This is a prequel that shows the shape of how Arkham came to be. It's not a funny tale ... but it does have a Joker.
The game jumps back to a day when a much younger Batman was winging his way in and out of the shadows to take down common criminals. After about two years of on-the-job training he's mastered all his signature moves, purchased all the high-tech gear and vehicles needed, and already put millions into the full renovation of a cave beneath his stately manor. The Dark Knight is now good enough at his new gig that the bad guys decide it's time to strike back at their shadow-loving adversary.
A baddie named the Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on the Dark Knight's pointy-eared head. And a cavalcade of assassins―including Killer Croc, Deathstroke, Firefly, Copperhead, Sheba and even Bane―all come storming into Gotham to claim the prize.
And the Joker? Well, he's ready to kill everyone and anyone whether there's a reward or not. So it's time for formal introductions to be made, set to commence on a dark and snowy Christmas Eve: Joker, meet Batman. Batman, meet Joker, with acknowledgements made to his parade of pathological pals.
Swing! Solve! Smack!
From a gameplay perspective, Arkham Origins has a very similar feel to its predecessors (Arkham Asylum and Arkham City). Our black-cowled hero can grapple-hook up and over obstacles, swing stealthily from high-perched cover to cover and snap his cape into wing form to glide over the wintery cityscape. We're given an improved version of Detective Mode that helps Batman search a crime scene for clues in the form of small crime-puzzle pieces around a burnt-out room or rubble-strewn street. (You use them to reconstruct a visual playback of a criminal's actions or a victim's misfortune.)
And, of course, with all the swooping, spying and puzzle-solving, there are quite a few high-flying third-person smackdowns too. The game features a well-designed combat system of timed attack and defense moves that players use when wading into a crowd of bad guys. (Which happens quite often since heavily muscled thugs and heavily armed crooked cops are on every rooftop and corner.)
Batman's brand of beat-'em-up―whether delivered in the form of a surprise attack from a dark corner or vent, or a leap down from a nearby rooftop―is very martial arts-focused. And that breeds full-body flips, head-slams, armored fist jabs to the face, and an occasional snapped bone or two. Add in well-timed grappling-hook pulls, batarang chucks and some later-game electro-charged blasts, and the impressive choreographed brawl becomes wince-worthy, sometimes even torturous.
The Darkness of Dementia
Also like past games, Batman's brutal manhandlings pale in comparison to his villainous foes' handiwork. This cast of crazies is kept in check by the game's T rating, but only barely. We peer into a creepy, dark world packed with pistol-whip beatings, torture (a lit cigarette jammed in someone's eye, for instance), electrocutions, massive explosions and murder victims getting shot, stabbed, having their necks snapped, and being burned and blown back through a brick wall by improvised explosives.
Batman has long been committed to never taking a life, but even in that category, this game pushes the limits. The Joker sets up a no-win challenge where he or another villain must die. And for a moment it appears that the beleaguered rookie Batman does kill.
The abovementioned T rating also takes a hit from illegal narcotics, scantily clad buxom females and foul-mouthed cretins. While Batman is utterly focused and unflappable, killers, gang members and crooked cops are all too ready to screech out their anger with language that includes "d‑‑n," "h‑‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "a‑‑" and "b‑‑tard."
Suffice it to say that by game's end it's more than merely evident why Gotham does indeed need an Arkham Asylum to hold its newest brand of lethal lunatics.