'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through Gotham City...
It's Christmas Eve in Gotham City, and a young vigilante superhero is facing the biggest challenge of his career. The terrifying Black Mask has put a $50 million bounty on Batman's head, bringing an onslaught of villains to the city, all of whom are hoping to be the one to kill the Bat. Of course, Batman's not sitting around at Wayne Manor drinking eggnog; he's actively looking for the Black Mask as every other fiend in the area looks for him.
The dark knight of Batman: Arkham Origins isn't the same one we've known for the last two Arkham games; he's younger, less experienced, and pretty early in his masked vigilante/superhero career. Origins brings him face-to-face with some notable villains for the first time, though he appears to already be familiar with a spry young Joker, who's just as insane as ever.
When I got my hands on Batman: Arkham Origins, the controls felt instantly familiar. Like in the last two games, I could glide over the city, grapple up buildings, and disarm and knock out thugs using hand-to-hand combat. The fighting system doesn't seem to reflect a more inexperienced Batman from what I could tell, but since the Arkham games' combat system is so tight, it's hard to complain about it being too effective. The new progression system displays the threat level of each skirmish and assigns a letter grade when it's complete, allowing you to earn more experience from better performances.
On his quest to find Black Mask and put a stop to his murderous shenanigans, there are plenty of side missions for Batman to deal with along the way. You might find a Crime in Progress, which provides experience if you engage and stop it; since the bounty on Batman's head has started a crime wave and the city is in a state of emergency, there should be quite a few opportunities to save the day. Batman can track down and confront some of Gotham's most-wanted criminals, if he so desires. Or, being a detective, he can solve mysteries using Origins' new Case File System.
The Case File System uses Batman's sensors and cowl to scan evidence after a major crime or catastrophe. Batman then sends this evidence to the Bat Computer, which creates simulations of the crime, allowing him to trace it back to its origin. In the Case File I uncovered, Batman was determined to find out what had caused a helicopter crash, first by collecting evidence on the ground and replaying the crash. This led him to a nearby roof, where he found more helicopter parts and examined it from a different angle, allowing him to see just what took the chopper down. It feels like a natural evolution of Batman: Arkham City, which doesn't necessarily make sense for a prequel, but it's an interesting enough addition to the core gameplay.
As a longtime fan of Batman and the Joker as voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, I was afraid I'd hate the new voice actors, or at least be distracted that it wasn't the classic Conroy/Hamill pairing, but that wasn't the case at all. Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker make a fine Batman and Joker team, from the little bit of story that I saw, and while I'd obviously never say no to hearing more of Kevin Conroy's gruff Batman or Mark Hamill's delightfully insane Joker, I don't think the new voice actors are going to detract from the quality of the game.
Is it weird that Batman has more refined combat, more gadgets, and more detective abilities in a game set years before the previous Arkham titles? Sure. Should you let that keep you from playing? Absolutely not. The small slice of Arkham Origins I played only left me wanting more. I'm expecting the story to reflect the earlier period in Batman's career more accurately than the gameplay, and I can't wait to see more classic villains make their series debuts. After a two-year absence, it will be great to see Batman return later this year.
Batman: Arkham Origins will be out on October 25 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC.