"Batman: Arkham Origins" launches today. But does the game live up to its impressive lineage?
There may not be a new "Dark Knight" movie in theaters this year, but Batman fans can still sink their teeth into "Batman: Arkham Origins," the third installment in the celebrated line of Warner Bros. games out this Friday.
While many video games based on popular comic book franchises are seen as lazy cash-grabs that only diehard fans will pick up, the "Arkham" series has always stood out from the pack thanks to its excellent beat-'em-up combat system and unique, cartoonish art style. But even loyal fans of the series are wary about "Origins" — while the first two games were developed by the British company Rocksteady Studios, Warner Bros. handed things over to an internal team at its Montreal gaming headquarters for the new one.
Eric Holmes, the director on "Arkham Origins," told NBC News that he took the opportunity to shake things up with the new game by placing it earlier in Batman's chronology. He also hired two acclaimed videogame voice actors — Troy Baker (Joel in "The Last of Us") and Roger Craig Smith (Ezio in "Assassin's Creed") — to play the Joker and Batman.
"I'm not just talking about changing the timeline," Holmes said. "Our game is very much about this formative part of these characters lives. We wanted to make sure they sounded younger, sounded less familiar to players."
Smith admitted that he felt a lot of pressure when he was first stepping into the role of the Dark Knight simply because of all the other acclaimed actors who have put on the Batsuit in the past — be it in films, television series, or other games.
"I didn't really have a lot of confidence in the early stages of this game, because we were still exploring it," Smith said. "But that's what we had to finesse, because a lot of people are familiar with the on-camera persona, and they've got their own set of opinions about it."
Now that the game is out there, did the new team live up to "Arkham's" legacy?
Judging by the early reviews, the answer is ... sort of. Game critics were happy to jump into the dark and gloomy world of Arkham once again and beat up bad guys with all of The Bat's wonderful toys. But many felt that this new Arkham was a shadow of its former self.
Kotaku's Evan Narcisse said: "Playing Origins feels like listening to a great cover band," adding that the game "is an incremental installment, not a transformative one." GameSpot called it "deeply predictable," while Polygon said the gameplay is "sloppier and less refined than the Batman we've become accustomed to."
The first two "Arkham" games are considered two of the best games of the current console generation, however, so for many fans who just want more of a good thing, "Origins" will likely suffice. As the popular gaming site IGN put it: "Batman games are like pizza: Even when they’re not very good, they’re still pretty good."
"Batman: Arkham Origins" is now available for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and PC.
Yannick LeJacq is a contributing writer for NBC News who has also covered technology and games for Kill Screen, The Wall Street Journal and The Atlantic. You can follow him on Twitter at @YannickLeJacq and reach him by email at: Yannick.LeJacq@nbcuni.com.
First published October 25 2013, 9:56 AM