As its name implies, Batman Arkham Origins is a tale of beginnings. Its Batman done a fair job putting a dent in the crime rate (and a few heads), but hasn't quite become the legend that he is in the other Arkham games. He's younger, more unrefined, more aggressive. He's still got a lot to prove, both to himself and to the people of Gotham - but not to Black Mask, who apparently thinks he's enough of a pain in the ass to want dead already.
The demo I played takes place on Christmas Eve, when Black Mask has sent 8 assassins after Batman, promising a $50 million payoff to whoever takes him out. Gameplay-wise, this meant I had to beat a lot of people up.
The trick to defeating Martial Artists, a new enemy type, was countering their counters. Combat with them is more fluid than with the typical thug, so timing and flow are far more important than just mashing away on buttons. Fighting them broke up the typical fisticuffs, but it was far more fun once I got inside and got the chance to use the Remote Claw, a new gadget that allows you to connect two objects with a cable; if the objects are moveable, the cable will retract to pull them together. You can string a line between gargoyles to create a tightrope from which you can then do specialized "tightrope takedowns." You can string one thug to another and watch them slam into each other. Or, my personal favorite, you can attach a bad guy to a delightfully explosive barrel and watch him go boom. No, it doesn't make much sense from a thermodynamics point of view, but it's really great, so let's overlook the science just this one time.
In between fights, I had the opportunity to check out Batman's new detective equipment, which included a Cryptographic Sequencer (which leaves you just a few quick fiddles away from breaking codes) and the Evidence Scanner, which is useful in much larger, puzzle-solving sequences. The scanner uses sensors in Batman's cowl in combination with the Batcomputer to evaluate a scene, capture it digitally, and synthesize an analysis of what happened. He can scan evidence and then reconstruct the events that led to its creation by "rewinding" the scene and examining it from all angles, actually moving around it in free space- if you've ever watched a single episode of CSI, you've basically got the idea.
The scene I saw dealt with a downed helicopter. By first scanning the scene, then rewinding the action backwards and observing it from different angles, Batman was able to deduce that the helicopter didn't simply crash, its back rotor was shot. Following the angle of the shot back to its source led to a rooftop. Once there, another rewind revealed the final piece of the puzzle: The angle of the shot was so difficult that only Deadshot could've accomplished it. Each Evidence Scanner section will have a number of components to its puzzle, and a meter keeps track of how many pieces you've discovered so far. The scene in the demo was relatively straightforward, but given the large open world that the developers are promising, there seems ample opportunity for larger, more complex mysteries to be solved.
Some Evidence Scanner sections will be obvious and necessary for advancing the story, but others will be harder to find and offer chances for bonus XP. You'll want that XP to upgrade your gadgets and special moves, as Origins will be using more of a skill tree approach to developing Batman's abilities. As of this moment, the noise that accompanies the Rewind function is so terrible that it nearly renders those portions of the game unplayable, but it will likely change before the final version is released.
The demo wrapped with Batman stumbling into The Joker, and we got to hear what Troy Baker (aka Not Mark Hamill) sounds like - surprisingly like Mark Hamill, as it turns out. The developers say they used new voice actors because they wanted the voices of Batman (here played by Roger Craig Smith) and the Joker to sound younger than their previous Arkham selves. Whether you consider that PR spin or a good design choice, Smith and Baker do a really great job in their roles; these guys aren't understudies, they are stars. (That is such a horrible, horrible pun in the case of Smith, who played Chris Redfield that I feel forced to apologize.)
Batman Arkham Origins will be out for PS3, 360, Wii U, and PC. If you enjoyed either of the other Arkhams, you're going to want this one, too.