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Review: Batman Arkham Origins (PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii U)
Batman: Arkham Origins provides another fine slice of comic book superhero action, with the Caped Crusader's kick-ass combat skills once again the stars of the show.
Origins is the third release in the Batman Arkham series, following on from the acclaimed Arkham City released in 2011 which was an expanded and enhanced sequel to 2009's surprise hit Arkham Asylum.
The game tells a prequel story set several years before the events of the first two titles, with a "young, unrefined" Batman battling an array of assassins lured to the seedy and sinister Gotham City on a snowy Christmas Eve after a huge bounty is placed on his head.
The plot is supposedly hatched by crime lord Black Mask but unsurprisingly things are not as they first appear and plenty of twists and extra layers of villainy are added along the way.
Iconic villains such as the Penguin, Enigma and Joker crop up during the game, along with an assortment of other characters including Deadshot, Electrocutioner and Copperhead who are perhaps lesser known to anyone not an avid fan of DC Comics.
Much has been made of developer duties for the third Arkham game going to Warner Bros Montreal from the Rocksteady studio which crafted the first two games so successfully.
Games industry peeps may consider this sort of thing to be a big deal, but to the player it makes very little difference to the end product.
WB Montreal has closely followed the winning formula set down by Rocksteady and although its work is arguably slightly less polished than the previous developer's it's still managed to produce a good game worthy of sitting alongside the earlier Arkham titles.
Following the blueprint of those first two games so closely means Origins contains just about all the same components in its style and structure.
So, it's still a third-person action-adventure packed full with story missions and side quests, with elements of open-world exploration, investigation, puzzle-solving and fighting.
Like its Arkham predecessors, the tone of Origins is dark and gritty - definitely think Nolan movies over the camp 60s TV show, to use two extremes.
The superhero lead, albeit played by a different actor this time (Roger Craig Smith instead of Kevin Conroy), is once again a surly and serious character - definitely not a pair of tights or a 'kapow!' in sight.
Batman has just about the same assortment of gadgets as before, with a couple of additions - most notably the electric Shock Gloves which stun and in some cases instantly disable enemies. As an aside here, it's bizarre how Batman has useful gizmos such as the gloves in this 'prequel' which he doesn't have later in his timeline from the earlier games. Why does he ditch these things? Are we meant to believe he managed to break them when nobody was looking between the events of Origins and Asylum?
Anyway, to continue, WB Montreal has been criticised in some quarters for not innovating enough and advancing the Arkham series, but my question here is why would it?
Taking on the development for the third game in a series, it was never likely to rock the boat and I'm not clear how people moaning about a lack of change would've wanted this game to be different from the first two.
Did they not want Origins to be an open-world adventure? Did they want a different type of Batman for this game and a setting that wasn't Gotham City? Batman In Bioshock or something? It's hard to know what the new developer could have done that wouldn't have completely changed the identity of the series.
In any case, not diverting too far off course means the fighting in Origins is just as good as it was in the first two games. In my opinion it was the highlight of Asylum and City, and it's the same here.
Other people may relish the different parts such as being a detective and scanning crime scenes for clues, exploring Gotham City or solving puzzles with Batman's gadgets. All of these aspects have their merits, but none are as entertaining as the combat.
Bruce Wayne may be in the early years of his superhero career in Origins but he's still got the right fight moves to get himself out of many sticky situations.
As well as defending Gotham City, those same martial arts skills are responsible for ensuring this story featuring the Dark Knight rises to similar heights reached by the two forerunners in the Arkham series.
Batman can take down an array of bad guys during the free-flowing fighting segments by unleashing powerful attacks, launching punishing counters and performing spectacular takedowns, all in a stylish wow-worthy whirl of fists, chops, kicks and swinging cape. The fighting is fast, fluid and above all fun.
Stealth moves executed from atop gargoyles or other high places also produce some very satisfying results.
Batman must overcome some tough multi-part boss battles during his adventure but these are not quite as enjoyable as the regular fighting. They generally involve finding one or two killer tactics that work against each enemy (be prepared for some frustrating defeats while you figure out what they are) and then powering through a gruelling marathon of button prompts. On the plus side, they do provide some beautifully epic action scenes.
Of course Origins is much deeper than being a pure fighting game but the fighting is definitely the best facet of it.
Not so fussed about showing off your fighting skills? Don't worry, there are other things you will probably enjoy here.
Whatever you think of its ambition, or lack of, WB Montreal has created a game very similar to Rocksteady's Arkham City so if you liked that one the chances are you'll like this one too.
Origins may not have the same impact as the previous Arkham games but it's still up with them in terms of gameplay.
There's even a multiplayer mode to get into which may be a tacked-on novelty involving Batman and Robin going up against Joker and Bane’s gangs of thugs, but it at least plugs the gap between finishing the single-player Origins game and getting to see the Caped Crusader reappear on next-gen consoles.
7.5 out of 10
Out now for PS3, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U – PS3 version played
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