Batman Arkham Origins delivers in sight, sound

By: Joel Frehn | The Duquesne Duke

Christmas is a time of celebration and gathering.

It is also the setting for some of the best Batman stories. The newest tale, Arkham Origins, prequel to the games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, is one of the franchise’s best releases, along with graphic novel Batman: Noel and Tim Burton’s film Batman Returns.

While it is mechanically inferior to its precursors, Origins, released Oct. 25, boasts better writing, music and design, as well as stellar performances from an all new voice cast.

On Christmas Eve, the mobster Black Mask places a $50 million bounty on Batman, who is an urban legend at this time. This bounty is sent out to several assassins, who enter Gotham City to claim the reward. However, this bounty stimulates the evolution of the criminal underworld. Instead of facing the typical mobsters, Batman encounters super-powered criminals who are not motivated by greed, but by their own psychosis, which makes the battle for the safety of the city even more difficult.

Aesthetically speaking, the game is beautiful. One of my complaints with the preceding Arkham titles was that the soundtracks were standard: they fulfilled their purpose, but were not memorable. Considering that Batman is an icon that has attracted some prodigious composers such as Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, Shirley Walker and Elliot Goldenthal, this is a considerable disappointment. However, Christopher Drake delivers a terrific score. It incorporates setting-appropriate music, such as “The Carol of the Bells,” the Joker’s theme in the game, as well as using bells and other holiday sounds to create a perfect Christmas soundscape.

These work in conjunction with the voice acting and motion capture for the game, which makes the character’s come alive. When Troy Baker replaced Mark Hamill as the voice of the Joker, I was concerned, since Hamill’s work is iconic. However, Baker delivered, by creating a performance that creates two continuities: one feeds into Hamill’s performances, while the other is fresh and unique. Roger Craig Smith does the same with his performance as Batman. The performance of Kevin Conroy, the previous actor, is foreshadowed in some sections, such as when Batman interrogates criminals; but, Smith creates a Batman who is young, angry, and arrogant, which contrasts against the seasoned, cynical man Conroy fleshed out over the two preceding games.

While the game has unrivaled writing, art direction, music and voice-acting, the gameplay is where the glaring flaws exist. Arkham Origins uses the mechanics and assets from Arkham City. If one has mastered the controls and combat for Arkham City, then Arkham Origins would theoretically fit as easily as one of Batman’s gauntlets. However, this is not the case. The most prominent flaw is the tip system.

The tip system is a series of onscreen commands that tells the player what buttons to press in response to fighting the enemies. The tip system in the game is not properly synchronized: I was given commands at the wrong time and died numerous times because of it. At one point, I ignored the commands and instead checked an online forum I frequent for advice on the boss fights. This should not be present in a game that has escalating difficulty.

Along with weaknesses in the difficulty and combat system, the in-game map is also prone to error. An example of this comes with the Riddler campaign: like in the other Arkham games, one of the subplots requires the player to collect hundreds of objects scattered around the game environment. However, my trophy-hunting was problematized several times because of inaccurate locations on the map. Again, these errors should have been detected and removed in the Beta-Testing. However, Warner Brothers has listened to consumer feedback and has begun issuing patches for the glitches, as well as issuing an apology.

Arkham Origins is superior to its precursors with its writing, design, and music. The voice-acting is tied with the previous installments, while the gameplay is not as innovative and refined as that in Arkham City. The patches will erase a lot of the flaws with the game. But, the game is visually and sonically striking on all accounts, which forgives the remaining flaws.