Batman goes back to his crime-fighting roots in the latest, but perhaps not quite greatest, in the gritty Arkham series
Batman: Arkham Origins
PS3, Xbox360, Wii U, PC
Given that we’re repeatedly told how videogames are bigger than film, it seems understandable that we start to see some of cinema’s less celebrated aspects creeping onto consoles. One not exactly joyful word from the movies that is likely to be cropping up more often is “prequel”, as here with the third in Batman’s moody Arkham series.
Set five years before the events in the first and hugely playable Arkham Asylum, Origins thankfully avoids the getting-a-bit-tedious-now story of how the man became the bat, and instead delves straight into the early (ish) days of our Dark Knight’s caped, crusading career as he meets – and assaults – many of the friends and foes who would come to shape his Gotham experience. Two years into his crime-fighting and already kitted up with enough equipment and vehicles to bring down a small government, our younger Batman is thrown in at the deep end as the mob boss Black Mask sticks a juicy US$50 million (Dh183.7m) bounty on his head and invites eight deadly assassins to compete for the prize.
Despite supposedly controlling a less experienced Bruce Wayne, his combat prowess – still based on the slick fight and counter system from the previous two – is almost entirely unchanged and he takes on the parade of villains, including the stalwarts Deathstroke, Deadshot and Bane, with all the calm of a seasoned pro. Eventually, it’s time for crime’s clown prince to make an appearance, and The Joker’s initial encounters with Batman offer arguably some of the finer moments in the game.
But despite feeling much like the other Arkhams, with largely the same fighting, gadgets and stealth controls, it lacks the pizzazz and edge of the previous two. Kevin Conroy, the Animated Series actor who voiced Batman before, has been replaced with Roger Craig Smith, who does a good job of emulating Conroy while adding the odd pinch of Christian Bale raspiness into the mix. But it misses the soul from before, something that resonates across the whole city.
Now buried in snow, Gotham is cold and largely desolate, save for the groups of hoodlums around every other corner. While swooping around is initially fun, it soon starts to feel somewhat empty.
Thankfully, there is a treasure trove of side-quests along the way to keep you occupied, though most seem to involve beating up thugs and deactivating or blowing up something. Even with such fun hand-to-hand fighting controls, flooring a henchman can lose its charm by the 500th time. The boss fights, however, are largely superb.
It’s unfair to lump Origins along with other prequels, first because the prequel element seems largely irrelevant and, second, because it’s really quite good. But coming after the excellent Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, and without adding a great deal extra beyond a sniff of storyline, it perhaps feels like Batman Begins in Christopher Nolan’s trilogy. Great, but it’s no Dark Knight or Dark Knight Rises.