'Batman: Arkham Origins' Review: Brilliance Outweighs Frustrations

In the latest 'Batman: Arkham' saga, Warner Bros. Montreal takes the reins for a prequel that allows you to develop as that character does.

Graphics and Audio

Graphics

"Arkham Origins" looks nearly identical graphically to the prior two games in the series, as all three run on the same game engine and use shared assets. The larger-than-ever city shines with a coat of white snow thanks to the Christmas Eve setting, and the snow leaves footprints (or body prints) while you explore or fight. It makes for a nice contrast to the usually dark and grey Gotham City, without taking away the mystery of this perpetual nighttime.

Characters have been redesigned to fit the younger, earlier-in-the-timeline needs of the story's setting, but are all familiar enough for fans of the game or comic book franchise to pick out of a lineup. Batman's armor plating is thicker on his costume, which fits his less-confident and more-brutal fighting style, but Joker's grin is as creepy as ever. The creators have done about as much as they can with the Unreal 3 game engine and the current generation of game systems. I can't wait to see what they do with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions.

Audio

This game's music will strike players because of how well it suits the mood and because of its familiarity – it pulls themes from the prior "Arkham" games and provides some nice winks and nods to film and TV versions of Batman. The tension-inducing, rising violin for Joker, the staccato pulse for Bane – it's a beautiful score that carries the action ever forward.

The voice acting is top-notch, too. Many people, including the new actors, were worried about replacing Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Luckily, Roger Craig Smith (Batman) and Troy Baker (Joker) lead a voice cast that makes it easy to forget you're playing a game and not watching a high-end film.

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Baker's Joker approximates Hamill's, but with an edgier quality that genuinely sends shivers down the spine as he plays fast and loose with the rules of morality. Smith's Batman lends a more genuine quality to the character than I've heard in years – he's more relatable, and that makes the emotional moments that much more affecting. Voices new and familiar pepper the rest of the supporting cast (I don't want to give too many nods and ruin any fun surprises), and all are expertly acted. Any worry fans had should be dispelled within moments, especially once the Joker comes into play.