JERRY FLOYD
Back in 2009, Rocksteady Studios released the game “Batman: Arkham Asylum.” A critical and commercial success, the game was revered as the best Batman video game of all time.
With voice actors from the equally acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series” reprising their iconic roles, it seemed that nothing could top it. The combat was smooth and the stealth was great. You actually felt like Batman.
Then, in 2011, Rocksteady released its sequel “Batman: Arkham City.” People thought it was impossible for it to be better than “Asylum,” but it was. Giving Batman a section of Gotham to fly around in was a welcome change to the previous game’s cramped corridors. Everything that was great about “Asylum” was improved.
Now, Warner Bros. Games Montreal, taking over from Rocksteady, has their turn with the prequel story “Batman: Arkham Origins.”
It is a silent Christmas Eve in Gotham City. As families gather by the fires in their homes on this merry night, Batman is working diligently.
The leader of the city’s largest crime organization, Black Mask, has infiltrated Blackgate Prison to take out the police commissioner.
As Batman arrives to rescue the commissioner, he learns that Black Mask has another target: He wants the Batman dead. A hefty reward goes to the person who can pull off this task. Eight of Gotham’s most feared assassins take up this invitation, and Batman knows who he is up against.
This is a great premise. Batman, who is normally eliciting fear into people, is the prey tonight. He knows who is coming after him, but he does not know when or how.
Unfortunately, this story does not take a central focus. Other story threads muddle up the hunt. There is a hunt for the Penguin, conflict rising in the corrupt Gotham Police Department, and Black Mask becomes a part of a greater mystery. It’s not that these story threads aren’t compelling; they just seem scattered.
Once the big twist of the game occurs, the plot is given new life. From this point on, the game is hard to put down.
Gameplay-wise, Warner Bros Montreal did not stray far at all from the template Rocksteady has laid before them. Combat plays out with the same grace and fluidity as it always has. Stealth sections are also the same. Survey a room from a vantage point and pick the right moments to silently strike.
There is, however, something added into the combat scenarios later in the game. Batman obtains a pair of shock gloves that can destroy any type of enemy. While it is empowering to completely obliterate anybody that crosses your path, the gloves do break the careful balance of the combat system.
The world of Gotham City is also littered with secrets and collectibles. The Riddler returns with another set of objects to collect and they are scattered all throughout the city. There are also different game modes, like the “I Am the Night” mode, which gives you one life and zero saves.
“Batman: Arkham Origins” gives us all what loved about Rocksteady’s previous games, but does not shatter new ground. After a scattered first half, the story really finds its footing in an extremely well-crafted second half.