Critical Consensus: Arkham Origins delivers more of the same
Warner Bros' Montreal hews closely to Rocksteady's template, the critics offer an uncertain thumbs up
The news that Rocksteady would cede control of its excellent Batman series to Warner Bros. Montreal was rather less divisive than one might reasonably have expected. It isn't that Warner's Montreal outfit had the sort of track record that inspires any great amount of confidence - unless you're a particular fan of the Wii U's Arkham City: Armoured Edition, that is - but that the template laid out by Rocksteady was so slick and expertly constructed it would take a titanic effort to cock it all up.
And so it has proved. Among the few dozen reviews currently available for Batman: Arkham Origins, only a rare few pitch above or below a 7 or 8. That's hardly cause for tremulous excitement - as anyone with an understanding of the games media's love of the upper reaches of the ten-point scale will know - but certainly not a disaster either.
"By this point, the mechanics governing these systems have become apparent. You and Batman and the game he's in are all just going through the motions"
However, a closer look reveals an unusual amount of common ground among the reviews, whether they finish on a cautious 6 or an enthusiastic 8.5. Wherever the critical axe ultimately falls, it seems, there is very little disagreement on what Arkham Origins gets right, and an awful lot of discussion of where it goes wrong. This isn't a failure of the critical community; it is an illustration of the challenge the AAA industry's sequel culture poses for reviewers. Arkham Origins is good in all the same ways it was before, but 500 words of praise for its fluid combat mechanics is harder to justify the third time around.
When the package is so similar, critics are duty bound to concentrate on the differences, and so Arkham Origins receives similarly short shrift in every review - a 6 read like a 7 reads like an 8.
Gamespot opens its 6 out of 10 with a meditation on Batman's greatest enemy: expectations. In short, the progress Rocksteady made between Arkham Asylum and Arkham City should reasonably be expected of Origins, and yet inspiration is thin on the ground.
"The most noteworthy difference between Arkham Origins and its predecessors is a significantly larger open world. But that larger world has little meaning when the things you're doing in it are the same things the smaller world of the previous game accommodated perfectly well.
"The city is bigger just for the sake of being bigger, and while these side quests make interesting use of characters...the things you're doing are exactly the same as the things the previous game had you doing in its open world."
"Most of the Joker's story is mesmerising, diving deep into his psyche to illustrate his disturbing first moments as Gotham's clown prince"
There are a couple of new enemy types on which Batman can open cans of kinetic, beautifully animated whoopass, a few new gadgets to throw into the mix, more rooftops to traverse. But in borrowing so completely from its predecessors, Origins has also inherited the same sense of fatigue. If you tired even a little by the end of Arkham City, that moment is likely to arrive more promptly here.
"By this point, the mechanics governing these systems have become apparent, the process of sneaking up on enemies or of countering attacks overly familiar. You and Batman and the game he's in are all just going through the motions.
"The occasional encounter with something fresh and exciting could have gone a long way toward making Origins' reliance on these familiar mechanics welcoming. But because nearly everything you do is a straight, wholly unsurprising replication of something you do in the earlier Arkham games, welcome familiarity gives way to an inescapable feeling of predictability."
Polygon's review lands a point higher than Gamespot's, and yet it is scarcely kinder to the finished product. Origins is, the review explains, a game defined by a blend of familiarity and, "a legion of tiny flaws." Indeed, these flaws are often a manifestation of WB Montreal's unyielding drive to stick to Rocksteady's guns, no matter how incongruous that might seem.
"The plot setup [which sees Batman pursued by eight assassins on Christmas Eve] serves dual purposes: It's an excuse for Batman to skip holiday dinner and roam the streets of Gotham, and it's an excuse for Warner Bros. Montreal to leave those streets barren of life. The game explains via incidental dialogue that the chaos caused by the appearance of these powerful assassins has led to citizens bolting themselves indoors.
"In gameplay terms, this means the status quo from the previous two Arkham games has been preserved; you may be in Gotham City proper now, but you're still able to drop in on any random group of thugs and start beating on them, certain that they are criminals."
"If Arkham Origins proves anything, it's that Batman on a normal day is still better than most games on their best"
The way that Origins establishes its main premise and then subsequently gets "bored and distracted" of its own ideas as the game progresses is one of Polygon's key problems with the game. However, that flaw gives rise to a major, if familiar, strength: the introduction of the Joker, with Bioshock Infinite alum Troy Baker filling Mark Hamill's dauntingly large clown shoes with apparent ease.
"At first I was disappointed when I started stumbling through areas full of skewed TVs and neon green graffiti, because it felt like retreaded territory. But Warner Bros. Montreal has some genuinely surprising and dark twists with the Joker that make his role here feel essential in a way that the other villains never do."
Game Informer is also full of praise for the Joker's impact on the experience. In an 8.5 out of 10 review laden with many of the same criticisms levelled by 6s and 7s, Game Informer argues that, as soon as the Joker takes the stage, Arkham Origins becomes, "a hard game to put down."
"At that point, the plot is given new life filled with clarity and excitement. Some of the other threads continue on, but the Joker takes over and it becomes his game... He's revealed in a plot twist that is shades of Scooby Doo silly, but most of his story is mesmerising, diving deep into his psyche to illustrate his disturbing first moments as Gotham's clown prince.
"The most enjoyment I got out of Arkham Origins came from Joker's story, and a few of the gameplay scenarios tied to specific villains. Mad Hatter takes Batman on a crazy adventure that showcases fantastic environment designs. An encounter with Firefly unfolds across unstable terrain and impressive set-piece moments."
For Eurogamer, Arkham Origins feels very much like a Rocksteady game, and while that clearly opens WB Montreal up to certain criticisms, it is also significant of a certain degree of achievement. Emulation may not be the most ambitious of creative goals, but for Origins to have landed its punch in much the same manner as two of the most purely enjoyable games of recent times is no small thing. Eurogamer may only award it a 7, but it's as near to a guarantee of a good time as a 7 will ever signify.
"Arkham Origins doesn't leave the strongest first impression...[but] the initial slow burn is welcome anyway, because it's an opportunity to luxuriate in the wonderful systems and mechanics that Arkham Origins inherits from its forebears.
"Batman glides through levels even when he's just walking around, those famous bat ears erect with authority, and he moves fluidly in a crouched run, too, barrel-like thighs pumping him from shadow to vent. But when you start actually gliding, it's a minor revelation, opening his wings to the wind and using the grapple to grasp the edge of a distant chimney, reeling it in and launching him over the crest to continue his flight.
"We had all this before, of course, but you forget how good it was. The same goes for Batman's many gadgets.
"Batman: Arkham Origins really recaptures is the solid middle of an Arkham game - the combat, the traversal, the little stealth arenas, the open-world puzzles and side missions - without really offering any highs... Then again, if Arkham Origins proves anything, it's that Batman on a normal day is still better than most games on their best."