The Arkham game series is by far the most popular to feature the character of Batman, and represents some of the best Batman focused gameplay around, letting players jump into the cape and cowl and take on iconic villains. Yet it’s also a series where fans seem unable to agree on the validity of all of the games. Most people will refer to the ‘Arkham trilogy’, forgetting that there are actually several games in the franchise, ranging across various consoles and mobile devices. Even if you discount phone and handheld games, there’s one game that often becomes a source of contention as to its status – Batman: Arkham Origins.
Following the success of both Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City, developer Rocksteady focused on the development of their next title, Batman: Arkham Knight, which would appear on the next generation of consoles. Not wanting to wait years to release another title in the series, Warner Bros. instead began to develop another game. Initial plans were for the game to be a prequel, taking inspiration from the Silver Age comics, and include appearances from characters such as Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, and other Justice Leaguers.
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However, once the game was given to WB Games Montreal, who had previously worked on the Wii-U adaptation of the second game, these ideas were altered to bring the game more in line with what the series had done previously. The grander scope, and inclusion of non-Batman characters was removed, and it chose instead tell a more intimate origins story. Taking inspiration from work such as Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight and Batman: Year One, the game was billed as a ‘Year Two’ for the character, with him already being something of a presence within Gotham City, yet still considered an urban legend by most, and having not met many of his big villains.
The game takes place at Christmas, where Batman (Roger Craig Smith) intervenes in an attempted prison break at Blackgate Prison, led by the mob boss Black Mask (Brian Bloom). Batman fails to prevent Black Mask’s escape, stopped by the hulking villain Killer Croc (Khary Payton), the first of eight deadly assassins, all of whom are in Gotham to try to kill Batman in order to claim a $50 million bounty that Black Mask has placed on his head. Over the course of the night Batman will have to face off against assassins such as Deathstroke (Marc Rolston), and Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu) as well as villains like the Penguin (Nolan North) and Anarky (Matt Mercer) whilst trying to recapture Black Mask.
The games story is perhaps the more interesting of the series, and managed to play things fairly close to its chest prior to release. The advertisements for the game highlighted Black Mask as the lead villain, promoting the fact that Batman would be hunted by a slew of assassins that comic fans would recognise. However, the game is also used as the first meeting for Batman and the Joker (Troy Baker), and features a story that makes Bane (JB Blanc) a sizeable villain. Both of these depictions of the characters are perhaps the best in the Arkham series, especially when it comes to Bane.
Batman: Arkham Origins, despite going back before the first game, didn’t really drop many of the mechanics or take the game backwards. The combat system that Rocksteady had perfected (and which a ton of action games have since emulated) was kept. As were most of the equipment and gadgets that were unlocked in previous games. Some exceptions and tweaks had to be made to include certain things, such as the freeze grenades Batman made in the second game from Mr Freeze tech being replaced with a prototype glue grenade. A few new weapons were also thrown into the mix to give players something unfamiliar to try out, like the Shock Gloves, which allow players to hit enemies with electrified fists.
The game also added new locations to the setting, taking the map from the previous game and almost doubling it in size, adding a new district to the city. In addition to new locations, new game-play was included, such as the Crime in Progress missions, where Batman could assist the Gotham City police in stopping crimes, and crime scene investigtions, where players would have to use Batman’s detective vision from the previous games to try to solve murders and other crimes. Clues would offer various possible scenarios, recreated in virtual reality, and the player would have to determine which was the correct one.
Despite these new additions, a more varied range of villains and characters (including a new version of Copperhead who would end up making the leap into the comics), and offering a story that felt more in line with the source material, the game received a mixed reception, especially amongst fans of the series. Whilst it’s only speculation, the fact that the most popular voice actors for both Batman and Joker, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, were not in the game feels like the main reason that Batman: Arkham Origins is often overlooked, and over-hated. Whilst Troy Baker does a decent job at recreating Hamill’s style it’s hard to hear Roger Craig Smith’s Batman as anything other than Chris Redfield from the Resident Evil games. If Conroy and Hamill had been attached to the game I’m confident it would have been hailed as the best in the series.
Batman: Arkham Origins was released in the UK on 25th October 2013.