Not too long ago I was invited to check out some of the Warner Brothers' newest on the Dark Knight and was left feeling with a warm, tingly feeling that has me even more pumped than before. While many might have grimaced with Rocksteady's departure from the series they created (I'm just as guilty here folks) rest assured that Batman is indeed in good hands and "Origins" is shaping up to be a another knockout for the seasoned franchise.
First a little background. "Origins" takes our cowled friend all the way back to his budding vigilantism. He's proved himself as a protector of the night but is still an outlier with the Gotham PD. Entering his second year on the scene, Bats has time and time and again been able to conquer the means streets while simultaneously skirting the law. Yet, he's never had to deal with anyone bigger than the common thief with the occasional drug lord to take out.
It all changes on this fateful night.
Tired of being manhandled and thwarted at every turn, the crimelord Black Mask reaches his breaking point putting out a massive hit on Batman. Of course this attracts professional killers the likes of which Gotham is not prepared. Deathstroke, Deadshot, Firefly, and more (eight hit-men, in fact) show up to collect. Furthermore, crazier villains, such as Joker, want a slice of the fun. This makes it one tough night for Batman as he's never had to deal with a criminal element of this caliber. This is the point where he becomes more than a weirdo in a mask and transforms into the Caped Crusader, Gotham's protector.
The section I saw was a familiar one for the "Arkham" series. Without going into a ton of detail Batman needs to interrogate Penguin who works an illegal firearms ring from his massive ship. If you've played the other "Arkham" then expect more of the same. Batman brutally beats baddies beneath his black boots (sorry, I had.. a... thing... there). Anyways, the melee mechanics are exactly as you would expect, with a series of attacks and counter-attacks stringed together in punishing combos. There was also a stealth section where you can use ever more suspiciously placed gargoyle statues to get the jump on unsuspecting thugs. It's all standard for the series and looks just as exciting and intense as the last two game. Fans will be pleased.
Eventually rooting out Penguin (still voiced by Nolan North, BTW), Batman gets a surprise visit from the legendary bounty hunter, Deathstroke culminating in a one on one boss battle.
Deathstroke isn't any ordinary hired muscle and the battle was equally nerve-wracking for the demonstrator as it was for me (it was a hands-off demo). Each punch missed was felt by a return blow. Deathstrok isn't a slouch at hand to hand and you'll have to be at the top of your game to overcome his assault. He's able to counter your moves and anticipate your style. Think of it as a master class in ass-kicking and the final exam is him. This was a test of sorts for Batman which covered all the lessons he's learned so far in the game. It's an intelligent and thoughtful way of demonstrating growth in a character and as a player.
What I appreciated most about the Deathstroke fight was the brutal and cinematic nature. During key moments as the two brawlers closed in the camera would kind of pan towards the action creating a more refined visual style. The overall fight was a mix of standard movies and QTEs. This isn't to say you'll lazily punch in pre-ordered commands the entire time. you'll still have to knock him around, employing learned skills. "Batman: AO" has a leveling mechanic based on your proficiency in defeating miscreants which you can dump points into a variety of skills based on your preferred style.
Also, there weren't in any mobs of baddies to have to pummel between change ups in his tactics. Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder when I boss hangs back throwing waves of cannon fodder to chip away your health as they laugh behind cover. I can't vouch for the other boss battles but the Deathstroke one felt very natural. It was almost a personal test of strength and resolve between the two. Ultimately the WBI rep bested Deathstroke and Batman got a new gadget. Each villain will obviously have their own tactics so expect Batman to have to adapt throughout his dark night.
"Batman: Arkham Origins" looks like another winner and any reservations you might have due to the change in developer can be squashed. Though the gameplay is more of what made the series popular, WB Interactive has added their own flair to Batman with a grounded origin story. Look for it this October on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.