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.