If it isn't broken, don't fix it. For the WB Montreal studio, this mantra had to be playing in the back of their heads when they were handed the reigns for Batman: Arkham Origins. They had a lot to live up to Rocksteady who developed the two preceding games. Both Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two of the most critically acclaimed video games titles, best comic book adaptations of this generation and received a metacritic score of 91 and 96 respectively. WB Games was given a great set of assets and one of the best combat systems seen in recent history for an action game. For the most part, the game holds true. It feels just like Arkham City, and you will feel right at home picking up the controller.
Rather than focusing on Batman himself, the game's narrative depicts the origin of the Arkham series as a whole. It takes place on Christmas Eve, 2 years after Bruce Wayne chose to don the bat mask. A bounty was placed on his head by the crime lord The Black Mask, who also enlisted eight of the world's greatest assassins to kill him. It is a strong premise to round up the multiple boss enemies that you will meet during the game.
The game controls are very similarly to its successors but with a few tweaks. Gone are the days when you get in a fight with multiple enemies and button mash your way to victory. You really need to be strategic when choosing moves and your timing must be accurate. Countering has become almost more important than throwing a punch. The experience system has also been given an upgrade. You are now evaluated based on how well you execute a fight sequence, which is represented by a letter grade. For example, if you jump into a group of enemies and start wailing around getting hit, taking damage and punching rounds, you will earn less experience points than if you completed the fight using stealth and Batman's arsenal of gadgets. And like the previous titles, the experience points you gain can be used to upgrade Batman's armour, tools and other abilities. New gadgets have also been aded, such as the Remote Claw, Shock Gloves and the Concussion Detonator, all which can be used in and oustide of battle.
Outside of the fighting, a new detective ability has been added. Batman can now reconstruct a crime scene to discover important clues that enables you to progress in the game. It feels like you are scrubbing through a movie sequence, making the crime replay over and over so you can track every detail. WB Games Montreal also incorporated new ways to travel faster throughout Gotham. The Batwing can fly you to other areas much faster than just gliding and grappling. They also introduced a fast grapple which retracts faster than normal.
The boss fights are also improved. They require a more strategic approach. They also seems more fluid and have a more cinematic feel than in the previous titles.
This is a game that you should play with the lights down and the sound way up. The soundtrack is excellent and incorporates Christmas music in with the spooky sounds of Gotham. The graphics are great, especially in boss fights. I found myself yelling "Wow!" at the screen during my encounter with Killer Croc. Unfortunately, I did see some frame rate issues when flying through Gotham, especially using the faster grapple.
There is a multiplayer mode available in with Batman: Arkham Origins. 'Invisible Predator Online' takes you to a gang war in Blackgate Prison between Bane and Joker. Batman and Robin team up to take on 3 members of both Bane's and Joker's gang. I didn't get to play this but it looks like a promising addition to the single player game.
All said, Batman: Arkham Origins was what I was expecting for a new Batman game and that is excellent in my books. WB Montreal didn't venture too far off the beaten path and stayed true to what I loved in the previous two titles.