Oct 30, 2013

REVIEW: Batman: Arkham Origins (PS3)


RATING: 8 OUT OF 10 CHET BAKERS

Is it possible to have a laundry list of complaints about a game, and yet still like it?  Is it possible to have so many faults that you can find with a game and yet you still enjoy the game and would recommend it?  That's the quandary I find myself in with Batman: Arkham Origins, the first offering by WB Games Montreal, which was founded specifically to work on this project.  Rocksteady, which put out the very good Batman: Arkham Asylum and the phenomenal Batman: Arkham City has moved on to work on (reportedly) a PS4 Arkham game, so this one was handed off to WB Montreal.

A lot of what people loved about Arkham City is still here.  The combat system, arguably one of the best in the business, is (mostly) left untouched, and Rocksteady lent WB Montreal the game engine, so it looks and for the most part feels like Arkham City did.  If you liked Arkham City, you should find a lot to enjoy with this.

However there's also a good deal that is problematic, and therein lies my confliction.  I enjoyed the game a lot, but that may be due to my love affair with Arkham City.  I've played that game so many times over the few years it's been released, having beaten it five or six times, and have collected everything in the game (sans combat challenges and Game+ mode) twice including all riddler trophies.

So I came into this game with it as my most anticipated game of the year.  More anticipated than Last of Us (which I still haven't finished), more than Beyond Two Souls, more than Grand Theft Auto V, more than anything.  I pre-ordered it the moment it became available on Amazon (and then cancelled and pre-ordered on the PSN when it became a Day 1 Digital title) and have been driving my friends crazy with my constant "only X amount of months/weeks/days left!".

MORE AFTER THE BREAK




So by the time I downloaded it from the Playstation Store I was hyped like crazy.  I set it to download, and went to sleep (as it was just after midnight when it became available to download).  When I got a chance to play it, there were a handful of things that became very clear to me from the jump:

First off, this was and wasn't Arkham City.   Allow me to explain.

Before I go on, actually, I'll quickly let everyone know (who doesn't already know) what the game IS.  This is "Year 2" of Batman's evolution to the Dark Knight.  He's still raw, rough around the edges.  He's kind of a dick to be honest.  He's rude and disrespectful and dismissive of Alfred, the most loyal person in his life, he's kind of an asshole to everyone he's around, whether as Bruce Wayne or as Batman.  He's unpolished in his fighting and just his all around attitudes.

It's, I believe, 5 years between this game and Arkham Asylum, so when you first meet Batman here, he's never met The Joker.  That was a nice touch, I think, and it's interesting to hear him refer to "someone calling themselves The Joker" and you realize that he's never come across him before.  Same with The Riddler, or "The Enigma" as he's known in this one.  No green suits or question marks across the city, it's more along the lines of relays that are masking his broadcast signal, and data packs of extortion material hidden around the city that he's going to use to basically go Wikileaks on everyone in Gotham.  All their secrets and skeletons to be revealed by morning, if Batman doesn't find them first.


On this night, The Black Mask has put a 50 million dollar bounty on Batman's head, which has attracted 8 assassins to descend on Gotham to collect. And all on Christmas Eve to boot!  Merry Christmas to all, and all that jazz.

As for the comparisons between this and Arkham City, yes, it looks and kind of feels like Arkham City.  You have a lot of the same environments there, as the Arkham Origins map covers the Arkham City map plus a whole new map connected by a huge bridge that you can traverse.  However there are little changes that kind of throw you off.  For starters, the map has not only been expanded horizontally, but also vertically.  Buildings are much much taller now, so there's a lot of room to move around.  This can be a positive and a negative.

Yes you have more freedom to move around, more locations to go to, however it also becomes a situation where things often seem empty.  I realize Arkham City was similar in that, but it never really hit me while playing that "hey, there's not really any citizens milling about."

Here, I'm playing it and I'm immediately noticing that aside from criminals and cops, there's really no one out there.  I realize it's Christmas Eve around midnight or so, but seriously?  NO ONE?  The city is a barren wasteland, for the most part, aside from the plethora of criminals and swat members.  This makes sequences where terrorists are threatening to blow a place up come off as a little hollow, because I haven't seen anyone other than bad guys and cops (some of them bad guys).

There are some sequences where hotel employees are caught in the fray, or the random hostage being taken, and also there's some people who are harassed by Shiva who are simply labeled "Hobo", but other than that, it's a pretty empty world.  Which maybe wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so dark and gloomy.  For "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" it's sure freaking depressing.

