By Steve Wright
Walking into Batman: Arkham Origins at E3, I pretty much knew what to expect. Even with WB Montreal at the helm, rather than Rocksteady, it was a safe bet that I'd be getting some hands-off time with a very polished game. I, of course, was right.
WB Montreal isn't new to the Arkham franchise, after all; they were responsible for porting Arkham City to Wii U. With that endeavour, they'd taken an established game and tweaked features to make the most of the Wii U's GamePad. With Arkham Origins, it's pretty much the same idea; the characters and engine were there to use, but this time, WB Montreal gots to add new functionality into the core of the game.
All of the things that you've come to love about the Arkham franchise are present in Origins. Batman can use his cape to glide and dive, essentially giving himself limited flight capabilities. Gadgets are back, as is detective mode, and the game's combat systems will be instantly familiar if you've played a previous game.
Origins, as you'd expect from its title, takes place before either of the Arkham games that have preceded it. In it, a younger Batman -- complete with sexy chin stubble -- is still carving out his own legend. The game is centred around an extremely important night in legend-still-in-the-making. Black Mask is pissed at Batman, see, so he places a bounty on the Caped Crusader's head. This draws assassins from all over the world to South Gotham -- including Deathstroke and Deadshot – and Batman essentially has to round up the baddies while avoiding potential assassination attempts.
WB Montreal doesn’t reinvent the wheel with their additions to the franchise, but each amended piece certainly makes sense. New baddies like the armoured enforcer mean that Batman will have to think strategically in fights to ensure their armour is compromised before he attacks, as an example.
New gadgets like the remote claw are useful in a number of ways. Batman can use the claw to attach to two points – like all-too familiar gargoyles – to create a tightrope between objects. In combat, Batman can connect one end of the claw to a trash can, and one to a thug, and remotely draw both objects towards one another. In short, using the claw in this manner means that thug will soon have a trash can flying at his face. We also looked on as Batman also connected each end of the claw to a different thug. You can imagine what happened next.
Changes to detective mode mean Batman can stream data to the Batcomputer to do things like reconstruct entire crime scenes. We watched as Batman saw a helicopter crash, and then went to the crash site to determine trajectories. Like layers of an onion, Batman tracked various pieces of the crashed helicopter via a Batcomputer reconstruction, and eventually determined that the helicopter was essentially just collateral damage; it was hit by a ricocheting bullet that was actually meant for Batman's own noggin.
While neat -- and a natural extension of the already-established detective mode -- I personally found the new investigation process to be far too long and drawn-out to remain interesting. Hopefully WB Montreal can tighten it up a bit, as the idea of a proper investigation is truly a great one.
As you'd also expect, sidequests made up a huge chunk of the game (well, if you want them to, that is); we got to see the unveiling of Anarky as an in-game villain. Some would say that using such an obscure villain like Anarky means that WB are running out of bad guys to throw into the franchise, but I'd disagree. Anarky -- especially in the way in which he's been introduced into Arkham Origins – seems like a perfect fit. For those of you who weren't Batman fans in the 90s, get ready to meet an extremely interesting character.
In the short hands-off sequence we got to watch, we also ran into classic baddies like Bane and Joker, each with a slightly different take than in past games. Joker's voice was fairly good – though, no one can really recapture what Mark Hamill did with the role – and Bane had on the weirdest mask imaginable. Batman himself was sporting a new voice, and to me, sounded more like Transformers' Optimus Prime than himself. Boo to that, and let's just have Kevin Conroy doing it all, eh?
Apart from those little nitpicks, we'll soon be getting another addition to the Batman: Arkham franchise that I'm positive will excite gamers.
Batman: Arkham Origins will be released on Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360, and PC from 25 October 2013.