Review: Batman: Arkham Origins (PC)

By all accounts, this game had some big shoes to fill. Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are widely regarded as bona fide classics, and are considered to be some of the best — if not the best — comic book games ever created. I played both in March, and I have to agree that they are two spectacularly fun games.

Prior to playing Origins, I didn’t know much about its history, and only recently found out that it was developed by WB Games Montreal and not Rocksteady. The reviews I perused painted it as a so-so game that didn’t live up to its predecessors.

I finished Origins last night, and completed all the side quests this morning. I have to say that I really enjoyed playing this and think it’s worthy of the Arkham series pedigree.

What the game does right is provide a solid story and vibrant writing, bringing to life the colorful inhabitants of Gotham City. Bane in particular is one of the game’s standouts, brimming with an intellectual terror that far exceeds what Christopher Nolan was able to achieve in The Dark Knight Rises. The Joker comes across as even more sadistic and evil in this installment, with Troy Baker holding his own in the massive wake of Mark Hamill’s iconic villain. Roger Craig Smith also delivers a spot-on reading of Kevin Conroy’s Batman. Origins certainly provides no lack of quality in making its characters memorable.

If you played Arkham City, a large portion of Origin’s world will feel familiar, along with new districts to explore. Traversal is fun, and there is no shortage of secrets and collectibles to find. One disappointment I had was the absence of riddles. In the previous games, I found those to be addicting to find and solve, they broke up the flow of the game (in a good way), and provided natural segues into Gotham’s history. As a result, the collectibles and unlockables here don’t feel as integrated, whereas they were done in virtuoso fashion in Arkham Asylum. It’s still fun here, but you do feel more than ever that you’re going through the same familiar motions.

Gameplay is classic Arkham, with buttery smooth combat, lots of gadgets, tons of puzzles to solve, and big environments to explore. Interiors don’t feel as tightly or ingeniously designed as they were in the previous games, though. The new gadgets are also OK at best, and some are just retooled versions of what we got in Asylum and City.

One of the bigger additions to Origins are the crime scene investigations, which are fun. They are more or less linear exercises, but they add a nice forensic detective layer to the story and sidequests instead of just scanning things in. They do a good job showcasing Batman as a person with very high intelligence vs. someone just relying on fancy gadgets and Alfred to do most of his thinking.

Due to the inherent nature of the storyline, there’s a healthy dose of boss fights throughout. They can be quick, but some of them are excruciatingly long and frustrating. They are also not as memorable as the ones from City, so it’s unfortunate that this part of the game wasn’t as good as it could have been. It’s not to say that they aren’t fun; they just aren’t as well-designed and often rely on old patterns and tactics we’re used to.

That being said, I still had a very good time playing this game. I’m not a Batman aficionado, so my take on these games are from a person whose exposure to the Caped Crusader came mainly from the films of Tim Burton and growing up with the ’60s TV show. However, now that I’ve gone through all 3 games, I want to learn more and I absolutely can’t wait for Rocksteady’s Arkham Knight.

Graphics: B+
Audio: A-
Gameplay & Controls: B+
Presentation: A-
Value: A
Overall: A-

PC Notes: Reviewed using an Intel i7-920 CPU (4GHz overclock) and Gigabyte GTX-670 Windforce OC video card (GPU: +126MHz, RAM: +775MHz overclock). Resolution: 2560×1440 @ 60Hz. Graphic settings: Anti-aliasing and DX11 features turned off to maintain 60fps.


The Backlog Blitz

A few years ago, I realized that I was buying way too many games. Actually, this has been true for at least the past two decades, and well, I’ve known it all along. I mean, it’s very easy to amass a large collection of games than you have yet to play. With so many weekly deals, holiday specials, and peer pressure from your friends, it’s not hard to give in. Even if you make a cutoff for yourself — say, nothing older than the 16-bit generation or nothing more than $20 — you still end up with dozens (if not hundreds!) of titles in your queue.

Enter the Backlog Blitz. Originally conceived on my favorite gaming forum NeoGAF as a way for members to focus on playing games they own, this has become my preferred way to track what I’m buying, playing, and finishing.

How does it work? It’s simple: Each purchase counts as a -1, and each game played or completed counts as a +1. The goal is to stay in positive territory as much as possible. I don’t include gifts or freebies, and bundles count as single purchases. You also don’t have to finish a game to get a +1, especially if you’re not enjoying it.

+12 for the year so farThis is the third year tracking my progress. The first year (2012) wasn’t pretty. I ended up with an overall score of -36. Those Steam, GoG, and Humble Bundle holiday sales destroyed me! That was also the year I bought a Nexus 7, so I went a little overboard on Google Play.

In 2013, I did much better and finished the year with a +3. That’s cutting it close, but I was pretty happy with the results, and was thankful that the Steam holiday sale offerings were more or less a repeat of 2012’s.

2014 has been a good year so far, and I’m at +12 right now. I’m slipping a little bit in April, but that should be remedied soon as I wrap up Batman: Arkham Origins on PC and Persona 4 Golden on Vita.