Batman: Arkham Origins is Gotham via Montreal

Batman: Arkham Origins marks the first major release for Warner Bros. Montreal.

Batman: Arkham Origins


Have you ever played Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow?

You might be wondering what that footnote in the Splinter Cell canon has to do with the Caped Crusader, but there’s a striking similarly between the two that somewhat explains their deliberate blandness. Back when Ubisoft Montreal was the home of the Splinter Cell series, they outsourced one game entirely to Ubi’s Shanghai studio. The result was Pandora Tomorrow, a grammatically dubious title that was a near-perfect facsimile, but it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi. It lacked the stink.

That’s because, try as they might, Ubisoft Shanghai didn’t create the series, so instead of taking risks and bringing the series forward — as the subsequent, locally made Chaos Theory did — players just got an unadventurous addition to the series. They got more of what they wanted.

Similarly, Batman: Arkham Origins could be considered an outsourced title. It’s the first major release by Warner Bros. Montreal, but the series is London-based Rocksteady’s baby, and they’re already working on the next one. Arkham Origins is a stopgap, although it’s a solid one.

Importantly, Arkham Origins keeps the basic tenets of the series intact. More often than not, you’re either hookshooting across the skies of a deserted Gotham or fighting with packs of henchmen on the streets below. There’s also a lot of map-perusing and arrow-following, as you comb the city for little goodies or side missions.

Rather than go through Batman’s origin story for the umpteenth time, the game goes right to the heart of the series by explaining how Batman was first introduced to his most famous foe, the Joker, and his strongest ally, Chief/Commish Gordon. Those stories have been explained numerous times as well, but within the context of this series, it feels as though it’s coming from a fresh perspective.

So all seems well on paper, but Arkham Origins does stumble at times. For one thing, the Steam version I played was buggy. It was little things — Batman being unable to climb into a vent, a door that wouldn’t open, the sound cutting out, a mission not being marked on my map — but they happened frequently enough, and in some cases I had to quit and restart the game. The aforementioned two best parts of the game: the travelling and fighting, are a bit more by-the-numbers here. Gotham is unnecessarily vast, and with the city abandoned (minus thugs), it feels lifeless, although the occasional glimpses of Montreal-based graffiti (most notably from Sake) helps. At least you can Batwing around town when the scenery starts to repeat itself. Batman is also used to brawling entire gangs at a time, but sometimes there are too many enemies at one time, and instead of being challenging, the fights are more tedious. The boss battles are also more of the same mixture of hand-to-hand and quicktime events.

All the same ingredients that made Arkham Asylum and Arkham City such simple thrills remain, but the stink isn’t quite there. Arkham Origins isn’t quite as refined.

Warner Bros. Montreal made the most out of an impossible task. They succeeded in creating an Arkham game that lives up to the name, even if it doesn’t do much more than that. For most, though, the same Bat Time and Bat Channel will suffice. ■

Batman: Arkham Origins is available now

Leave a Reply