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Batman: Arkham Origins review

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Price when reviewed : £27
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The Dark Knight returns, but doesn’t quite rise to the occasion

The Dark Knight’s third visit to the Gotham City’s murky underbelly this generation is actually a prequel. Set five years before the events of Arkham Asylum, Origins sets a young Batman loose in Gotham on Christmas Eve, after a price has been put on his head by sadistic mobster Black Mask. Eight deadly assassins, GCPD’s corrupt SWAT teams and Gotham’s opportunistic supervillains all want to stop you from seeing Christmas morning.

Gotham is a sprawling metropolis that not only incorporates areas first seen in Arkham City, but expands on them with different neighbourhoods, a river and a suspension bridge. Getting between them doesn’t require lots of tedious grappling and gliding, either – you can use the Batplane to quickly get one from neighbourhood to another, once you disable the Riddler’s broadcast towers which jam the Batplane’s systems.

Batman: Arkham Origins

The total gameplay area may be almost twice the size of Arkham City’s, but a blizzard has cleared the streets of almost everyone, leaving Gotham feeling barren compared to the lively metropolis that is GTA 5’s Los Santos. There are a few attempted robberies, gang fights and brutal police beatings to stop, but the largely empty municipal map feels like a missed opportunity.

Even as it stands, this illusion of GTA-style open world gameplay is largely that – an illusion. The main campaign is still a linear affair that sees you progressing from one building occupied by a supervillain and his henchman to another. This worked well on the claustrophobic island setting of Arkham Asylum, but it felt limiting and out of place in Arkham City and even more so here.

Batman: Arkham Origins

The third-person gameplay remains largely unchanged from previous Arkham games, with brutal melee brawls taking up a major part of the action. Hand to hand moves can be combined with various bat-gadgets, with experience points earned for chaining attacks together and avoiding enemy hits. These unlock more sophisticated moves and a wider arsenal of weapons.

Stealth is still an option, although the series’ signature ‘predator’ encounters are also largely unchanged. It’s still satisfying to pick off more dangerous gun-toting mobsters with stealthy cloak and dagger tactics, tormenting terrified troublemakers by hanging them upside down from gargoyles or bursting through walls and grabbing them from behind.

Batman: Arkham Origins

Black Mask’s grunt army gradually grows in number and starts using deadlier weapons, but they rarely pose a lethal challenge, especially if you play on the lesser difficulty levels where on-screen prompts help you defeat your foes. The eclectic rogues gallery of supervillains and Black Masks eight hired assassins form the game’s ‘boss’ battles, requiring a combination of precise timing and gadget-based attacks to defeat. The more surreal boss fights from the first two games, which included tedious and badly-conceived platform-style gameplay, are thankfully fewer and farther between this time around.

Oddly, you can play your way through the game without facing all eight assassins – some are completely superfluous to the main story. Although this helps prevent the plot from becoming the sprawling mess that was Arkham City’s story, it’s bizarre nonetheless.

Batman: Arkham Origins

Detective challenges make for a refreshing change of pace, using Batman’s augmented reality ‘detective vision’ to spot clues and visualize crime scenes with CSI-style wireframe graphics. They are rarely challenging and often guide you directly towards the perpetrators, stretching plausibility as Batman reconstructs events that would be impossible to discern based on the evidence at hand.

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