When it was announced that Warner Brothers Games Montreal would develop the third Arkham game, fans had every right to be concerned.
Rocksteady defied all stigmas associated with licensed games when they released Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. The game not only turned out to be the best Batman game of all time (at the time), but it was also hands down, the best licensed game to ever grace a console.
At the core of the experience was the free-flow combat system, which made for some fluid and cinematic combat that played out like a choreographed Hollywood fight scene. Just as impressive was the stealth segments dubbed, "predator mode," which just as the name suggests, turned Batman into the hunter as he terrorized and neutralized the bad guys swiftly and in true Batman fashion. For the first time ever, players got to experience the full spectrum of the Dark Knight.
Then came Arkham City in 2011, which exceeded expectations and bested Arkham Asylum in every aspect. It was the full realization of the concepts Rocksteady had envisioned when they first started working on the original. Everything came together perfectly, from the refined gameplay mechanics to the the epic storyline that boasted one of the most unforgettable and satisfying endings in the history of gaming.
It also left Warner Brothers Games Montreal very little to work with when Rocksteady passed them the proverbial torch. Arkham Origins released on October 25th and received respectable scores but nowhere near the universal acclaim of its predecessors, and perhaps for good reason.
The game feels very much like an Arkham City expansion. Players now have access to the whole of Gotham City, but it doesn't feel like it. In fact, one of its biggest criticisms is the lifelessness of the city. Arkham Origins is an open-world game and yet its streets are without any pedestrians or traffic, which is conveniently explained as a city-wide curfew due to a blizzard.
The plot serves as little more than a convenient excuse to throw as many villains as possible at Batman on Christmas Eve. These are valid reasons Arkham Origins has not gotten the warm welcome the first two games did. I'm not going to argue over aggregate scores on Metacritic, but I will say that in terms of gameplay, Arkham Origins may be the best in the series.
Although it feels nearly identical to to Arkham City, you can still see the little refinements such as Batman assuming a fighting stance during combat rather than simply walking around and the more natural presentation of the stealth sequences. However, the biggest improvement comes in the boss battles, which have always been the franchise's weakest link.
My biggest problem with them in the past is that Batman abandons the awesome free-flow combat system and transforms into a little wuss during the boss battles. Rather than engaging the enemy with his elite hand-to-hand skills, he is reduced to a frail little coward who has to run around and let the environment do all the damage to the enemy.
This is no longer the case in Arkham Origins. You can put the beatdown on the bosses the way a vigilante superhero ought to; with your fists. There'll be quick time sequences sprinkled throughout, but for the most part you'll have the satisfaction of directly dishing out violence. To me, this is worth the price of admission and definitely worth overlooking the game's obvious shortcomings.
I've had my fill of epic and "game of the year" material from the first two Arkham titles, which due to their highly-polished productions made it easier for me to get past the disappointing and often anti-climactic boss battles. But now I just want to have gameplay. I want combat and lots of it, particularly against the main villains, which Arkham Origins delivers in spades.