2 years before...
Batman Arkham Origins takes place 2 years before the Dark Knight really gets going, presenting a younger, rougher and revenge focussed side to Batman. It's a good game which is marred (at the moment) by some nasty game-breaking bugs on the single player side, which include loss of progression, endless world falling loops and random freezes/lockups and crashes on the 360 not to mention complete loss of save data (corrupted saves).
Warner has issued a statement and here's the thing if you want to read it: Batman AO issues
This is why we've scored the game a 7/10 to be honest and after eight recorded crashes/freezes, we were considering a 6. The game also had issues with the Warner ID server which meant we needed to take the 360 offline to be able to play, since it would take upwards of 10m to 20m to reach the main menu and that kind of thing is tantamount to DRM.
With the incoming patch though, the game will be fixed and that's great news to anyone who has an online connection...of course those people who don't have their 360's connected online are going to be in for a rough ride with this one.
Arkham Origins gameplay builds on Rocksteady's successful formula from Batman: Arkham Asylum and City, adding Warner's own spin on the combat system - speeding up the attacks and making the game fiendishly hard against mixed groups until you get into the 'zone' and adjust your play tactics to suit.
The counters are more fluid and the combat system has benefitted from a few tweaks here and there too. Quick-firing gadgets is pretty simple and Batman has an expanded array of toys to play with whilst he avoids the assassins sent to kill him, after all, Black Mask has hired eight of the world's most dangerous killers for 50 million dollars, with just one night to kill the Bat.
A word of warning, many of the boss fights in the game involve quick-time style events and several give you no clear indication of what you need to do. Deathstroke for example can be a frustrating battle if you mistime your counters. Once you get the hang of it, you can really pile on the pain though.
The game plays very similar to the previous Arkham games, but does fall down when you're involved in a Predator scenario. Since the game doesn't clearly define those areas compared to the first two and the Predator rooms aren't as slickly designed as they were by the Rocksteady guys and gals.
When it works you get a really satisfying feel of being Batman, and when it fails perhaps you can put down that whole thing to Batman's inexperience at being a raw vigilante compared to the world's greatest detective and hero he turns into later on in his life.
There's no excusing poor game design though really, and in some places those Predator encounters could have been better designed.
Batman still earns XP as you play, levelling up rewards you with a point to put into Bats' expanded repertoire of combat, predator and other upgrades. Raw combat will net you points, predator skills nets you points and doing other things out in the open city Gotham will also net you points. There's a lot to do, saving people from random crimes and taking on Black Mask's hired killers.
You finish any kind of objective, or get a collectible; you'll rack up some XP which all add up.
If you're a long time fan of the series you'll find a lot to like in the game's upgrade system, and a few new things hiding away in there too. Most of the upgrades are locked out as the game uses a similar gear-gating system to Asylum and City, with the tools becoming available as the story progresses.
Our all time favourite new toy is the shock gloves, badass hand to hand weapons that charge up via kinetic energy. Once Batman has gained enough energy, pressing both thumbsticks in together unleashes the gloves and the combos come thick and fast. Previously tough enemies like the shield thugs and the shock-stick guys are reduced to twitching bodies on the ground, as Batman can break their defences easily.
Countering a shock-stick guy will fill the gloves instantly and allow Batman to unleash devastating attacks (higher combos) on his enemies so much quicker. If you're after the high combos and bigger XP rewards, these are the toys to wait on.
Combine these with the ability to unleash two special moves per chunk of max combo, and you can rack up the XP and put down massive groups of mixed enemies.
At the end of a fight or predator encounter you'll get a detailed breakdown of your score, doing really well, maintaining the fear or free flow will give you a bonus XP score. Getting an S grade delivers a lot of XP and you'll soon be able to afford all those wonderful gadget upgrades.
Then there's the Dark Knight Challenge/Reward system - broken into separate categories it rewards you for doing x-challenge in the game. Rank up and you'll unlock an auxiliary upgrade for Batman and gain things like Power Gadgets or a Shockwave Attack.
It's not all side missions to discover with villains to beat up, and predator encounters though, there's the revamped detective mode which is one of the highlights of the game.
Batman encounters a crime scene and he sets up his remote cowl link to the Batcave computer, where he can get a 3d visual representation of the crime from high spec data analysis. The player can search the crime scene for clues, building the database of incidents and scrubbing backwards/forwards through the footage to reveal more and more about the crime in question. Once enough info's been gathered and evidence found, Batman can work out who was the perp and see them brought to justice.
This usually involves finding them in open city Gotham, hunting them down and beating them to a pulp.
Talking of open city Gotham, it's pretty big and is definitely bigger than Arkham City. It's recognisable too and you'll see flashes of Arkham City in Gotham proper though many years before the corruption and rot have truly set in. To get around Batman has the Batwing, though there are Gotham Radio towers that have been locked down by Enigma. The Riddler has attempted to thwart Batman by making each one a puzzle, many are gear locked and you won't be able to get them all at the start of the game.
