For a brief moment during the opening sequence in the new Batman video game I felt genuine excitement for this, the third game in the "Arkham" series from Warner Bros. Interactive.
Watching a younger Bruce Wayne suit up as a fledgling Dark Knight and whoosh away in his sleek Batwing jet while a young Jim Gordon tells TV reporters there "is no Bat man" gave me chills much the same way Frank Miller's graphic novels from 1980s did.
And the good news is there is plenty of new bells and whistles in "Batman: Arkham Origins" -- out last week for Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U and PC -- to keep those familiar with the series occupied for hours.
The game developers at Warner Bros. Games Montreal created a fluid, hauntingly-beautiful game and grim looking Gotham City that resembled the fictional big city as seen in Tim Burton's Batman movies. Origins maintains one of the best fighting systems, allowing gamers to cut through waves of street thugs with ease. This is more than satisfying after a hectic work day. They also added features that allow the World's Greatest Detective to reconstruct crime scenes and travel between boroughs by Batwing.
On the downside, Origins, a prequel to the previous two games, lacks the sincere dark tone of Miller's comic work or the shadowy feelings of the other games.
In my mind, however, the game's biggest failing may be the opportunity the game designers wasted chance at giving its characters added depth. Unfortunately, let's say that the recently-released Grand Theft Auto: V has lowered Arkham's stock in my eyes. Let's call it the GTA:V Effect.
GTA: V, released last month to loving reviews across the globe, raised the bar for all video games, putting its storytelling on par with well-made feature-length films and TV shows. It treats the story, it's characters and their dialogue seriously. In a world where games aspire to be "Man of Steel," "The Avengers" or "Gravity," GTA aspired to be "Breaking Bad" "Dexter," or even "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Origins may score points for it's gorgeous gothic facade, but it fails to transcend the video game genre as GTA did. And folks, make no mistake, all video games in the future will be less mindless button mashers and more harrowing urban or fantasy tales that you control.
While the Arkham series has always had a cinematic flair -- and Origins is no different -- it doesn't make this world feel alive, as you glide from one meaningless brawl to the next.
Also, this Batman, voiced by series newcomer Roger Craig Smith, feels the same as earlier games -- the same hulking grizzled, unshaven wraith we've seen since Batman: Arkham Asylum. But isn't this the young, pre-Batmobile Caped Crusader? Where's the youthful angst and early insecurity? None of it is reflected in the writing or the voice acting. Even his first encounters with the Joker, the Penguin or even Bane feel bland and manufactured.
Origins is still massive in scope, but misses out on the complex, character-driven storytelling that is all the rage right now. Going forward, all games, from recycled 1980s favorites to grand action franchises, will have to up its cinematic storytelling, especially as we move on to a new generation of game consoles.Fans of the original will still love Origins and the new Batman costumes, and playable characters (Deathstroke is awesome) and the sprawling upgrade menu.
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