Batman: Arkham Origins was a game that I have been worried about ever since the first rumblings of its existence about a year ago. The rumours were that Mark Hamill wouldn’t be returning to his iconic role as The Joker, veteran Batman scribe Paul Dini wouldn’t be writing the story and, even more worrying than that, Rocksteady Studios wouldn’t be making the game. All of these rumours led to a very worried gaming community: what if the Batman series we’d all come to know and love was selling out and wouldn’t be able to maintain the same kind of charm that it always had? What if, in a worse case scenario, it simply wasn’t a good game? A lot of the rumours ended up being true, Mark Hamill won’t be The Joker – furthermore, Kevin Conroy won’t even be Batman. Paul Dini won’t be writing the script and Rocksteady Studios won’t be developing the game, handing the reins over to Warner Brothers Montreal instead.
Is it still a game to be worried about though? Well, after seeing a lengthy hands-off demo at this year’s E3, I’ll have to say no. There’s still a way to go, and still a lot we need to see in order to make a proper decision, but a lot of what we’ve come to expect from a Batman game is there, and more on top of it too. If Warner Brothers Montreal had a mantra during the development of Batman: Arkham Origins, then I would have to assume that it was “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. It seems to have served them well.
The demo started in South Gotham, with Batman performing his nightly patrols. Taking part in difficult fights will earn the Dark Knight an increased amount of experience points, with the harder fights netting him more and the easier fights significantly less. In order to test the player’s skills, a couple of new enemy types have been introduced to Batman: Arkham Origins. Firstly, an even more armoured style of goon, which requires serious tactical planning in order to take them down without taking much damage yourself, and a goon skilled in the same forms of martial arts as Batman himself, allowing them to deal out the same kinds of punishment as the Dark Knight. Batman has never had it so tough. The experience points the player is able to attain, similarly to the previous games, can be used by the Bat Computer to upgrade and improve Batman’s gadgets and equipment. From just the short demo we were privileged to see, it’s evident that there’ll be a huge emphasis on these patrols if you intend to become the best Batman you can possibly be.
Aside from the main story, which involves Black Mask putting a hit out on Batman, sending a cavalcade of enemies out after the Bat and offering a massive reward to the person who can bring back his head, the player will be able to take part in what the developer called “Most Wanted” missions. These missions branch off from the main story and seem to allow the player to chase down, and lock up a plethora of other villains from Batman’s rogues gallery. The demo we saw showed a couple of missions from Anarchy’s quest line, allowing the developers to show Batman using his world-class detective skills to find and then disarm a series of bombs across Gotham. These missions can be left at any point and then resumed whenever the player sees fit. There was no indication as to what benefit the player gets for completing them, but it seems safe to assume that experience and perhaps a new gadget or two would be on the table for successful captures of these “Most Wanted” villains.
One other, rather impressive new addition to Batman’s repertoire, is the ability to use his detective skills to work crime scenes and figure out exactly what happened in certain situations. In the previous games, players have been able to scan crime scenes for clues, but this usually ended up with Batman just following a scent, a fingerprint, or a DNA match to a certain location and then continuing with the story from there. In Arkham Origins the player is able to fully work a crime scene. For our demo, Batman came across a crashed helicopter and spent time uploading the data to the Bat Computer, rewinding through the generated scenario for more clues, and eventually figuring out that another criminal, the sharpshooter known as Deadshot, was responsible for taking down the helicopter in an attempt at the Bat’s life, which would have allowed him to collect on the ransom. It appears as if some of the “Case Files” (which is what the developer were calling them) could tie in to the main story of the game, while others may not, or may be just be red herrings, not leading to anything important at all.
I emerged from the demo for Batman: Arkham Origins more excited for the upcoming game than I expected to be. It seems as if Warner Brothers Montreal have done a good job at carrying on the torch lit by Rocksteady Studios. There’s a couple of months before release yet, and the demo we were able to see was very limited to a couple of key points and new features – which could mean that all of the aspects which make a Batman game shine have all been modified for the worse. I didn’t get that feeling though, it seemed as if the developers on hand all had a certain reverence for the series and wanted to do it justice. It may not be the best of the series, and it may not even attempt to do anything vastly different with everyone’s favourite caped crusader, but it certainly doesn’t appear that they’ve made a game any less worthy of the Batman name than Rocksteady would have.