Also there are changes to the landmarks that you saw in Arkham City. I know this is a prequel of (I think) 5 years, but some of the differences are jarring, such as the vastly different Wonder Tower.  Buildings have new doors where there wasn't any, there's missing doors where there was.  In the Court house there's no longer the basment where Calendar man was in Arkham City. There's no bell tower in the Church.  I could go on, but won't.  You get the picture.

The graphics are very good.  I think it's, in some ways, a little better than Arkham City, but I think overall I enjoyed AC's graphics more.  In Arkham Origins the graphics have sort of that polished type look when you first start playing it, kind of like the beginning to Assassins Creed: Revelations (and the E3 Trailer), where that shit looked like it was running in 100% CGI rendering and it looked amazing.  And then once you got to the open world, things sort of fell back into the typical Assassins Creed look.

Here it doesn't quite do that, and it still has more of a CGI vibe, but it's not really overdone, with the exception of Killer Croc which I thought looked way over CGI'd.  He looked almost cartoonish in how they did him.  I also liked the graphics of The Penguin more in Arkham City than I do here.  Not sure why, it just looked better, I think, in the other one.

The voice acting is pretty good.  I had some problems with Troy Baker's Joker, just because, to me, it didn't feel as much like "The Joker" as it did "a maniacal psycho who seemed to fade in and out of a British Accent from time to time and who looked like The Joker".  I mention the "British Accent" thing, because during the death loading scenes when he'd come out and mock you when you lose, it often sounded like the voice actor was British, but Baker is from Dallas, so I dunno. Maybe that was just me.

 

Maybe it was more the graphics department, who had created this bizarre version of the Joker where he was definitely menacing and just scarily crazy in appearance, but it's completely opposite of the Joker we've all come to know from the series.  Yes this is a prequel, but this big of a change is kind of off putting, and I couldn't stop thinking everytime I saw him when I'd lose, and he'd come out and sing a song or mock me in some way, that this wasn't The Joker that I had seen in other Arkham games.  He looked a bit more like some of the more outlandish depictions in the comics, I think.

Weirdly, I thought that Nolan North (Nathan Drake in the Uncharted Series) was much better in Arkham City as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, than he was in Arkham Origins in the same role.  I really loved his performance in Arkham City and didn't know that was him until I looked it up to see if it was the same person who did it in this one.  There's little bits and pieces that felt similar here, but there was something about his voice that seemed off on this one.

Same with Tara Strong's performance as Harley Quinn, however in her case it may have been a result of her being a more restrained character in this one.  In Arkham City she's "Harley Quinn" the villain who's in love with the Joker.  In Arkham Origins she's "Harleen Quinzell" who's still a medical professional who has just met the Joker for the first time.

One thing I'll say before moving on is that the woman who did the voice acting for Tracy Buxton was fantastic! I've always had a thing, admittedly, for British women, and man she knocked her small role out of the park. I've been trying to figure out who it was that voiced that part, but I can't find it on any site.  If anyone reading this knows, please leave a comment and I'll add her name to this.

The Boss fights were hit or miss, to be honest.  There were some that were so amazing and incredibly fun, such as The Firefly, that it felt like that could have been a final boss in most games, and then there's the Electrocutioner which was the biggest joke of a boss fight I've ever come across.  I'm still working on the side missions, so maybe he shows up again for a final fight, but if not, that's a ridiculous thing to pull off, and WB Montreal should be embarrassed about that.  Similarly the very last fight you have is also kinda lame and very short/easy with almost no skill or anything required.

I really loved the Firefly fight, especially since he was kicking my ass for most of it, and then I was down to basically one bar of health where if I got hit once I'd be done for, and I pretty much aced the rest of the fight, taking him from a full health bar to defeating him without getting hit once (after getting hit a ton of times).  The changing of the locations during the fight, the fact that it wasn't simply a "do a cape-stun and beat him down" like with a few other bosses, made this one of the most enjoyable boss fights I've had in awhile.

There were a few things that I really really disliked, and are things that I've heard a lot of people complaining about, and with good reason.

First of all, they remapped the controls. I HATE it when developers do this. In the God of War franchise, Santa Monica would constantly do that.  To open a chest you'd hit circle (I believe) in the first game.  Then they changed it to I believe R1, and then to L2 in subsequent games.  Not sure on the specific buttons, but I do know that they changed it up from game to game.