Take down a tower and a new fast travel point is unlocked, plus a list of relays on the map segment the tower belongs to. Go to each relay and destroy it for an XP bonus. Destroy them all and you can take down the Riddler's server, breaking his evil stranglehold over Gotham's data for now.
Gotham is packed with little things to do and with a New Game+, I am the Night, mode to unlock there's a lot of value there in the single player. Then of course you have the expansive training mode and challenge maps available off the main menu or the Batcave (you're free to go there at most times in the main campaign), taking on tutorial/training maps and earning bonus XP for getting gold medals is especially rewarding. Alfred is there to offer advice and interaction, usually giving you bonus XP now and then in the course of the story.
The story itself is pretty interesting and features a lot of cameos from villains old and new, you'll see how Batman evolves from the raw vigilante driven by revenge to something a lot more rounded, along with his enemies and the most dangerous of all his foes - the Joker.
Master Bruce, it is Christmas.
Batman AO has a really lovely aesthetic to the graphics and it looks nice, the City of Gotham is pretty beautiful with neon lights, Christmas decorations and a light dusting of snow falling from the skies. The game developers have taken their time to detail a huge swathe of stuff for the game, and it shows on the texturing and the care taken with a lot of the locations. There are some nice little Easter-eggs too if you know where to look.
The frame-rate remains fairly constant in the main gameplay, but tends to stutter in some of the cut-scenes. The bugbears so far are Killer Croc's takedown at the start of the game and the fast travel scenes involving the Batwing to and from the Batcave, there have been stutters during the Batwing flight scenes between fast travel points as well.
Troy Baker nails it
Batman's enemies define him and the Joker is defined by Mark Hamill, with an incredible quality that has yet to be bettered. Troy Baker though, he doesn't better the Joker voice...he does a fantastic homage to Mark's original and replicates that tonal finesse, touched by insanity near-perfectly. He's certainly worthy to take on the shocking-shoes of the Clown Prince of Crime for the series and hearing his speech on madness was one of the highlights of the game.
Roger Craig Smith (Chris Redfield, Ezio Auditore) does a passable job as a younger voiced Kevin Conroy, enough that after a while we forgot Conroy wasn't in it. There are times the two voices sound spookily alike.
Bane vs. The Joker
Honestly, we didn't think Batman Arkham: Origins needed multiplayer, and having a quick dabble at this mode convinced us 100% that more time should have gone into the single player. Sorry Splash Damage, but those are the breaks.
What you get is a third person Gears-a-like which is competent enough and repetitive, with the only saving grace being that two random players get to be Batman and Robin. Stalking the shadows whilst the Joker and Bane's goons go at each other in a shoot-a-thon. Batman and Robin build up their Intimidation Meter, swoop down on thugs and generally stick to the shadows.
What you get is a vanilla shooting experience that really doesn't last overly long, there's no draw to return back and keep on playing. We quickly left it behind and went back to the single player.
We were impressed with the sound design on the game, the audio and voice work is excellent and the dialogue was pretty great too. Since this is a rough and ready Batman, his enemies don't yet believe he exists and it's reflected in the thugs speeches as you travel around the city. You'll hear them discussing Batman as a myth and there are some pretty wild stories. Once you show up they change their tune, fear and superstition are replaced by terror and the realisation that they could be the one to net the 50 million dollar prize for offing the Bat.
No friends Bats
Batman doesn't yet have a buddy or two in the GCPD and SWAT are after his hide. The cops want to take him down just as much as the criminals and Captain Gordon is not convinced he's anything but a menace. This subtle shift is done really well and lends a rougher edge to your adventures in Gotham as Batman.
The music is likewise a fantastic affair too, a suitably gothic sounding score interspersed with Christmassy echoes of 'Carol of the Bells'. It lends a spooky theme to the whole thing and works really well.
There is nothing to fear.
Despite the bugs and the glitches, the problems and issues that plague the game. There are people out there who've told us they've had no problems, and at least one site has managed to get through it bug-free (lucky buggers).
Warner Brothers have kept the DNA of Batman AA and AC, improved on the combat system and genuinely tried hard to make a solid game...it's just a pity there are those crash bugs for a lot of people.
So with that in mind we are looking forwards to seeing where the series goes from this, we're looking forwards to another Kevin Conroy voiced game with a proper sequel (rather than prequel) on next gen and we're happy enough with this game to recommend it, even with the bugs (since they'll be patched soon).
There's a lot of Batman information in this game, it's a true gem for fans and there's a huge wealth of content to discover in terms of data files and hidden secrets of Gotham.
Have fun Batmanning.