Batman: Arkham Origins proudly tries to stand on the shoulders of giants, but ultimately falls short of its predecessors. Origins is the third installment of the highly praised Arkham series; a series that has shown Batman, at long last, finding success in the video game world. Rocksteady did a wonderful job making him a force to be reckoned with, as well as show his smarter, more investigate side of him. Also, up until now they did a great job of spreading out the many villains Batman has over the last few games.
Arkham Origins, unfortunately, feels like a simple copy and paste of the other games. It leans heavily on borrowed elements that made Arkham Asylum and City great. It’s sad to see since the Arkham series is arguably, not only the best of Batman video games, but maybe the best superhero licensed video games we have had. Origins simply rides the coattails of its predecessors in a cheap cash grab from WB Games.
Origins is a prequel to the series, taking place before Arkham Asylum. However, you really wouldn’t know that as it never seems like an origin story to anything beyond the first meetings between the characters. Bruce Wayne has been Batman for two years now, so the “origin” story isn’t much of an origin there either, making it apparent they’re just selling it on the Arkham name.
With Rocksteady off on another project, Origins is in the hands of Warner Bros. Games Montreal, and Splash Damage who cover the multiplayer. WB Montreal did a simple carbon copy, adding little and changing almost nothing from the previous games. People like myself that are big believers in “don’t fix what isn’t broken” can understand and get behind that, but it would have been nice for them to take some risks and do more to stand out from the previous two titles.
It’s Christmas Eve. Black Mask has escaped from Blackgate prison and put a bounty out on Batman’s head. Eight villains hoping to meet Batman for the first time are vying for the ultimate prize, $50 million. Over the course of one night heavy-hitters like Bane, Deathstroke, and Deadshot are all looking to make their claim to fame. But with a bounty of $50 million, it’s bound to bring out the bottom of the barrel-types too like Firefly, Electrocutioner and Copperhead. It’s campy, but just solid enough to work. But, as I mentioned earlier, Origins relies on old tricks, and it isn’t long before the assassins take a backseat in favor of the grinning, green-haired clown, and the story comes crashing down.
This game makes light of Batman meeting the Joker for the first time, yet has him become a pivotal role in the game’s story. The Joker was the big baddy in both of the last two games and didn’t need to be in Origins at all, but was shoehorned into the narrative to play it safe. Under the guise of Black Mask things felt fresh, and it should’ve been left that way. The Joker is obviously Batman’s greatest rival, but he has been at the center of two games already. Let another villain have his day to shine as Batman’s rival.
With Origins being so much like the other games, it also brings with it the Predator-type gameplay of Batman; stalking bad guys from atop gargoyles and trying to take them out as silently as possible. This is what Asylum did so well, making gamers believe that Batman could actually have a good video game. Unfortunately in Origins, these predator situations are few and far between, especially with the combat becoming so much more prominent.
Batman: Arkham City, building on Asylum’s foundation, just about perfected hand to hand combat in video games so much so that afterwards many games took a shot at copying it. So it stands to reason that Origins followed suit as well, probably better so than most other games that have tried it. It’s just that WB Montreal not only followed suit, but sent it into overkill. Combat still flows very well, but it happens far too often, and lasts for far too long. The fighting in this game is simply relentless.
Each combat scenario takes forever to take down every opponent. It completely pulls you out of the game seeing Batman hit a guy so hard that he clearly breaks his jaw, yet the guy keeps getting up five times over. Now imagine that with three to five enemies at a time, and sometimes more. At one point in the game Batman gets shock gloves to use while in combat, that supposedly makes these situations easier and faster. Honestly though, I saw no difference what-so-ever outside of the shock gloves allowing me to attack some weapon baddies straight on.
Asylum and City had everyone head-over-heels for the combat, but Origins shouldn’t have made it the de facto element for Batman interacting with enemies. Batman is more brain than brawn, and this is the reason he would stalk bad guys from the shadows. Of course there is the excuse that Batman is new to this and more of a hot head, but that is just ridiculous.
Origins is open world much like City was, even to the point that many of the land marks from that game show up here. It is kind of interesting seeing these places while not being in a prison-city, but more interesting and very odd, is how GothamCity is basically a prison-city. With the game taking place on the night of Christmas Eve, it was actually really cool seeing decorations on buildings and Christmas lights up in the windows. It added a nice touch to the environment that makes it feel real. Never before has an open world game done something like this.