Sometimes devs do this because they're introducing new weapons and they're trying to find an easy way to lay everything out.  However it's extremely frustrating when you're used to using R1 to throw a batarang in the previous games, and now in Arkham Origins, R1 turns on detective mode.  Detective mode used to be R2, which is now throwing a batarang.

So you're in stealth mode, you go to turn on Detective Mode and you end up accidentally throwing a batarang, alerting everyone to where you are.   This is a headache, but is not even the biggest problem with the changes.

WB Montreal tweaked the combat to the point where it's bordering on the sadistically cruel.  Now you have way more attackers coming at you at the same time and the prompts aren't coming when they start to attack you, they are coming right before they connect with an attack, which makes it almost impossible to counter properly and keep your combos going.

 

Often time your counter isn't triggered in time, and you are suddenly hit by four and sometimes five attackers at once.  When you are in a crowd of 20 or more enemies, many with weapons, many with armor, some with shields, and throw in a Venom Enemy or two, and you start to get the picture of how difficult they have made this.

And all of this would be bad enough if it was't for the strange decision to push the camera in to the point where you often can't see your attackers coming at you (Thus you don't see the attack prompt).  In Arkham City the only time I really ran into that problem is in the Challenge Rooms with Batman or Robin.  In the 1st challenge map, they start you out on the top of some steps, and the enemies are running up towards you.  The camera is faced straight ahead behind you, so unless you tilt the camera a bit with the right stick, then you won't even see the enemies coming in front of you.

All in all, I think WB Montreal needs to release a patch to fix some of these issues.  Santa Monica released a patch balancing the combat in God of War: Ascension, because one of the areas was proving to be so difficult that even hardcore GOW players couldn't get past it, so I imagine WB Montreal could do the same thing with the combat here, although with it covering the entire game, I don't know how long that would take, or how feasible it is.

It's almost at the point where it just would encourage you not to even bother.  I can't imagine playing the Game+ or the I Am The Night mode where you get 1 life and no continues.  If more than 10,000 people beat I Am The Night mode I'm going to be shocked.  Currently on PSNProfiles it has it listed that nobody has gotten the Platinum Trophy yet (which requires you beating not only Game+ but also I Am The Night mode), but that only 0.02% of those playing the game has beaten I Am The Night.

And this isn't like I'm not good at the game and I'm just complaining about a game being hard.  It's not that.  I've played the hell out of Arkham City and I'd like to think I'm pretty damn good at it.  I can kick ass on that game.  On THIS game, I'm routinely getting pummeled by basic soldiers because of little tweaks, like them attacking sooner, multiple enemies hitting you at the same time (in Arkham City rarely did 3 people attack you at once, usually it was one or two.  In Origins it's regularly 3 or 4), or enemies rapidly picking up ground between you, when normally they would not reach you that fast.

Final note on the combat, because I've gone on about that enough. The AI tends to be fairly inconsistent.  On one trip through an area they can be the dumbest bag of rocks you've ever seen.  There was one spot where I was on the Penguin's ship, and there's 7 guys on there.  I went and silently took out the 1st 5, which leaves two by the door, standing just far enough apart from each other that you can't do the double take down, where you bang their heads together and knock them out.
So what I would do is climb the staircase beside them, drop down a foot away from them, sneak up behind one of them and silently choke them out.  Now mind you, I'm one foot away from his buddy who is staring straight ahead.  I'm directly beside him choking out his fellow guard, and yet he doesn't see me at all. I then go and silently choke him out as well.

That makes no sense.

Then you'd go through sections where they are all eagle eyed and very aware of everything going on.  Used to be you could stand up on a ledge above everyone and no one would ever notice.  Here, they notice you within seconds and start firing at you (if they are armed).

I actually had one sniper that seemed to be able to track me no matter where I went, despite my being hidden by huge shipping containers and metal boxes. I was crouched down, and had detective mode on, and he would turn and follow me with his scope no matter where I went.  Finally I threw a remote batarang and hit him, which promptly knocked him entirely off the platform he was on and he disappeared from the world.  I have no idea where he went, but apparently Batman's batarangs are not to be trifled with.

There were a handful of other things that were problematic, but nothing that was gamebreaking for me.  The fact that you don't actually fight all 8 assassins in the main storyline (which was the point of the entire game, that the assassins were going to come into Gotham to kill Batman) was a bit annoying, especially since one of the 5 you DO fight was over so quick that I thought it was a joke at first.

