"Arkham Origins" is a free-to-play mobile game, released last week for iOS devices, in which players take the role of Batman and punch, kick and head-butt through waves of enemies.
The game also serves as a tie-in to "Batman: Arkham Origins," a console game for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U and PC, which will be released Oct. 25.
The confusingly similar names are definitely intentional. "Arkham Origins," the mobile game, can stand alone as a fun, Bat-tastic fighting game. But its main reason for being is to get people excited about the main event: "Batman: Arkham Origins," the highly anticipated third installment in the "Arkham" series of console video games.
Like most fighting games, the premise of "Arkham Origins" is simple. In fact, if you've played "Injustice: Gods Among Us," the mobile tie-in to the hit console game of the same name, then you already know how to play.
When in an "Arkham Origins" fight, tap the screen to perform basic attacks. A button in the lower left makes Batman go on guard, which reduces the damage received, and a button on the lower right toggles between "Assault Stance," the main fighting position, and "Guarded Stance," where Batman takes and deals out less damage.
Both positions have their own special skills, activated by tapping the button on the lower center, that either deal extra damage or boost Batman's health or defense.
Different enemies require different tactics. The assassin called Deadshot, the first level's boss, will fire bullets at Batman, triggering a slow-motion scene where players must tap each bullet to make Batman dodge them.
Fights earn experience points, which cause Batman to grow levels and increase his attack and health bars, and Upgrade Points, which allow Batman to unlock and upgrade new skills or purchase new Batsuits.
A second type of currency, called Waynetech Points, comes much more rarely, and can be used to purchase skills and suits as well as revive Batman if he's losing a fight.
Like most mobile games, these power-ups become available for purchase long before you've earned enough Upgrade Points or Waynetech Points to get them from playing the game alone. That's where this free-to-play game makes its money — you can purchase more of either kind of point via in-app purchases.
The game also has a Stamina meter, with 10 slots. Each fight costs two bars to start, and it takes eight minutes for each bar to replenish itself.
This means that the first time you start up the game, you'll have about 20 minutes of gameplay time before you either need to wait for a while, or purchase more Stamina with Waynetech points.
This, too, is standard in free-to-play mobile games, but at least "Arkham Origins" gives a wonderful narrative explanation for this frustrating trope.
Storywise, the game is similar to the basic plot of "Batman: Arkham Origins." The crime lord known as Black Mask is in town, and Batman has to beat up his goons. These minor missions have names like "Saving Christmas," and a few sentences explain that you're rescuing toys from a shelter or stopping a robbery, though the missions consist entirely of fighting generic thugs.
Once you've beaten up enough goons, an assassin will take notice and a boss battle will ensue. You'll encounter assassins like the sharpshooter Deadshot and the high-voltage power hitter Electrocutioner as you fight your way through the different areas of Gotham.
The game's art style is similar to that of "Batman: Arkham Origins" and the previous "Arkham" video games. The emphasis is on realism, which in Batman's Gotham means lots of metal and gray.
The interface is designed to look like that of earlier "Arkham" games as well, ultimately calling to mind Batman's famous Batcomputer from the comics: blue tones, geometrically ordered boxes and right angles.
The highlight of "Arkham Asylum's" art style is Batman's suit — or rather, suits. Batman starts out looking the same as he does in the full console game "Batman: Arkham Origins," wearing an armored but slightly roughshod-looking suit designed to highlight Bruce's youth and inexperience.
As you play the mobile game, however, you'll unlock different costumes that hark back to Batman's many fashion statements throughout his 75-year pop-culture career, from the purple-toned bodysuit worn by Adam West in the '60s live-action TV show, to the sleek "Batman Beyond" suit worn by Bruce's protégé Terry McGinnis in the 1999 animated series.
Players who register both the mobile "Arkham Origins" and the full "Batman: Arkham Origins" game using a Warner Brothers ID will unlock the cold-weather Batsuit seen in the graphic novel "Superman: Red Son."
With regard to graphics, mobile is once again the key word. The graphics are great — for a mobile game. For a free-to-play mobile game in particular, the graphics are excellent.
Compared to console games, the gameplay looks like something you'd see on the Xbox 360 circa 2006, with brief, more polished cutscenes interspersed throughout. Like the popular "Infinity Blade" mobile fighting games, "Arkham Origins" runs on the Unreal Engine, so the animation is fluid and detailed.
Requirements and Performance
"Arkham Origins" is currently available for the iPhone 4 and later devices, and the iPad 2 and later devices, as long as they're running iOS 5 or higher. At present, a bug is preventing it from being playable on the fourth-generation iPod Touch. The game requires 492 MB of storage space to play.
Developer NetherRealm Studios announced that an Android version of the game will be forthcoming.
This reviewer played the game on an iPad 2 running iOS 7 and encountered no bugs or hangups.
Each area of Gotham features "Most Wanted" challenges that encourage players to replay in order to beat their high scores.
But as with most mobile games, "Arkham Origins" is not so much concerned with replayability as it is with longevity. You can bet that there will be updates, new suits and new missions for at least a month or so after the release of "Batman: Arkham Origins."
If a game is free, that means that on a core structural level, it's designed to make you 1) want more than what the publishers are giving you, and 2) pay extra to get it.
"Arkham Origins" does that and more. Aside from the many in-app purchases of time, stamina, power-ups and suits, there's one major out-of-app purchase that the game really wants you to buy: the full "Batman: Arkham Origins" game.
That's not to say that the mobile "Arkham Origins" is just a commercial for the main game. It does stand on its own as a casual mobile title, but generating excitement for "Batman: Arkham Origins" is a large reason for this game's existence, and it's important to recognize that before you play.
Whether you've already decided you're going to get "Batman: Arkham Origins," or you're still on the fence, or you're just looking for a way to kill time (or violently incapacitate time, rather; Batman doesn't kill), then there's no reason not to pick up "Arkham Origins."
It's a solid, entertaining, free-to-play Batman-filled mobile game, with some great tie-ins to "Batman: Arkham Origins" to boot.
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Requirements: Apple device running iOS 5 or higher, 492 MB of memory
Release Date: Oct. 17, 2013
|High production value for a mobile game, let alone a free-to-play one
|Batman. Lots of Batman.
|Typical free-to-play limitations and paywalls
|·Connectivity to "Batman: Arkham Origins"
|Makes you want to play "Batman: Arkham Origins"
Get the BEST of Tom’s Guide daily right in your inbox: Sign up now!
Upgrade your life with the Tom’s Guide newsletter. Subscribe now for a daily dose of the biggest tech news, lifestyle hacks and hottest deals. Elevate your everyday with our curated analysis and be the first to know about cutting-edge gadgets.
Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.