The Argument For ‘Batman: Arkham Origins’

by Chris Foti
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Batman: Arkham Origins, seen by some as the ugly stepchild that is undeserving to be a part of the Arkhamverse, seen by others as the under appreciated gem in the series.  Seeing as the game takes place during Christmas time, as well as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City recently getting remastered and released on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One in the Batman: Return to Arkham Collection, I figured this would be a good time to tell you why Arkham Origins is worthy of your attention.

Keep in mind, not only am I a huge Batman fan, but I am no stranger to video games.  At the time of this posting, I am sitting at a Trophy Level 19 and 88% on the PlayStation Network with 45 Platinums, 3 of which are Arkham Asylum, City, and Knight.  More on why I don’t have the Origins one later.  Also of note, spoilers follow (but the game is 3 years old now so, whose fault is that?)

Arkham Origins was released on October 25th, 2013 on the PlayStaton 3, Xbox 360, and Wii U video game consoles, and was the third entry in the Batman: Arkham series.  The curious thing about this game, is that while the first two, critically acclaimed games were developed by the now famous Rocksteady, the prequel was being handled by the much lesser known WB Montreal.  We now know this was to give Rocksteady more time to continue their development on what is now known as Arkham Knight, but not having the Rocksteady branding made a lot of people write this off right away.

Let’s start with the great story of Arkham Origins.  The game takes place long before the events of Arkham Asylum, in Batman’s early years of crimefighting.  It is Christmas Eve, where the mob is still the biggest threat to Gotham and Batman is still seen as a vigilante in the eyes of GCPD.  The game starts with a jailbreak at Blackgate, orchestrated by Black Mask, who captures and kills Commissioner Loeb during the riot.  Batman confronts Black Mask’s hired muscle, Killer Croc, on the roof and upon defeating him learns that he is one of 8 assassins hired by Black Mask to kill the Batman.

The rest of the assassins include the Electrocutioner, Bane, Firefly, Copperhead, Deadshot, Lady Shiva, and Deathstroke.  Other character cameos in the story include Anarky, Edward Nigma, and the Penguin as well, though they aren’t considered assassins.  Some assassins were more prominent than others throughout the story, such as Bane, taking place in the main story of the game, which others were left for side missions.  Batman has to take down the assassins one by one, while he tries to locate and capture Black Mask.

This was a great way to introduce these characters into the Arkhamverse, as well as give us younger versions of Deadshot, Croc, and Bane, who we see later in Batman’s Arkham series career.  It also provided one of the great boss fights in not only Arkham, but possibly video game history with Deathstroke.  Both masters of martial arts, it was a chess match between Batman and Deathstroke to find a weakness in the others defenses to gain an advantage.  Another standout moment with the assassins is the battle with Copperhead, where she poisons Batman and he hallucinates fighting an army of her, putting your skills with the game’s free flow combat to the test.

Based on the trailers for Arkham Origins, the Joker was clearly going to be a key player in the story, but was also clearly not one of the hired assassins, so the big question going in was how does he play into the story?  In one of the great twists of the series, we learn that Joker kidnapped Black Mask and was posing as him the entire time in an attempt to take over Gotham’s underworld.  Joker’s reveal in the bank cutscene is my personal favorite part of the entire Arkham series and had me on the edge of my seat.  It was well written and was not something I saw coming, unlike the true identity of Arkham Knight, who I called on day one would be Jason Todd, despite Rocksteady’s insistence otherwise.

Other highlights of the story include the amazing scene where we go through Joker’s mind regarding his days as the Red Hood and his therapy sessions with Dr. Harleen Quinzel, learning that Bane figured out Batman’s identity and returning to a destroyed Batcave and a severely injured Alfred, the final fight with Bane where Joker forces you to either kill Bane or allow Bane’s heartbeat to power the electric chair rigged to kill Joker, the origins of Batman and Gordon’s alliance, and the final confrontation with the Joker where Batman shows restraint to not kill him.

Great moment after great moment, not only in the Batman: Arkham series, but in Batman history as well.  I would argue, this is one of the greatest initial meeting stories between Batman and Joker in history.  While, not as good as their first meeting in The Dark Knight, it shares many thematic similarities.  It starts out business as usual, with Joker trying to take over Gotham’s underworld, Joker has his first confrontation with Batman, and it turns in to a game to try and break Batman instead of kill him.

Another reason why I think this game was immediately written off as unworthy, is the voice casting.  The legendary Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy were replaced by Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith respectively.  I’m not going to sit here and tell you Baker and Smith were better, because that would be wrong, but they did an extremely satisfying job of respecting the iconic work of Conroy and Hamill, while doing their own, younger spin.  And when Hamill and Conroy do eventually walk away from the roles of Joker and Batman, I would be happy if Baker and Smith were selected to be their predecessors.

In terms of gameplay, Arkham Origins kept to the same formula as the previous Arkham games.   In fact, it seems like WB Montreal were given the same engine as Arkham City, since if feels and looks almost exactly the same.  However, AO did give us one great addition, and that was the new Detective Mode, where you scan areas of interest and recreate a crime scene using the Batcomputer.  This allowed you to rewind and fast forward events to learn the next clue and continue the mission.  This was used to locate Deadshot as well as learn about Joker kidnapping Black Mask, and was later utilized in Arkham Knight.

Origins also marked the first time we were able to walk around the Batcave in the Arkham series, not including the remote cave in Asylum.  If you walked around the cave and paid close attention to certain areas such as Bruce’s workshop, they were littered with some cool Easter Eggs, such as future gadgets we’ll see in the Arkhamverse and other DC Universe characters.

While I do love this game, I won’t sit here and tell you it’s not without its flaws.  As I explained earlier, I’m an avid gamer who has played a lot of games in my life.  As a fan of both single-player, story driven games and competitive multiplayer games, I find that they both have a time and a place.

A pet peeve of mine is when a single player driven game tries to shoehorn multiplayer into their game to extend its life cycle, which is exactly what WB Montreal did.  In addition to the campaign, there was a third-person shooter multiplayer component that allowed players to play as a member of either Joker or Bane’s gang.  In addition to the 3 versus 3 third person shooting battle between these two groups, two players would also be Batman and Robin trying to take out each gang.  Players could also unlock their respective bosses (Bane or Joker) and one person could play as that boss for the rest of the match.  On paper, this sounded great, but it just wasn’t fun.  It didn’t feel right, and rarely worked properly.  And this is why I never got the platinum trophy for AO, and as of December 4th, 2016 the servers for the multiplayer were shut down for good.

Another minor issue I have is as well written, and great of a twist it was to have the Joker posing as Black Mask the whole time, I really was looking forward to a Black Mask driven story.  Black Mask is an underrated Batman villain, and in a timeline where the mob ruled Gotham, Mask was a great fit to be the main antagonist of the story.  Instead, what we thought was Black Mask was actually the Joker, and the only time we saw the real Sionis was when he was beaten and tied up, which made him come off as weak and expendable.  Again, this is a minor complaint on the story, since it ended up giving us the great Joker payoff.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Origins is a highly underrated installment in the Batman: Arkham series, and in my opinion, has the best story of the four main games.  It’s a shame that it wasn’t included in the remaster of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City for current generation consoles and is almost ignored by Rocksteady Studios, minus a couple of Easter Eggs in Arkham Knight.  If you’re a fan of the Arkhamverse and have been ignoring this prequel installment, give it a shot.  You won’t be disappointed.

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