Thursday, October 31, 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins (2013, Xbox 360)

At no point do you play as the asylum
Rating: 5 out 5 Batman Ass Whuppings

Review:  I've been seeing some negative press on this game so I thought I would weigh in with a quick review that's more in the vein of my opening weekend movie reviews.  I'm also very tired as I literally just finished the game after a lengthy couple of sessions, it's pretty much all done except finding a few location files and the challenge maps.

  The game is good.  The game is really good, I would say it's the best game in the series when it comes to pretty much everything.  My still-in-progress Arkham City review puts that game at a 6 out of 5, if this is better then why does it only get a 5.  Well we'll get to that but for now we'll focus on why I think it's better.

  The way the game is better is that, much like the last game, it improves in pretty much every direction without taking any hits somewhere else.  The fighting system has received a nice high polish making it probably the most in control I've felt as Batman while getting rid of some of the flourishes that I personally found annoying (like the weird reverse flash kick that Batman would do in the previous two Arkham games, this time the moves are more grounded in reality).  It gives us similarly functioning gadgets but changes them enough to make them feel a bit different (disrupter = remote electrical charge gun, glue grenade = freeze grenade) and while they took away some of the functionality from the disrupter they put that functionality into the brand new shock gloves.  The shock gloves are a passive gadget that you fill by fighting and when fully charged and activated turns you into an incredible, electric powered bad ass while fulfilling the device charging function of the REC gun.  The story is also better, it's very well paced and keeps the surprises coming up until the end.  A little thing that makes a huge difference for me is that targets that need to be interrogated aren't accidentally eliminated in the course of combat.  In Arkham City it was possible to eliminate someone, like a Riddler informant, while fighting everyone else protecting him which meant you would have to go somewhere else until they "reloaded".  Here any informant just takes a knee until everyone else is gone at which point you can grab them by the throat, hold them over a ledge or drop a knee on their face.  For me, it's the little stuff like that that makes a huge difference.  Other quick things are that they pretty much doubled the map and they changed the old areas enough to be fresh while making the new areas something interesting to explore.  The new voice actors are great and the new take on classic Bat-Characters remains intriguing.  The crime scene investigation is fun (totally overhauled and improved) and there is a persistent random crime mechanic in place so you will constantly have something to do.

  Now for the problems.  The main plot, while very good, seems to go on beyond when it should.  You get sort of an ending, an ending that you could be happy with and then you get an additional several hours of gameplay past that.  Gameplay that felt really redundant and unnecessary for me and while I haven't played the Blackgate handheld sequel I'm not all that motivated to know because I know it's about a break out/riot in Blackgate and in this game we have two break out/riots, one at the very beginning and one at the very end.  The only redeeming part of this a section, after where I would have ended the game, where you play as the Joker reliving some of his past trauma and THAT was very interesting.  I won't spoil any more of that for you.  Just from a story point of view you get a very weak ending to the "Enigma" (Riddler) sidequest.  There are 200 data packs, dozens of relays you have to eliminate as well as puzzle filled radio towers you have to disable and what you ultimately get is >spoiler< an empty hideout.  You find plans and prototypes for what will ultimately be the Riddler traps from Arkham Asylum/City and the first Riddler trophy but that's it.  No grand reveal, no announcement of him becoming The Riddler (Batman gives him the name Enigma at the beginning of the game).  Just all kind of flat and unsatisfying when you consider finding all those damn things takes up almost as much time as the main campaign.

  The thing that kills this game though is how buggy it is.  Now the first day they seemed to be having major trouble with their server as I had trouble getting access to the game.  I managed to log in the first time but then I hit the other killer, the bugs and crashes.  After the first bug less than an hour in I couldn't log back in for hours.  Luckily by the second day they seemed to fix the server issues but the glitchiness continues to be a huge problem for me.  Granted it usually freezes when I should take a break anyway but forget long marathons because if you can go more than two/three hours without it freezing you are lucky.  I had frequent crashes and nothing particular seemed to cause the problem.  One time it happened when I glided to a quest marker and just let myself drop to the ground and when I hit the ground it locked up.  It I've had it crash while loading, crash while grapnel boosting, walking, fighting, it is just a crashy game and that is a killer.  Hopefully all that will get fixed.

  Speaking of hope, I hope they bring in some DLC characters.  As it is you have Batman, of course, and Deathstroke.  Barbara Gordon makes an appearance so that gives me hope for Batgirl and Robin is in the online mode so that gives me hope for Dick Grayson Robin.  You actually play as Joker so that would be nice.  But I want all this because this game, in how it plays and looks makes the previous two games pretty redundant.  This has the superior fighting system, the superior overworld map, the superior control and is all around the superior game.  So I hope they bring the things that made the other games good (those being the extra playable characters) and bring them here.  The previous games have their place, if you particularly liked the Asylum environment or the story element of City (basically everything else except for some interiors is the same in Origins and done better) then there's a reason to revisit.  But after playing City I went back to Asylum and was amazed at how clunky it felt, now if I got back to City I know that will feel clunky which will make Asylum feel twice as bad.  But I would like to see a game that includes everything, possibly on two discs.  One disc for Gotham/Batcave and the other for off site environments like the Asylum and Blackgate with the addition of maybe a small chunk of Bludhaven.  Because being able to revisit the Asylum with these mechanics would be the best of all worlds.

  My final thoughts on this is that reading other reviews the biggest knock against this game is a seeming lack of innovation.  Granted there isn't as much innovation as there was with the first game.  Asylum was incredibly innovative in how it did basically everything, it redefined many things about not only Batman games but superhero games and stealth/fighting mechanics.  City had very little innovation comparatively but took what was already really good and polished it to make it great.  Origins continues this polishing.  But I can see why people would think that.  The gadgets, while tweaked, fulfill much the same roles.  You have your mind altered Batman going through a nightmare world (Scarecrow/Ra's/Mad Hatter/Copperhead/Mad Hatter again) you have reliving of past trauma, group fights followed by gadget puzzles followed by predator stalking, Riddler trophies, using detective vision, etc.  There is much the three games have in common but it's also everything I want in an Arkham game.  These are the things I buy an Arkham game for, these are the beats I want to experience and as long as they are different, even slightly different, I'm a happy customer.  I don't want them to innovate themselves too far away from what I'm buying a ticket for.  I don't go see Expendables for it's hard hitting commentary on violence and deep character development.  I go see them to see action stars I grew up with blow shit up.  So I'm happy with the polish and I look forward to seeing what they do with the next game.

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