Arkham Origins : A Harrowing Tale For Those In The Know
It was a very nervous drive home last Friday. As I left work I was suddenly hit with the realization that the package may not have come. The package in question? The Arkham Origins Collector’s edition. This bells-and-whistles-edition has been high on my wishlist since I finished Arkham City, and although I was quite publicly annoyed (see last week’s podcast) at the hike in price for less content, I was still nevertheless excited. I drove home like a meth addict- badly and smiling.Batman was waiting for me.
I dibsed AO for review months ago, and was excitedly drafting a cute 500 word number that poked fun at a game that seemed like another slice of the Arkham City pie .This all changed, however, after a few hours play when The Incident happened. After what this game has done to me, I feel a lengthier blog post is more appropriate. I have quite a bit to say, so I will compartmentalise into three sections: a review, The Incident and the aftermath.
Upon the first few hours of playing Origins I was fairly underwhelmed: it was just more of the same, to the point where I started the game with no hints a’ la Cities’ New Game Plus mode. The combat structure was pretty much the same and the story was fairly captivating. This however changed after the fight with Deathstroke. This boss battle was unlike any other Arkham boss battle I had ever seen; you were required to fight with patience and channelled bursts of aggression. In short, It made you think like a martial artist.After The Incident, the game began to elevate itself to levels above what I could ever have comphrehended. Simply put- the game is beautiful. Arkham Origins has done what very few prequels manage: they keep it fresh, while retaining a sense of the past. I won’t give away the plot, but quite frankly you won’t be expecting the Joker, or many of the other characters included. The game completely rearranges the Bats/Joker relationship, allowing the player to understand how the Joker sees Bats, and the nature of his super/in sanity.
The game plays wonderfully and should be experienced by everyone… well, everyone over the age of 18. Shit gets dark.
The Incident: ( SPOILERS+ TRIGGER WARNING)
After emerging from some sewer-based antics I was greeted by 3 rabbit-masked gentlemen, singing an invitation to me from a fellow named Jervis Tetch. I was informed that he would be waiting for me at the hat shop in the Bowery. So naturally I made my way, gliding through the city when suddenly Alfred informs me that it’s Christmas day. We exchange a Merry Christmas and I’m suddenly hit with a pang of loneliness: here is a man just trying to make up for the loss of people he loved, he doesn’t even have time for Christmas. But it doesn’t stop there.
The level itself plays out like the scarecrow levels of old; trippy and mostly 2D. Your objective is to rescue “Alice” from The Hatter. Suffice to say I took this level with ease. I made my way to the top of a “clock tower” where I confronted Tetch. He was knelt behind Alice with a knife to her throat-if I moved she’d be for it. A quick reverse batarang saw him off and he lay unconscious. I moved over to “Alice” (credited as only “Kidnapped Girl”) and told her that Gotham City Police would be on their way and everything would be alright. Her response was unsettling:
“No. No it won’t ever be alright”
She then drew herself in close, and began to cry. Sob, in fact.
In the utterly stunning Arkham Asylum graphic by Morrison and McKean the reader is treated to some of the darkest depictions of Batman’s rogues gallery ever seen. Up until this point, the Mad Hatter was a character with an obsession for Alice in Wonderland and thought-controlling hats. This iteration however had a much, much darker turn. We meet a Jervis Tetch obsessed with “little dolls” that he found beautiful, especially girls.
The Mad Hatter, ladies and gentlemen, is a paedophile.
Tetch is lying on the ground. There is now nothing I can do to hurt him. The game makes me clip through him. I cannot talk to the girl anymore, just watch as she cries, eventually deciding to leave. To hear her cries through the walls of the Hat shop. This hit me like a train: suddenly I realised that no matter what gadgets, magic, or kyptonian blood you have, there are some things you cannot just save people from. I stood outside that room, hearing her sobs, and let the controller fall from my hands into my lap. And I’m not too ashamed to admit that I shed a tear. Never has a game been so powerful, never has something hit me that hard, rooting me to the spot like that.
Suddenly it wasn’t about Batman, The Dark Knight detective, the reason why criminals breathe easier when the sun comes up. It was about Bruce Wayne, trying desperately to save the his home town, thinly spreading that love he had for his parents and sharing it with every single Gothamite, leaving nothing for himself.
Arkham Origins has done what very few prequels manage: it has retained that level of unrefinement that suggests that the characters have not yet progressed into how they are in the games set later on. Case in point: DMC3’s Dante would kick seven shades of summer out of slow -ass DMC1 Dante. In AO however we see a Batman that learns as you do. There is a definite progression in the game, and you see a very angry young Bruce take steps into channeling that anger and becoming the Batman he is in Asylum. The game itself (the menus, etc) displays this lack of sheen, making the entire experience an almost vulnerable one.
The game is also a love-letter to the comics. From The Incident to the final Joker confrontation, there are references to The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum, Year One, Knightfall and a host of other titles. The more you know of the Batman Universe, the better this game is for you. Having said that, even the preliminary bat-fan would enjoy this game, because it plays fluidly, switching from detective work to stealth missions to street brawls seamlessly. And unlike a lot of other openworld games, all the side missions and things you can do make sense in the context of the game (i.e: stopping crimes in progress) and actually play into the feeling of obsession Bruce has with stopping crime.
As I stated in the review, the Deathstroke fight made you think like a martial artist. This seems to be Origin’s raison d’etre; to make you THINK like Batman, and therefore act like Batman. When you add this to the feeling of desolation and loneliness, The game succeeds in putting you into the cape and cowl more so than ever before. The game isn’t without its flaws ( like the Penguin’s henchmen dressing like Canadians, making them really hard to fight, and Tracy’s shocking cockney accent) but most of the imperfections sort of…work. This is Batman:Year Two; Bruce is rough but ready, still working things out (he hasn’t even built the Batmobile at this point) . I honestly believe that this should become a canonized story in the DCU, because it would allow a foundation (following on from Miller’s Year One) upon which you would better understand every other Batman story. If you never got the whole Batman thing (why the hell are you reading this then?) or would just like to really get what it’s like, play this. Play this twice.
Have any games affected you this powerfully? drop a comment below and feel all the feels.