Of course that realism is ripped away almost instantly when the only people on the streets are thugs standing around or walking patrols, just waiting for Batman to show up. There are also cops doing exactly the same thing, even though Captain Gordon (not Commissioner yet) keeps mentioning how busy they have been that night. So basically, GothamCity runs exactly like it does in later years when a large part of the city is turned into a prison. It’s no wonder Hugo Strange had no problems talking government officials into creating ArkhamCity.
Not surprisingly, Origins packed in multiplayer, but what is surprising is that it isn’t that bad. It’s pretty standard control points-style gameplay. There is a Joker team and a Bane team, each with three players and each team is trying to control three different points of the map for points. They are trying to kill each other to do so, but there is a third team that consists of Batman and Robin played by two other players. As the Joker and Bane teams run around trying to kill one another, they must also be on the lookout for Bats and Robin lurking in the shadows, looking to silently take out both teams.
It seems very chaotic, but it works out pretty well. Each team has their own unique set of gadgets to help them take out the other two teams. Batman and Robin even get gadgets that are uniquely independent from one another. You can also customize your characters for both Joker and Bane’s team and buy items with credits you earn in-game. Batman and Robin can both be changed too, but just from a list of different costumes we have already seen them in before, which, admittedly, is still cool. These modes aren’t special by any means, and will most likely be forgotten in the near future. It’s just refreshing to see a slightly different spin on a classic match mode, and one that’s actually fun to play.
Batman: Arkham Origins has a decent story, but nowhere as fresh and original as Asylum’s or as large as City’s. The plot involving all these villains hunting Batman on the same night is flimsy, but it works. However, it’s quickly broken apart and some of the assassins are merely reduced to side missions you can take out at your leisure. Origins copies almost everything from its predecessors. WB Games Montreal had a chance to make some real changes here, do their own thing and maybe show they could do right by Batman. Instead they played it safe, which in the gaming world is never excusable. Arkham Origins is not only the weakest of the trilogy; it manages to kill any interest in another Batman game in the foreseeable future.
All three games in the Arkham series have done a good job at being “Metroidvania” type action adventure games. The same efforts were put forth with Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, and although on some level it succeeds in that, the game as a whole falls short. The map structure is confusing, the mission objectives bounces all over the place, and the story is an utter bore.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a sequel to Batman: Arkham Origins (which itself is a prequel) set a couple months afterwards. You start out chasing after Catwoman from rooftop to rooftop and once you catch up to her, the police come, and Batman dips out just in time for them to catch her. The story then picks up two weeks later at Blackgate Prison, where it seems a riot has taken place and the inmates are now free to do as they please, very much like how it was done in the first game, Arkham Asylum. The story from there is thin and easily forgettable with recycled villains and constant backtracking. And thanks to the erratic missions structure, keeping focused on it is a chore in itself.
Blackgate is separated into three main areas all of which are under the control of a different Batman nemesis. They are the Joker, the Penguin, and Black Mask. All of which of course build a small army of enemy fodder for the Caped Crusader to pummel his way through. As the Dark Knight fights his way through Blackgate, he finds everything he needs with the help of Catwoman because apparently this great detective, with all his cool futuristic gadgets, needs her to tell him where everything is and what everyone is doing. This is more than likely due to the map being nothing more than a hinderance, and the inconsistent mission structure.
You can choose which of the three major sections you would like to start in, but that choice seems useless, as you will be jumping every which way over the three due to the objectives in no time, causing tons of backtracking. It is not bad to force players to backtrack, but it has to be done in a fluid way. Blackgate will have you enter a new area and after a few steps inside, the game will stop you and tell you that you can not go any further until you go back to a place you were already at and get something there to continue on. So you will take three steps back almost every time you want to take two steps forward. This makes the game feel much more repetitive and “grind-y” than it needs to be. On top of that, the map at times will makes you think you need to go one way and you end up going in the opposite direction. It makes checking the map constantly a must, and causes a big headache along the way.
Blackgate presents everything the same as the major console titles, it just does it in a 2.5D viewpoint instead of third person. Even with this change, the combat still holds up decently, seeing it is the same attacking and countering as its console counterparts. However, Blackgate does suffer some with the combat being that it is a side-scroller and the fighting quite often takes place on two planes, the foreground and background. You do not have the choice on which of these you are going fight on as Batman just starts beating on whichever baddie is closest to him. This is fine when starting out since you’re fighting every opponent with hand-to-hand combat. But it becomes more difficult when groups of enemies have a variety of weapons and abilities. You can easily find yourself stunning one enemy and then attacking a different one on another plane completely by accident on numerous occasions, leading to absolute frustration
Outside of the normal bad guys, and of course the three main villains, there is also some mid-boss fights in the game such as Bronze Tiger and Solomon Grundy. These encounters stick to a pretty regular pattern of attacks. You have to defend yourself and then attack, and mix between that and, once in awhile, stun them with your cape so that you can attack them afterward. The big three boss fights are more puzzle-oriented however. These fights can have strict conditions that are needed to be met in order to be successful and will result in serious repercussions if you fail. They take some trial and error, which would be fine if it wasn’t for the almost instant deaths from one mistake. If that wasn’t bad enough you restart a room or two before the boss fight when you continue. You could easily end up taking more time to get back to the boss fight than being in the fight, until you know exactly what you need to do to beat them.
