That headline might seem hyperbolic, seeing as all three of the main video games in the Batman “Arkham” series have been phenomenal. “Arkham Asylum” gave Batman fans the first glimpse of what it could be like to actually be the Caped Crusader. The game introduced the idea of detection in addition to the gadgets and fisticuffs. It also reunited the two main talents draws from Batman: The Animated Series, the voices of the Dark Knight and the Joker, respectively: Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. Their voices are synonymous with those characters. Hamill may even be better known as the Joker than for Luke Skywalker at this point. They also managed to wrangle cartoon writer Paul Dini. There was a built-in respect before anyone even inserted a disc.
"Arkham City" built upon the original model but still felt a bit restricted. "Batman: Arkham Origins" opens up Gotham completely. The world is more than twice as big as "City", making it feel as close to patrolling the skylines of Gotham as would be possible digitally. The graphics are awe-inspiring, as always. There are plenty of detractors out there that point to the lack of innovation to the fighting and predator mode. While this might be true, what more can be done with it? The game delivers exactly what was expected. Those same people would likely complain if there were changes to those mechanics, saying that it was perfect before. The one complaint that might have held water would be that, in this prequel, Conroy, Hamill, and Dini were out.
Starting with the new Joker, it may sound like sacrilege, but Troy Baker is amazing. His voice is nearly identical to that of Hamill's. There is no fall-off. He even has a larger part in this than Hamill had ever had in any "Batman" project. That's no one's fault, per se, but his performance is so chilling that it almost feels wasted on a video game. Conroy's replacement doesn't fair as well. Roger Craig Smith can not quite approximate the richness that Conroy brought to the role. That can be easily explained away by the fact this game takes place early in the Batman's crime-fighting career.
The score by Christopher Drake is also top notch. Drake has done the music for many of DC's animated features including the perfect adaptation of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. His style evokes a bit of Hans Zimmer's score from the Christopher Nolan films. The themes are very cinematic.
Where the game really sets itself apart from all of the others is the story. Like the landscape of Gotham, it is huge. The yin and yang that is the Batman/Joker dynamic gets wonderfully explored. The introduction of so many of the villains doesn't come off as cluttered as one would expect. You get a real grasp of the developing relationships. The game's story may take place over the course of one night but it never feels like that because of the sheer volume of game there is to accomplish. No one (human) could possibly finish it in a day's time. This may all seem secondary in a video game but is immeasurably important to the most hardcore Batfans.
As if all of that weren't enough, they have even teased at a spin-off game. Writers Ryan Galletta and M. Dooma Wendschuh ("Assassin's Creed") did a masterful job making a compelling Christmas time story. Creative director Eric Holmes had a tough balancing act with such a large scale production but handled it beautifully and even may be launching an entire DC Comics-related video game universe. It may be the third installment but, in more ways than one, "Arkham Origins" is where Batman truly begins.