There were some sound issues as well.  When leveling up, the sound effects for that would drown out the dialogue between the characters.  When I captured Anarky I leveled up and the booming soundtrack kicked in and completely drowned out the dialogue.  I had subtitles on, so I could see what was being said, but if you don't, that's an unfortunate thing to occur.  It did that also when I solved the Lacey Towers Murders, it drowned out the dialogue between Batman and Alfred.

There are some issues that others had that I didn't necessarily have.  Talk of glitches, freezing, crashing, etc.  I didn't experience those, so I can't really comment too much.  I did have moments when flying across the city where it'd briefly freeze and the saving icon would show up but then it'd just continue the game.  Nothing major.

In fact the only real glitch I came across that I felt was worth mentioning, was this one I uploaded today while cleaning up some of the side missions:


That's always funny when it happens. Also during the second Bane fight, he got stuck in corner just spinning around for about 20 seconds and then got unstuck and went on looking for me.

While all of that may seem like I didn't like the game, quite the contrary. I loved the game.  It's a fun experience, if not quite as fun as the Arkham City was.  Whether or not I end up replaying this one over and over and over like I have Arkham City remains to be seen.  Some segments just aren't that fun (Deathstroke fight for one) but overall it's a very well done game.

When you factor in it's the first game by these developers, I think a lot of things can be forgiven, which is why I'm able to enjoy and recommend the game even though I have a whole litany of things that I have problems with.

For better or worse, it's an Arkham game, however it's not Arkham City.  It's not Arkham Asylum.  Don't go in expecting exactly the same thing, because it's not.  Reviewers claiming it is are doing it a disservice and are doing their readers a disservice.   Yes there are similarities, but there are definitely tweaks and alterations made that make this a much different animal than Arkham City.

I think saying it's "more of the same", or doing as one person said on a forum I frequent, "It's basically Arkham City DLC" is just gross oversimplification.  And it misrepresents, I feel, what it is.

Often you have games that come out that completely radically overhaul everything, and create a brand new experience, causing many fans to lament "why did they have to change what wasn't broken?"

Now you have a new developer that steps into big shoes to bring a new game out and largely doesn't change a whole lot in terms of gameplay and whatnot, and people are STILL complaining that they didn't change enough.  Gamers are fickle people.

My problems stem not from them keeping things the way it was, but their tweaks and modifications that amped up the difficulty in ways that often felt unfair and unbalanced in favor of the AI.

Overall, I'd give the game an 8 out of 10.  It's a very good game, and all the issues I took with it, I think don't rise to the level that it should be dropped down below an 8.  As for the Multiplayer, I wasn't able to play that, because despite this only releasing this past Friday, there were not enough people in the lobbies to start a match (it required 8).  Most times I could either not log in at all, or it would put me in a lobby with one other person.

So my final thoughts on this are as such:

PROS: 

1. Very expansive world, including Arkham City and a whole new area connected by a very large bridge.   Not only is the world expanding out, but also up, with the introduction of much taller buildings.

2.  Some of the Boss fights are very fun and challenging (Electrocutioner aside), and they were not all simply rehashing the original games Boss fights, which was nice.  Although there are a few that are reminiscent of the earlier games.

3.  Combat is mostly left alone and is very similar to the one found in Arkham City.  If you were comfortable with Arkham City, then for the most part you'll feel at home here, although some tweaks and modifications on the part of WB Montreal may introduce a learning curve.

4.  Graphics are often spectacular, although the overall atmosphere is fairly dark and gloomy.

5.  Voice cast is similarly top notch, despite my misgivings on Baker's Joker.  Everyone was on top of their game here, and even those I was not 100% sure on (Joker, Penguin) were still A+.

6.  Very high replayability factor with numerous collectibles, and sidemissions to complete once the main storyline is done.

CONS:

1. Inconsistent AI/tweaks to the combat, causes many of the AI to be overwhelming at times.  You can be attacked by as many as four or five enemies at once, many using moves that cannot be countered, thus rendering it very difficult to maintain high combos the deeper into the game you get.

2.  The city often feels desperately empty.  I realize a curfew was enacted (as demonstrated by an announcement played over the speakers somewhere in the game) but I just would have loved to have seen at least some activity going on, much like in the Infamous series.  Maybe not that much, but a bit more would have helped.

3.  Sound issues involving leveling up which causes the leveling up sound events to overwhelm the dialogue spoken on the screen at that time.

4.  Various Glitches and Freezing issues, however they are reportedly being patched very soon.

5. Remapping the controls from what was used in previous games (Batarang and Detective Vision were swapped, causing confusing when trying to trigger one and you do the other).

FINAL RATING: 8.0 out of 10

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