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Sunday, February 09, 2014

Review: Batman - Arkham Origins

I don't usually review current games, since I have been away from video games for so long that I have a backlog that's cheap. But Arkham Origins came with the PS3 I bought to replace one broken by my son (he fed 2 disks into the blu ray player at once), along with The Last of Us. I fully expected to play and enjoy The Last of Us, but found myself getting stuck early on in the game, and after finishing Arkham City, decided to try Arkham Origins while I still had my Batman reflexes.

Arkham Origins has its problems, partly because the game designers/writers on the game made a major change to the boss fights. Shamus Young's analysis on this game is spot-on, and I'll defer to him on this point, since I have nothing to add:
The rule in movies is “Show, don’t tell”. The rule in games is “Do, don’t show.” The writer is yanking control away from the player at the very moment they want it most: The moment of victory. I realize it’s not as exciting for a viewer to sit there and watch the fight end in button-mash beat down #7, but this is a game, not a movie. The focus should be on making something fun to do, not just fun to watch.
Regardless, however, I found the game relentlessly playable. There are several factors for this. First, I was already familiar with the game from previous games in the series. This is a big part of the reason why sequels are so popular in games, movies and novels. Once you've invested in learning about the world and how to navigate it, it's so much less effort to play another game in the series than to learn a whole new UI. Secondly, the game doesn't try to be too challenging, especially in easy mode, which is a problem I've had with many other games. Finally, Arkham Origins now has a new crime-investigation mode which while shallow, fleshes out the "Batman as Detective" angle much better than it did before, adding fun to an aspect of the game that was previously just "follow the augmented reality markers." Given that Rocksteady's a critically acclaimed publisher while Warner Games Montreal are new to this, that's a significant improvement and one frequently overlooked by critics of this game.

Finally, the game is short enough that I never found myself wondering why I was wherever I was. While Arkham City had tons of information overload, I never felt that way in Arkham Origins because the story clearly pointed me onwards in many ways. The story is also better than previous games in that Batman actually changes and develops as a character. In Arkham City, he tolerates huge losses near the end of the game, but he seems as unflinching as Judge Dredd would be.

My biggest problem with the game? The fact that you had to fight Bane too many times. You fight him no less than 3-4 times in the game as a "boss", and I think once is plenty. Sure, the mechanics is different in the last Bane fight, but why couldn't they have picked someone else?

My take on Arkham Origins is that it's gotten a bad rep simply because Rocksteady was a tough act to follow. But many critics overlook that it's a better game than Arkham City in many ways. Arkham Asylum's still the best game in the series, but I wouldn't pass up Arkham Origins or treat it as a lesser creation compared to the other two. Recommended.

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