rAge 2013: The Snow Is Fresh But Arkham Origins Feels Warm
The current arc which I’m following in the Batman comics is Year Zero. It’s essentially a retread of Year One but with Batman’s origins being altered somewhat and given a fresh telling. Much of it is familiar but very different. It typifies what can be done when the right kind of talent takes something you’re very familiar with and imbues it with their own creative spark or vision.
Batman: Arkham Origins may not be retreading the familiar origin story of the Dark Knight but it is probably as close as any game developer is willing to get to the hallowed sacred ground of Year One. What we do get is a Batman who is still relatively green and only in his second year of crime fighting.
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He has yet to face many of his most famous rogues let alone form a relationship with Captain Gordon (he’s not a commissioner just yet).
I picked up the gamepad and immediately began controlling the game with the controls I’d become so familiar with through playing Arkham City. The developer may have changed but the control scheme is one of the many things that certainly didn’t. It was practically intuitive and since I barely had to think about what my hands were doing to the controller, I was able to give the game world my full attention and soak up every detail.
I came to a simple conclusion very quickly: by God this game looks pretty. The demo at rAge was running on PCs but the game looked absolutely beautiful for a current-gen game. The snow gave the world this fresh and crisp aesthetic that really made the colours in the environment stand out. Yes, there is plenty of colour and vibrance in the design of Arkham Origins’ Gotham City. Overall it’s still a grim place but not nearly as grungy as Arkham City. It’s this visual difference that sets the game apart from its predecessor as far as your eyeballs are concerned and even whilst traversing the rooftops of Old Gotham (where Arkham City will eventually exist) you have to pay close attention to pick out familiar landmarks from the last game because they look so different surrounded by colour and not falling apart. It was a great move to bring this familiar yet different section of Gotham City to the new game.
I was on a rooftop and swiftly dove off because I’m Batman *cue Hans Zimmer*
What immediately astonished me was the veticality of this city. Building are far higher than previously and almost tall enough to recreate that cool scene from the Dark Knight. They’re certainly large enough for you to glide great distances before swooping down on enemies and launching into the (again) familiar combat. It’s nigh on impossible to tell the difference in combat from Arkham City. It’s the same free-flow system with counter-attacks and a very economical fighting style from Batman. Perhaps this was a tad more fluid and faster? I could just be fabricating some difference in my mind.
It may just be me but I’m not a fan of the slightly busier design for Batman’s suit although that cowl is certainly well-crafted. Since neither Deathstroke nor Joker (not even Quizmaster) showed up within a few minutes of me sitting down to play the demo, I opted to head for the mission marker.
On the way I may have scaled some more really tall buildings.
The mission, it turned out, was an Invisible Predator sort of affair where I was tasked with clearing the room of enemies stealthily. This is something I adored in the previous two Arkham games. Swapping from one gargoyle to the next, sneaking up on enemies and planting explosive gel. The thing is, that’s exactly what I was doing here, in this new brand new game. The only new thing I really got to play with was the remote bat-claw which is a neat addition but not a game-changer (hehe). It allows you to attach enemies to objects or each other. Alternatively use it to create a tightrope in order to traverse a space.
That’s really all the difference there was to be noted before the demo ended. There’s a fully reworked detective mode but there was no avenue to experiment with that in this demo.
Some people actually thought they were seeing Arkham City being played and I don’t blame them.
While I had plenty of fun playing the demo, I’m a self-proclaimed Batfreak and someone less inclined to adopt body armour and a vigilante lifestyle may tire of this oppressive familiarity.
Personally, the game felt different enough to be a fresh experience and may offer a lot more than its predecessor in terms of variety and story. That’s all speculation though.
You know how all the things you’re accustomed to have this sort of innate warmth around them? Your bed, your favourite cereal bowl, your car etc. Meanwhile all things foreign have this almost alien coldness to them. It’s barely tangible but rather something you perceive. Well, Arkham Origins feels a little too warm.
As it stands, Arkham Origins is a game that certainly has its own aesthetic to set itself apart from Arkham City, Warner Bros Montreal have created a game that matches its predecessor for quality and as a result we should get a good game. Whether that will come bundled with a cloying sense of over-familiarity remains to be seen.