Blackgate is full of hidden passages, dangerous obstacles, and encrypted security panels for Batman to wonder through when he’s not crushing the skulls of every prisoner in Blackgate. Of course there is “Detective” mode, which you turn on and off by tapping the Vita’s screen, revealing an X-ray-like representation of your surrounding from the other games. You can also hold your finger on the Vita’s screen for a few seconds to open up a small circle on the screen that will stay there and move with your finger, as long as you continue to hold it on the screen. This is useful for finding hidden objects that weren’t immediately recognized in detective mode, and it’s also a pretty neat little addition to the game that can not be done on the major console titles.
Blackgate has everything needed to be just as good as its console counterparts, but along the line it stumbles, and doesn’t match up with its console brethren. Maybe it was rushed or not given the time and effort that Batman: Arkham Origins was, and put out as just the handheld counterpart. Blackgate is a great looking game, and the combat is fun for awhile, but the story is thin and mundane, and that is what should have gotten the most attention. Seeing as the gameplay is almost a carbon-copy of the other games, one would think that took the least amount of effort, and so that would have given more time to build a story. Unfortunately that is not what happened here. It also doesn’t help forcing players to jump here and there with backtracking for almost every little thing at every turn. It would be nice to see another try at a Batman game on the Vita, as the handheld sure could use more games. I just think that after the Arkham series, which has seen four titles five years, he may indeed be the hero the Vita deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
WWE 2K14 is the first time a WWE game has released under a different publisher. 2K Sports picked up the franchise following the bankruptcy of THQ, the series former publisher. The hope for wrestling fans is that this new partnership will result in better produced games because under THQ it seemed the series was simply coasting along each year. This game adds to everything that was already there, making it better and the new “30 Years of WrestleMania” mode is a major addition. By and large, WWE 2K14 is the best in the series.
Outside of the addition of a few new game modes and features, WWE 2K14 hasn’t brought too much new to the series. Now those features are great and add new levels of entertainment, but a lot of what this year’s entry offers isn’t much different than the previous ones. There are additional moves, “OMG! Moment” special moves (introduced last year) and new “catch finishers,” but this is only skin deep. There really isn’t much more to mechanics or new moves to get used to. Even after a few months of not playing WWE 13, it was easy to jump right back into this year’s entry and start beating down every opponent that dared enter the ring.
The WWE series has always had its share of glitches and bugs, but for me they have never been anything game breaking or even really annoying. It was typical for an opponent AI to do weird stuff like going out of the ring and start tearing apart the announcing table and then coming back into the ring, or in ladder matches, having the opponent taking the ladder down just to put it back up.
It seems in WWE 2K14 many of those bugs have been fixed, but the game brings its own set of new glitches, but it’s usually only a pain in the story mode when having to do things like grapple the AI out by the steps, and they will repeatedly leave the ring and climb back in. This can make it hard to do what the game requires these objectives to unlock different things from matches. With that being said, for the most part though this game does put up better fights than previous games.
The gameplay, while nothing groundbreaking, remains the solid formula of punches, kicks, high jumps, and finishers. What really matters in this game is, once again, the story mode. Last year was the first time for it and it had gamers playing through a retelling of the “Attitude Era” of the WWE. This allowed players to experience many of the most memorable matches during one of the most exciting times of the WWE. Now under the banner of 2K, developers have taken that same template used for the industry’s biggest event, WrestleMania.
Titled “30 Years of WrestleMania,” this mode covers each of the 29 previous WrestleMania shows over the course of a little more than 45 bouts. There are five eras in this mode, “Hulkamania Runs Wild,” “The New Generation,” “The Attitude Era,” “Ruthless Aggression” and finally, “Universe Era.” This means that 2K Sports got to add in many old school wrestlers, some that have never been in a game from this franchise before like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Ultimate Warrior. They are, of course, joined by many of the regular wrestlers in WWE today.
