Batman: Arkham Origins mobile review: they ported everything but the fun
C. Custer | On October 23, 2013 at 9:00 am
I was a huge fan of Batman: Arkham Asylum, the 2009 console and PC game that invigorated Bruce Wayne’s video game career. I enjoyed its sequel, Arkham City, less, but I’m still looking forward to Arkham Origins, which will be released this Friday. Until then, though, there’s a mobile version of the game, also called Arkham Origins, that has been doing surprisingly well in Asia, especially for a game that’s only available in English. The Android version isn’t ready yet, but the iOS Arkham Origins is currently the top free iOS game in South Korea and Thailand, it’s number three in Singapore, number 5 in Vietnam, and is also in the top ten in China and Taiwan. Apparently, Asia has a lot of love for the Batman. But is it deserved?
Although it’s unfair to expect a mobile game to have the same sort of gameplay as its console progenitors, it’s not unfair to expect a mobile game to be fun. Unfortunately, that’s where the mobile version of Arkham Origins falls short. It’s essentially a one-on-one fighting game (you’ll take on whole games, but only one at a time) that’s controlled by tapping the screen to attack, swiping the screen during quicktime events to complete combos, and tapping additional buttons to do things like block, change stances, or use a special move. It all works well enough, but none of it is particularly fun.
It’s just too simple. Some goon pops up, and you tap the screen rapidly to beat them up. Another goon jumps into the ring, repeat process. The game does all sorts of things (different mission types, boss fights, a boatload of unlockables from skills to suits, etc.) to try to keep things fresh and different, but ultimately all the freshness and upgrades in the world can’t make up for the fact that the game just isn’t fun to play. Even the simplest fighting games generally have two to four different kinds of strikes and a D-pad or some other directional input that allows you to modify those strikes depending on your location. But in Arkham Origins you have your normal strike, your special strike, and whatever quicktime events emerge while you’re playing. You can block and switch stances, sure, but that’s a poor substitute for being able to actually move around.
As a freemium mobile game, Arkham Origins rather gracelessly forces the indignity of a stamina meter upon the Dark Knight. Different kinds of battles use different amounts of stamina, and when you run out, you’ve got to pay up or wait as the 10-block stamina bar regenerates at an agonizing rate of one block every 10 minutes, because Bruce Wayne is ostensibly too tired to keep fighting. Unless you pay money, of course, in which case he perks right up. (Wait a minute, isn’t Bruce Wayne a gazillionaire? Why the hell would the promise of a few extra dollars be enough to get him back into fighting shape?)
The game does give you ten free gold “coins” to start out with, which allows you a few free regenerations of the bar, so your initial playthroughs won’t be too affected. I straight-up hate the concept of a stamina bar in general, but as far as these things go, Arkham Origins has implemented its monetization strategy less obnoxiously than a lot of the Chinese games I’ve played, so it deserves some credit for that.
Graphics, audio, and story
It’s a shame the gameplay is so weak, because Arkham Origins is excellent by any other measure of a game. It looks and sounds gorgeous on every level from the in-game menus to the fights themselves. Visually and sonically, it’s about as good an adaptation of the Arkham series PC and console games as you’re ever likely to see on a mobile device. And if you like the world of Batman at all, you’ll probably keep playing it longer than you should just because you want to see more of it. It’s that good.
The story is also good, although it’s obviously not as deep or fleshed-out as the stories in the console games. Basically, you’re Batman, and there’s a price on your head. Eight super-villains and a whole boatload of their goons are coming to kill you, and it’s up to you to beat your way through all of them. Sure, it’s not the most original or intricate story in the world, but it’s well filled-out and every aspect of the game fits with the Batman theme so well that you’re really not likely to have any complaints.
All the sharp graphics in the world can’t save Batman from the sad truth: Arkham Origins isn’t fun to play. It’s probably worth your attention if you’re a huge Batman fan or you absolutely need to play a Batman game between now and Friday, but otherwise you’ll almost certainly have a lot more fun with the real Arkham Origins when it comes out later this week. It may cost a lot more up-front, but I guarantee you it won’t have a stamina meter, and I’m pretty sure that in that game, at least Batman will be able to move.