With millions of fans and tremendous critical acclaim, the third installment of the "Batman: Arkham" video game series arrives Friday (October 25) with a lot of pressure on its shoulders — particularly as the series has switched hands from creators Rocksteady Studios, to Warner Bros. Games Montreal. But fans can rest easy: "Batman: Arkham Origins" channels what was great about the first two installments and layers in a nice, simple prequel story about a younger Batman dealing with his first big threats, and learning that he can't be a one-man army.
Thanks to the good folks at Warner Brothers, MTV News has been hands-on with the game for the past week, playing through the main story and a good portion of the side missions. Whether you're a new fan ior a die-hard, here's everything you need to know about "Batman: Arkham Origins."
He's A Younger, Tougher Batman The game takes place about two years after Bruce Wayne has become Batman... But this isn't an untrained fighter learning the ropes: he's a tank. Heavily armored and weaponed out the wazoo, this is a Batman who hasn't yet learned to hold back. If you're looking for bone-crunching fights and some serious takedowns, this is the Batman game for you. There's even a point where Batman gets chastised by Captain Gordon (he isn't Commissioner yet) for leaving a trail of broken bones in his wake, and Batman breaks him in half. Just kidding.
There's A Ton of Bad Guys The main thrust of the plot is that mob boss Black Mask escapes from Blackgate prison, and offers $50 million for Batman's head on a platter. This leads to a group of assassins hitting up Gotham City on Christmas Eve to take him down, including comic book mainstays Bane, Deathstroke, Deadshot and more.
But it doesn't end there. The corrupt cops on Gotham's police force are also looking for the payday, meaning nowhere is safe in the city. And over the course of the game, you tussle with an expansive side mission involving The Riddler (called Enigma here), as well as a surreal showdown with the Mad Hatter, The Penguin and even a comic book b-lister named Anarky.
As is brought up multiple times throughout the game, this is showing when Gotham City went from being overrun by the mob, to being overrun by a different, more dangerous brand of criminal. If you saw "The Dark Knight" — and we know you did — you've got the idea.
...And There's The Joker You can't have a Batman game without The Joker, right? We're going to keep a secret exactly how the clown prince of crime fits into the plot, and allow you to discover it for yourself. But suffice to say that the game is called "Arkham Origins," and not "Batman Origins" for a reason. This is even more of Joker's origin story here than Bruce Wayne's. Though don't worry: he still cries over his dumb dead parents a bunch of times. GET OVER IT BRUCE.
Boss Battles With any video game, it's all about finishing the puzzles and stages so you can get to the boss battles, and the ones in "Arkham Origins" are epic. In particular, the showdown with Deathstroke early in the game is a masterwork of choreography and patience, while the fight with new character the Electrocutioner is one of the best takes on a boss battle we've ever played. And the end of the game stops just short of being repetitive (you end up facing two enemies you've faced before) by switching things up and emphasizing stealth over brute force.
Gameplay Hey, here's an aspect we haven't really addressed yet: what's the gameplay like? The main story mission is pretty straightforward. There's the random, relatively easily solved puzzle here and there, but for the most part the design of the game forces you in the direction you need to go — you won't be getting lost in any mazes here.
On the other hand, you can definitely get lost in the humungous, open world of Gotham City. The streets are locked down to residents, and filled with thugs to battle and missions to pursue. But even just spending time exploring Gotham's districts, covered in wintry snow (it's set on Christmas Eve, of course) is exciting. The design is a beautiful mix of Christopher Nolan's realistic Gotham, and the gothic spires of Tim Burton's two movies, so swinging around the city with your grappling hook makes the player feel like you are Batman. Just don't go around grabbing your friends in real life, shouting, "Where is he?" in their faces, and you'll be all good.
Multiplayer & Upgrades Two aspects of the game we didn't get to try, that will definitely extend gameplay virtually indefinitely for fans are an upgradeable combat system that opens up even more combat abilities and costumes, each with their own special upgrades; and multiplayer gaming. On the multiplayer end, you'll be able to go online and play as Batman, Robin, or even villains Bane and The Joker. On the upgradable end, you'll be able to even play new missions as Deathstroke. Point being, you'll be playing this game far beyond when the story mission ends.
Batman Just Needs To Say "Thank You" It's funny, but we didn't think we'd ever play a game whose main emotional thrust was Batman learning to be polite... But that's the backbone of the game, and it actually works rather brilliantly. At the beginning, Batman is at odds with everyone from Alfred, to the Gotham Police. By the end, he's learned he can't do it alone, he needs to ask for help; and also to say "thank you" every once in a while. Roger Craig Smith, who voices Batman in the game, nicely transitions Bruce from Christian Bale-style Dark Knight into something softer, and more in line with Kevin Conroy's voice work from the many animated series (and two previous "Arkham" games).
Stay Through The Credits This may not be a Marvel movie, but we definitely recommend you stay through the credits of the game, after you finish the main story mode. There's a pretty amazing song (really), and an exchange between pundits on the radio that sets up the previous two games. And post credits... Well, you'll just have to see for yourself.
This Story Could Only Be Told In Video Games We've seen Batman's origins multiple times, from movies, to animated shows, to comic books, and more. But this is an origin story that could have only been told in video games. Encompassing, expansive and immersive, the story pulls you in multiple directions at the same time, but all ties into the development of the Batman we know and love. Only by living in Batman's skin for hours — or days — at a time do you feel like you're getting something new from a character that has been around for almost 75 years.
"Batman: Arkham Origins" is available in stores everywhere today from Warner Brothers Montreal.