With the addition of these legends, this roster of wrestlers this year is easily the best the series has ever had. 2K also uses this roster very well in the “30 Years of WrestleMania.” You have great classic matches: like Ricky Steamboat vs. Macho Man at WrestleMania III, Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania VI and Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X. I do have to say, as an Ultimate Warrior fan, I was upset to not see the career ending match between Ultimate Warrior and Macho Man from WrestleMania VII in the game though.
All the matches are recreated incredibly with great attention to detail. This mode is not just about taking part in reliving the matches, but each match also has a set of objectives players must complete to unlock different in game things. It is in these objectives that the glitches I spoke of earlier come into play. The objectives performed are usually specific slate of moves at particular times during a match or positioning an opponent into a particular spot to set up a big moment. The details in these objectives do a good job at tugging at the heart strings and give a nice feeling of nostalgia for most of the matches. One objective type is referred to as “WrestleMania Moments” which are QTE’s used to trigger key moments that actually happened during whichever match you are taking part in. However, a good amount of these do add up to just pushing a button to see the opponent come up behind you and miss hitting you and hitting the referee instead.
Unfortunately, as the “30 years of WrestleMania goes on,” the matches start to drag a bit, and in the later years there are more and more of the objectives. The problem with the objectives is even though they can take you back as you travel down memory lane, most of the time they add up, and sometimes players don’t control the situation. As more of these are happening, the matches become more about spectating than participating.
Once you get into “Ruthless Aggression” era and into the current “Universe Era”, the matches become much less memorable and frankly, annoying. It’s irritating and ultimately exhaustive as the mode gets into more three-way and four-way matches, and harder to pull off historical objectives. It also doesn’t help some of the later matches end up feeling more repetitive than nostalgic. There was no need to have all three Stone Cold vs. The Rock matches from three different WrestleMania events in here and it didn’t need both John Cena vs. The Rock matches in it either.
Of course it could be said that some of the newer matches haven’t aged long enough to even build the same reputation as many of the older matches have. Outside of those few faults, the “30 Years of WrestleMania” is, by far, the best mode this series has to offer and it will be interesting what they do next year to top it. Maybe they’ll pull from another long running Pay-Per-View such as Summer Slam and we can relive amazing matches like Hulk Hogan vs. Zeus which took place after the movie No Holds Barred.
There is also a side mode, if you will, that is part of the “30 years of WrestleMania” called “The Streak”. As most fans know The Undertaker is 21-0 at WrestleMania and in this mini-game players can either try their best to take down a super hard version of Undertaker, or play as the deadman and take on wrestlers one after another hanging on as long as possible. There isn’t really anything deep here, just 2K Sports trying to do something special for WrestleMania by throwing in a little bonus for the one wrestler that is still undefeated at WrestleMania, and it turned out pretty nicely.
Once you step outside of WrestlemMania-land, the lack of changes become apparent. There are a few changes to the “Universe” mode. You still run week-to-week shows, set up matches and play through the monthly pay-Per-View. The “King of the Ring” has been added as an option for a event, which is something that was added after it debuted in the game last year, but this year, they left it out of Universe Mode. There is also a new rivalry system where you can have one-on-one or tag-teams fight it out over a course of time that you set up. Rivalries can be four weeks, eight weeks, or twelve weeks long and can be for championships as well. It is nothing too grand, but does make Universe Mode that much more entertaining. Players can set up other tournaments as well, including gold rush tournaments for different championship belts, and even user-created belts, which admittedly, come off looking cheap and made of plastic.
The creation section is largely untouched and really offers nothing new, except gamers can recreate a handful of existing wrestlers. You can not do this for all wrestlers however; just a few hand picked ones such as John Cena. This option is here assuming you’ll create different outfits for these wrestlers. I guess if you want John Cena in tights and not “jorts” for a change, you can now do that, although it seems quite pointless. Also doing this does not add to the already existing wrestler. You have to use a created wrestler slot for doing this, which, by now, is strange. I am sure in WWE 2K15 that will finally change, even though it is long over due. I remember being able to change anyone’s attire way back in WrestleMania 2000 on the N64. Also there is still the same old stuff of creating move sets, rings, finishers and so on, but what I have dabbled in is unchanged.
WWE 2K14 is by far the best game in the WWE series thanks the great roster of old school wrestlers, and the “30 Years of WrestleMania.” It does seem with this game that we might be seeing the start of something more freshly than the same old mindless brawler Yuke’s has been turning out for the last several years. It would be nice if 2K Sports keeps them putting real effort into the making of this annualized franchise. There is also the fact that new consoles are coming out soon, and hopefully with that we will see something totally new with the next installment in this series. No matter though, this game is a blast and was well worth the wait. Even with the problems there are and the lack of big changes, the next game certainly has big shoes to fill.