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Batman: Arkham Origins Review

Batman: Arkham Origins was doomed to fail the moment it was announced. When it was announced that Rocksteady, the studio behind the first two hugely successful Arkham games, would not be creating Arkham Origins, fans went wild. Arkham City was my 2011 Game of the Year, and one of my favorite games this generation. I have been hugely anticipating Origins, and while it is nowhere near the level of the previous two games, it comes pretty damn close, delivering another solid Batman action-adventure title.

Arkham Origins’s story may be the best of the series. This is a prequel, following the adventures of the Dark Knight two years after his arrival in Gotham. He is still at odds with the police, and still hasn’t attained hero status just yet. Arkham Origins finds Batman on Christmas Eve. The villainous Black Mask has hired eight assassins and has placed a price on Batman’s head. This causes the Dark Knight to spring into action to defend both himself and the city of Gotham, as he must defeat each of the eight assassins and stop Black Mask.

The confines of the story work brilliantly with the characters and setting represented. Black Mask has hired eight of Batman’s most villainous current enemies, ranging from Deathstroke to Anarky to Copperhead and to Bane. In Arkham City and Arkham Asylum, I felt that the random villains were placed very sporadically, with barely any service to the plot at hand. That isn’t the case here in Arkham Origins. Every villain plays an important role, whether they be a small side quest or a part of Deathstroke’s major plan.

The setting once more is Gotham City, sending us back to the beautiful open world that Arkham City so brilliantly portrayed. The entire map is available from the get-go, and a whole new area has been unlocked just for Arkham Origins. The open world setting that worked so great in Arkham City works just as great this time around, too. You’ll stop countless groups of thugs, interrogate enemies, solve puzzles, and much more. New this time around are crimes-in-progress, which are intercepted via the police scanner. You can stop these crimes for extra experience points. A new fast travel system has also been implemented, allowing Batman to hop in his Batwing and travel to different areas on the map, provided you have unlocked the fast travel point by solving radio tower puzzles, similar to Assassin’s Creed’s viewpoint system. A staple in the Arkham franchise is side-quests, and there’s no shortage of these in Arkham Origins. The Riddler is back, this time called Enigma, and he has a lot of puzzles and collectibles scattered around Gotham for you to solve. Other side quests find you investigating crime scenes and helping out the GCPD.

The perfect combat system receives some upgrades thanks to some difficult new enemy types.

The perfect combat system receives some upgrades thanks to some difficult new enemy types.

The perfect combat system is once again back, allowing Batman a wide variety of ways to dispatch his foes. You’ll be striking, countering, and using the Bat’s various gadgets in no time. New enemy types shake things up, like the martial artist, who actually counters Batman’s attacks. These new enemies feel welcome in the increasingly large group of foes you already face, and offer new challenges for seasoned Arkham veterans. Stealth is also a huge part of Arkham Origins. Batman sometimes finds himself dropped in a room with ten armed enemies, and must avoid being seen and take them out one by one. Old gadgets return such as the classic Batarangs and Exploding Gel, but new items like the Remote Claw, which allows Batman to tether his foes to items like fire extinguishers, and Concussion Grenades, which do what you’d expect, feel right at home amidst Batman’s ever-increasing arsenal.

A big focus this time around is Batman’s detective mode. At times in the story you’ll find yourself among various crime scenes. You must use the Bat’s detective vision to scan and analyze clues within the environment, and then piece together the crime scene to see what happened. You can fast-forward and rewind the crime scenes as you piece them together, in a sort of augmented-reality type vision, which makes Batman feel like a CSI agent. It’s all a lot of fun, and a nice change in pace from all the fighting you’ll be doing.

All of this would add up to yet another perfect Batman game, but unfortunately there are a few flaws in the formula this time around. The game doesn’t feel very polished, or brand new. At best, it feels like an expansion to Arkham City, something that should have been priced at $40. Nothing has been drastically changed here. The transition from Asylum to City was massive, but you don’t get the sense of surprise this time around in Origins. The story is great, no doubt, but the new additions do very little to justify the purchase of a full-priced new Batman game. There’s a certain lack of innovation in Arkham Origins, and it definitely shows.

Arkham Origins look solid overall, despite a few graphical hiccups.

Arkham Origins look solid overall, despite a few graphical hiccups.

