When it was first announced that there would be a new Arkham game from WB Games/Splash Damage and not Rocksteady, my first thought was “I REEEEEALLY hope they keep all that was awesome about the previous games!”
 
Be careful what you wish for.
 
Apparently they also felt the same way about keeping the core gameplay intact, as Batman: Arkham Origins is, storyline aside, virtually the same game as its predecessor. For the most part, that’s a good thing since Arkham City was such a brilliant game, but those looking for an evolution to the series might be left feeling a bit disappointed. It’s more than a bit reminiscent of annual sports game releases, where you’ll get the tiniest bit of improvements year after year (if any at all in some cases). In my particular case, since I love sports games and am used to the changelog presented every year, the lack of anything major as far changes go isn’t too crippling. For others that need an evolution every outing? You’ll probably be seething.
 
And then there are the bugs; but luckily, since I got the game relatively late, a patch was released the second day I played it, so I haven’t run into anything too crippling like the saving issues in multiplayer or Batman getting stuck in random places. However, as someone who frequents tons of message boards, I’m well aware of the issues that have plagued the game since its launch.
 
Screenshot (24) copy
 
The story of Origins follows a “one night only” event where Black Mask has put a $50 million bounty on Batman. This brings out a “who’s who” of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, all gunning for Batman’s head before the night is over. As far as the “Origins” part of the title, that really only refers to the fact that this story takes place early in Batman’s career. There’s not much in the gameplay that would indicate that this is a prequel.
 
So what about about the gameplay? Well, let me put it this way; if you’ve played Arkham City, then virtually everything should be familiar to you. Gameplay has not changed; it still is based on countering when you see the squiggly lines appear and beating the crap out of thugs. However, there are some pretty cool boss fights, and that more than makes up for any overt familiarity in the core gameplay.
 
The Deathstroke fight in particular stands out, since it’s one of the few times I played an Arkham game where the boss fight actually uses a lot of speed. Sure, overall it still follows the same format of evade, counter, punch punch punch, repeat, but the fight was awesome, adrenaline pumping, and action packed. Luckily the speed at which the fight occurs is so fast that you really don’t have any time to focus on the fact that it is still fairly repetitive and QTE-heavy.
 
Crime scene investigations also received a facelift, and even though they are a much complex process, the player doesn’t necessarily have to put in the work. These sequences are elaborate, but there is a lot of handholding so the player doesn’t really have to think things through too much. Batman deconstructs the crime scene in a lot more ways, but all you are required to do as the player is scan the area for a red triangle (which highlights a clue), focus on it and hold the A (or X) button to scan. You repeat this process until all the clues have been gathered.
 


 
Oftentimes you are required to find an item that may have been lost in the room, like a keycard that was thrown across the room in an explosion. This proves to be extremely simple as well, since all you need to do is “replay” the crime scene, and the game will literally highlight the area where the item in question is located. The overall concept is admirable, and I am happy to see an attempt at evolving the crime scenes, but the final execution treats the players like lazy dummies who can’t be bothered to think a puzzle through.
 
There is also the odd interrogation scattered about the game, but that mechanic is somewhat weak as well. I was expecting something akin to Splinter Cell: Conviction’s interactive interrogation style, but here all you do is press a button to grab a guy, then watch as Batman asks the baddie a question, the baddies says “Screw you,” Batman threatens them, then the baddie relents. Every…single…time.
 

 
As far as the overall world design goes, I am both extremely impressed and extremely disappointed both at the same time. Gotham City is a gorgeous and moody city, though all it really is, is a southern extension to the area we already experienced in Arkham City. Still, I’m pleased with the addition. My main gripe with the Gotham City of Origins is how lifeless it is. There’s no one there! No one milling about in the streets, shopping, eating….nothing. The Gotham of Origins is populated solely by cops and thugs. Perhaps playing GTA V spoiled me, but I expected much more life to this great fictional city.
 
