As we creep ever so closely to Christmas time, Batfans will reminisce on a few things. As a disciple of Batman: The Animated Series, my thoughts drift to “Christmas with the Joker.” Comic book readers may call upon the Charles Dickens-inspired Batman: Noel. However, gamers may remember Batman: Arkham Origins, as it took place on a dark and snowy Christmas eve.
As my colleague before me, Chris Foti, argued in defense of Arkham Origins, I intend to argue against it. Like most Batfans and gamers, it was my least favorite installment into the groundbreaking and beloved Arkham franchise and one that I was particularly happy to see excluded in the recent release of Return to Arkham.
Unlike Chris, however, I am NOT a huge gamer. I play games whenever a particularly interesting game appears in my fandom. As a Batfan, I simply could not resist the Arkham games. I mean, you get to BE the Batman. What Batfan could refuse that? With that being said, I likely won’t be providing the most informed opinion on games in general. As a casual fan playing a game, I often look for two different things to satisfy: The story and the fun. Unfortunately for me, the game failed miserably in the first department.
Be forewarned that this piece will contain SPOILERS.
As a Rocksteady loyalist, I admit I was a bit apprehensive about allowing an outsider come in and play with their toys. However, the marketing material really pushed the idea of a Black Mask-driven game and I was on board for that. Black Mask is a wholly unappreciated character… for obvious reasons. He’s not particularly flashy and there aren’t a whole lot of interesting stories involving him. It was certainly a nice change of pace to see a game that didn’t have Joker at the reins of the plot. It became even more interesting to see that Black Mask hired 8 different assassins to murder the Batman. If the game wasn’t going to feature Joker prominently, I suppose they needed to compensate with 9 other villains. All in all, it looked good and a lot of my doubts had slowly dissolved. Then, I played the game and I had issues with it.
In the end, my biggest gripe has everything to do with the twist that people praise so much. Sure, I admit that it was wholly unexpected and very surprising, but not only was I disappointed, I was livid. Everybody knows that the Joker sells. He is Batman’s archnemesis and arguably the most interesting villain in the entire DC rogues gallery. Including him in trailers was understandable. Batman’s just not as interesting without the Joker present. However, it just all seemed like a cop out. It felt as if the task of developing an Arkham game just became so insurmountable to WB Montreal and the pressure to sell got to them, so they threw in the Joker to guarantee their success. As much as I love the Joker, I was not particularly happy to see the overdependence on one character to make a game work. What likely would have worked just as well would be a very hefty side mission with the Joker that explored the beginnings of their relationship, which would help to strengthen the main story with Black Mask and all future encounters afterward.
(Side note: While it is true that Arkham Knight featured Joker prominently – let’s face it, Hamill’s performance as the Joker stole the show from Scarecrow – it wasn’t once advertised that Joker would be featured. The Joker was so cleverly woven into the story that not only did it make sense, but it furthered the thematic elements of their relationship that has been heavily explored throughout the series, which then led to a stronger resolution with Scarecrow, therefore making his inclusion far more forgivable.)
Yet another disappointment came from the expectation that we’d be introduced to different rogues in Batman’s gallery, hoping that the writers will allow other villains, aside from the Joker, to shine. With 9 different villains in the game advertised to be included in the main story, I was excited for them to introduce to fans some lesser known rogues (to casual fans) like the aforementioned Black Mask, The Electrocutioner, and Lady Shiva. Unfortunately, Black Mask was beaten nearly to death by the Joker, the Electrocutioner was abruptly defeated with one kick, and Lady Shiva was relegated to a side mission that lasted less than five minutes. While the Electrocutioner had nearly no screentime (He was primarily a plot device to get his gauntlets), Shiva and Deadshot were lost on side missions, and Croc appearing in the prologue only, we were forced to fight Bane twice. In the end, when playing through the main story, you’re really only fighting 4 assassins.
In terms of gameplay, I can honestly say I didn’t feel that the game added a whole lot to the series. Despite the fact that they were utilizing the same engine from Arkham City, laid out for them by Rocksteady, the game somehow managed to feel clunkier. Also, it was very glitchy. (I’m aware that Arkham Knight has its technical issues as well, but that game never crashed on me once, whereas Origins managed to do so twice during my playthrough.)
The Batwing fast travel was wholly unnecessary. Part of the fun of the series is traversing the city using Batman’s parkour, gliding through the city, or firing off his grapnel gun. For that and the fact that it was the glitchiest part of the game, it was a feature that I rarely used while playing. While exciting at first to hear about the inclusion of the Batcave, I was, yet again, disappointed to see that the Batcave consisted of just a few small platforms. Not a whole lot to explore there. However, I will concede that they stepped up the capabilities of the Detective Mode, but let’s be honest, Arkham Knight did a far better job with it later on. In the end, it just didn’t add much to series compared to the vast improvements and advances that City made over Asylum.
In all fairness, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give it at least some props. The game had moments of brilliance. As a huge admirer of Alan Moore’s Killing Joke, it was such a pleasure playing out that cutscene inspired by the legendary graphic novel. It was rendered beautifully with little additions that enhanced the psychotic and twisted mind of the Joker. As I mentioned earlier, I’m a fan of story and that story was told very well in the game. It was likely the best part of the game.
Like my colleague before me, I also thoroughly enjoyed the Deathstroke boss fight. It was nothing if not extremely enthralling and by far the best boss fight in Origins. The game is riddled with lackluster and repetitive boss fights, but Deathstroke’s was the most dramatic. It relied heavily on quick time events which really helped engross the gamer, making one feel as if you were actually clashing with the mercenary himself.
Here’s the skinny: Arkham Origins is often ignored and neglected in favor of the Rocksteady counterparts. It was excluded from the Return to Arkham collection and I feel rightfully so. It sports the weakest story due to it failing to live up to its goal of introducing new rogues to stand alongside the Joker and its overreliance on him. The gameplay felt unwieldy and glitchy, with my playthrough suffering from crashes. It did not succeed in adding very many new and interesting elements in gameplay, with only the Detective Mode crime simulator being carried over into the sequel. However, an Arkham game is still better than a lot of other action/adventure games out there, and definitely better than a lot of superhero games out there. So, it’s still worth a playthrough, but that’s just one man’s opinion. Go make your own.