This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Batman: Arkham Origins.
When it comes to superhero adaptations, it's a shame that films always let all the talking get in the way of kicking people in the head so hard that your bootprint replaces their memory of their mother's face, but films usually only having one or two villains at a time does seem like the smarter approach, 'cause it was all very well in Arkham Asylum, having a conga line of big names taking turns to get frowned at, but it does mean that by the time you get to the third game, you're really gonna have to start digging through the cellars of the DC Universe for fresh faces.
But y'know, at least in Arkham Asylum and City, all the big villains are already-established veterans of the Bat-fisting, so if they'd brought them all back in the prequel to explore all their origins, I wouldn't have thrown more than three toys out of the pram; if it meant that Arkham Origins wouldn't be trying to sell fucking Copperhead or Firefly as big-name draws. "Your enemies shall define you," went the marketing tagline, in which case, Batman, you are one dull fucking son of a bitch.
As our story opens, Bruce Wayne has been Batman for two years, and the evil crime lord Black Mask– you know, this video will pass quicker if you stop pausing it every ten seconds to look up who the fuck these characters are– puts out a hit on Batman, despite him ostensibly being considered a myth at this point, but manages to attract an array of costumed assassins anyway, who presumably had nothing else to do with their weekend, including both Deathstroke and Deadshot, which is like inviting Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg to the same party and insisting they wear the same outfit. But this is just the beginning, as Batman uncovers signs of a dangerous new villain, unlike anything Gotham has ever– it's the Joker, alright? And since his face is all over the fucking posters, I spoil that with no shame whatsoever.
What I wonder about, though, is how technology relates to the Arkham timeframe; despite being a prequel, everyone uses smartphones and high-speed internet, so Arkham Origins takes place, broadly-speaking, now? And the other two games must've retroactively taken place in the future? Then where were all the jetpacks, fuckwit!? And why does Batman start the game already with half the gadgets you have to unlock over time in Arkham City? Does he just ditch his entire utility belt every now and again? Perhaps after it pulls his trousers down one too many times!
This could be explained, but I get the feeling that Arkham Origins just couldn't be arsed to, and that's kind of the running theme. In every Arkham game, you are trapped in an enclosed environment and the only other people you run into are goons, to the point it might be more efficient to just sprint through the streets with your fists held out. In Arkham Asylum, this was because you were trapped in a place specifically designed to securely hold goons; in Arkham City, they made a big point about how part of Gotham had been sectioned off to hold all the goons so they could all goon it up away from the eyes of all the non-goon; but in this case they don't explain it at all; this is just what Gotham City's like, apparently: 100% goon density. As soon as you graduate, it's straight down to Goon Recruitment to pick up your fingerless gloves and baseball bat; unless you're a girl, in which case here are some pamphlets on ninja-ing.
Also, the city is somehow smaller than the section of the city the last game took place in. Again, there could be a reason for it; this is a prequel, maybe there was a really fucking drastic development boom after this, but again, they couldn't be arsed. Not about anything.
- "What shall we do for the box art, Warner Bros.?"
- "Just make it a black closeup of Batman looking sad. But don't let me catch you getting arsed about it, or you'll be in trouble! When I can be arsed."
"Gosh!" said two separate friends of mine, "I would play Arkham Origins, but I haven't finished Arkham City yet!" Well, you lazy fucks, my advice would be to finish off Arkham City and then lie staring at a ceiling for a while, because then you won't have to buy Arkham Origins, 'cause you'll have had the essential experience. It is basically just Arkham City, and they could've done some things to hide that, like change the GUI or come up with some different gadgets, but as we've established, they couldn't be arsed. At one point, I started to suspect that some parts of the game world might've been directly copy-pasted from Arkham City's sandbox, but I'm still not sure if that was the case. So either they did and they're lazy assholes, or they didn't and they just wasted a whole bunch of effort 'cause I couldn't tell either way. There is less of a fantastical element to things than the previous games, I'd say; more mercenaries with half-hearted gimmicks and less shapeshifting blob monsters, so that's something, I suppose. They're breaking new ground by very innovatively making the series more boring!
I suppose Arkham Origins might be worth buying if you want more of the combat and raw gameplay of Arkham City but DLC just isn't scratching that itch, and also you've been diagnosed with a catastrophic heart condition that has led you to demand a severe reduction in excitement. But then again, at any moment, you might get hit by a bug and get finished off by impotent rage. There are fun bugs, like when foes' positioning has a little hiccup and a prone thug somehow manages to break his own arm while Batman does a little twist-'n'-shout six feet away. At one point, a thug's animation died and he stood frozen in mid-swing, grinning cruelly as I circled his stationary form, perplexed. Sadly, he ragdoll-ized before I could start hanging Christmas decorations. Less amusing were the game-breaking bugs. I had my fair share of crashes and hangs with the PC version, and ran into what is apparently a common bug which prevents the completion of one of the Riddler side-missions, but, frankly, I can't even manufacture rage about that. "Oh, damn! How galling! 'Cause I was totally gonna do all of those!"
So Arkham Origins stinks of 'obligatory low-effort sequel', but what I keep coming back to is that tagline, "Your enemies shall define you", 'cause it's true; Batman has some of the best villains in the business 'cause they all reflect an aspect of Batman: Two-Face reflects his duality; Scarecrow, his use of fear and psychological tactics; Poison Ivy, his, er... shapely buttocks. But that whole element is lost with a D-list villain lineup; I don't know what the fuck Firefly is supposed to reflect unless Batman routinely overcooks his jacket potatoes. Bane is the rather dreary and anticlimactic final boss fight, but I'm not sure why; he's one of the mercenaries who are after the Bat-bounty, but even after that gets withdrawn, he retains an inexplicable obsession with getting a chance to twat that Bat, going so far as to risk his own life to that end, when I'm pretty sure he's supposed to be a more pragmatic bloke.
I suspect, mealy-mouthed cynic that I am, that we owe his recent film portrayal for the pleasure of Bane's company, 'cause he's kinda half-way between "comic book Bane" and "Old Mr. Face-Like-A-Spider's-Jockstrap", being the leader of a group of idealistic mercenaries. Doesn't have the jockstrap face, though; wearing Tom Hardy's jockstrap on your face just gives the game away. I learned that at the Academy Awards.
- Fisting all day long: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Mad Hatter officially has two appearances to Scarecrow's one and that is not a situation that makes the least bit of sense
- "Lambast" is such a strong word