AT LAST WE MEET FOR THE LAST TIME
Perhaps the most damning thing that could be said about Origins is that, at least on paper, it’s exactly what you want. Fans of the previous two know what to expect and get it, beat for beat. Whereas as other franchises embrace their triplets with a roll of the dice on a center stage mechanic or a new world, newly minted WB Games Montreal just isn’t interested.
While the otherwise rocksteady staples continue to fight the good fight, some of the less integral trappings have noticeably deteriorated. The writing just plain stinks. Collectibles are in high abundance, but the famous Riddler challenges feel a little watered down. While there’s certainly more stuff going on, the UI doesn’t handle it well – much is thrown at the player only to overwhelm them.
…the combat mechanics have quite a bit of growing up to do to hang with the likes of DmC and Bayonetta, or even inFamous.
The spec tree is yet another disappointment. Overwhelmingly linear in its approach, upgrading is limited to two trees until a second play unlocks another. Again the basics of melee combat, stalking, and gadgetry are represented with their own sections.
And again they’re committed to the battle of inches – there’s few if any skills that make Batman feel like he’s turned a corner at any point in his struggles. All of the upgrades and new toys are predictably synched in lockstep with new challenges and enemy types as the game progresses.
Detective mode has never been more ineluctable – get used to playing in the AutoCAD world. With every release the Arkham world is increasingly stripped of conventional visual cues in favor of flagrant HUD elements highlighting where to look. As in its predecessors, there’s no discernable downside to playing the entire game in detective mode.
More than anything, Origins misses the opportunity to create a dramatic shift in tone. DC has reaped immeasurable benefits by green lighting everything from Frank Miller’s Year One to Jeph Loeb’s vastly different Hush in the comic book world. WB Games would similarly profit from a fresh take on their Batman universe.
Moving forward, the Arkham series needs to decide if it wants to commit to its open world or embrace its brawler-bread-and-butter.
If it’s the former, WB Montreal should consider scaling back on the combat and crafting a slower, thinking man’s Batman game. Ratchet up the problem solving needed to beat stealth sequences, and embed these scenarios in Gotham itself to enrich the sandbox. Make detective mode the primary draw and ditch the over reliance on button prompts.
If it’s the latter, the combat mechanics have quite a bit of growing up to do to hang with the likes of DmC and Bayonetta, or even inFamous. No: rapid mash ‘Spidey Sense’ counters. Yes: fluid integration of Batman’s gadgets for more creative pummeling. Destructible environments wouldn’t hurt either.
Other studios have seen success straddling the line, but not WB Games. Time to admit that.