The game takes place during Christmas Eve, and the Christmas setting kept reminding me of Batman Returns. I kept thinking back to the early scenes in the movie, to how busy the city looked. Gotham was filled with people shopping. I mean, just think back to the Christmas tree lighting scene; it was packed! This is not the case in Origins, and that’s really disappointing.
 
Graphically, the game looks beautiful. I was provided with a PC code to review, and from what I’ve seen compared to the console version, there’s a pretty noticeable difference if you have a rig good enough to run it at max settings. I’m running it off of my computer which consists of:
 
- Asus Rampage III Gene motherboard
- Intel Core i7 920 (OC to 3.21 GHz)
- Nvidia GTX 780 Ti (review coming soon!)
- Nvidia GTX 760 (dedicated to PhysX)
- 18 GB RAM
- Windows 8 Pro
 
Since I am able to run Origins on max settings, I can tell you the game looks amazing. Origins supports a bevy of Nvidia technologies such as 3D Vision, Nvidia Surround (which is the way to go if your rig can handle it), PhysX (pump it up to high!), FXAA, TXAA, HBAO+ that we saw in Splinter Cell: Blacklist, and DX11 tessellation. If you want to run Origins with these settings, you’re going to want to make sure you have a GTX 700 series card for the best results.
 
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the various PC graphical features is PhysX. The dynamic effects that PhysX provides make a significant difference in not only how the game looks, but overall immersion as well. When Batman’s cape billows in the wind, the snow swirls in the air and reacts to your footsteps, and flags flap realistically, the city just feels more alive (despite the fact that it’s essentially a ghost town).
 
There are a number of settings with PhysX that you can play around with to see what works best for your system (this is what the GeForce Experience is for!). When PhysX is set to “Off,” you get no enhanced effects. The game still looks great, but you’re not getting that extra “Oomph!” When set to “Normal,” you’ll get GPU accelerated cloth simulations, which is what we had with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City (equivalent to those games’ High setting). Arkham Origins gives you one higher level with the “High” setting which enables the Cloth PhysX as well as APEX Turbulence (which was featured in Hawken). APEX enhances the appearance and behavior of particle effects like smoke, snow, steam, and fog. Along with DX11 enhancements (TXAA, HBAO+, PCSS, tessellation), you’ve got yourself a fantastic looking game with smooth environments and sharp looking character models.
 
Screenshot (25) copy
 
It’s a shame, then, that the game suffers from so much stuttering and screen tearing. Once upon a time I just assumed that my PC was not up to snuff, but now I should be able to run this game with no problems. I mean, I can run Crysis 3 on max with no issues whatsoever, so why am I getting so much stuttering? I am able to maintain a consistent frame rate through the bulk of the game, but every now and then I get some bad stutter. I experienced the same thing when reviewing Blacklist, and a quick jaunt through various forums revealed similar issues in the console version as well.
 
There’s a multiplayer component to Origins, but I’m going to have to honest; I didn’t spend a lot of time there. It wasn’t very polished and ended up being a fairly generic 3 vs 3 shooter. The only thing that made it somewhat worthwhile was the fact that two players on each team can be randomly chosen to be either Batman/Robin or Joker/Bane. It reminds me a bit of becoming a Jedi or Sith in Battlefront 2. Still, as cool as it is being Batman and taking down other thugs represented by live players, it isn’t enough to woo me back.
 
It seems like I slammed this game pretty hard, but the reality of it is that this is still a very solid game. I’m picky with it because I love the source material so much and because the first two Arkham games were so brilliant. I expect great things because I know the franchise can deliver. It’s pretty obvious that WB Games/Splash Damage played it safe by delivering what’s essentially the same game as Arkham City (give or take a handful of new gameplay elements and a new plot).
 
I don’t mind that, but I’m also not floored by the experience. Batman Arkham Origins is a fun game; I still had a blast playing it, but unlike Arkham City where I was enticed to go back and relive the experience in New Game +, I will probably not be doing that here. It was fun, and is a well made game, but in the end it was mostly like visiting an old friend for a day and going home to continue with your life.