Batman: Arkham Origins has solid presentation overall, but a few bugs and graphical glitches make the game feel rushed and a bit unfinished. Gotham City is beautiful. There wasn’t too much improvement of Arkham City’s already-beautiful world, but small changes make the game look great. It is constantly snowing this time in Gotham, and the game is wonderfully detailed. One reviewer I read complained about the lack of easter eggs and hidden secrets for Batman fans, but that is a blatant lie. There are plenty of fun visuals and gags for Batman veterans to find and explore, and they are a lot of fun. While the gameplay looks great, the cutscenes do not. The Arkham series is notorious for poor cutscene rendering and bad lip-syncing character models. Those are once again back in Origins. Sound glitches and audio bugs abound as well, with the fast travel animation constantly stuttering, and characters sometimes not moving their mouths when they talk. This lack of polish makes the game feel unfinished, and may turn off some fans. The voice acting is great of course. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy both opted not to return for Origins, to many fans’ disappointment. But their replacements, Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith, do an excellent job, and I don’t even miss the original voice actors. The soundtrack is good, too. An intense menu theme sticks out, and the ambient sounds among Gotham sound great. A multiplayer mode has even been tacked on, but I have not had a chance to play it yet.

Batman: Arkham Origins is already getting a lot of flak for not living up to expectations, but when the previous two titles were perfect, how can they top perfection? Warner Bros. Montreal has done a fantastic job of creating another great Batman title. Despite a few bugs and a lack of polish overall, Arkham Origins is a stand-out, and should not be passed up by fans of the past two titles.

Overall: 8.0/10.0

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2013 in Game Reviews

 

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Mario Kart 7 Review

Mario Karts have always been a staple on every new Nintendo platform. Way back in the SNES days, Super Mario Kart revolutionized the kart racing genre, and each installment to date has added something new to the series. The gimmick this time: gliders and propellers, allowing you to fly in the air or swim in the sea. But do these additions bring enough to the formula?

Since it’s a racing game, there’s no evident plot. You simply race through the Grand Prix, unlocking new characters as you make your way through each engine class. You race as the recognized residents of the Mushroom Kingdom, so you’ve got Mario, Peach, Yoshi, the gang’s all here. Some characters were cut from Mario Kart Wii, like Waluigi and Dry Bones, and the character roster has dropped significantly in number. I liked this because MKWii had an insane number of Baby characters, none of which are present here. There’s less choices, but more recognized faces. Some odd additions made it in like Honey Queen and Wiggler, but I doubt they’ll stick around for successive installments. One thing that let me down with the characters was that there aren’t any weight classes anymore, so no “light, medium, or heavy”, which kind of downgrades the strategy in character selection. The tracks this time around are excellent, some of the best of the series. Like past games, there are 16 new courses, and 16 old ones which have been edited to feature the new additions. These courses, new and old, are stellar, with plenty of shortcuts and opportunities to shave off time, greatly extending the replay value.

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You can now take to the air, with gliders that deploy upon hitting ramps.

Everyone knows the Mario Kart formula, and it hasn’t changed here. There have been many new additions to the series, like I said above. Karts are now customizable (to an extent), allowing you to choose the kart’s chassis, wheels, and its glider for air segments. You unlock new parts by collecting coins along each track, something we haven’t seen since the SNES title. These unlockables change the stats of your kart. For example, putting monster truck tires on your kart makes your kart handle better off-road, so there’s a new layer of strategy as you prepare your kart prior to each race. I wish the customization was taken further, however, allowing you to change the color, or even design your own new karts, akin to ModNation Racers. The air and water segments are the best parts of the game. When your kart goes over blue boost pads, a glider automatically deploys, and you can control your kart in the air. There’s a lot of strategy here, in adjusting pitch and yaw, also in skipping parts of the course through flight. Whereas past games focused a lot on luck, MK7 is focused more towards skill, even if blue shells still hit you seconds before the finish line. The underwater portions, though not as plentiful, are still fun, but they don’t change the game too much other than provide cool new visual cues. There are new power-ups as well, and these are among the best. The Fire Flower allows you to barrage your enemies with unlimited fireballs until it runs out, while the Tanooki Tail can be used to swat at other racers or deflect incoming shells. Lucky 7 is a brand new idea, giving you 7 items at your disposal, turning you into a tool of destruction.

Other than racing in Grand Prix or VS, Time Trials also return, and these are still a blast, made even better by the kart customization. You can save best records as ghosts and send them to other racers, and you can even race 7 other ghost records at a time. Balloon Battles and Coin Runners are back, in full form, as well. Multiplayer can be found in the form of local, where you and 7 friends can team up locally and race or battle, and online, where you can hop onto the Nintendo Network and race against friends or strangers. Online is easily the best, and is probably the best online play I’ve ever seen in a Nintendo game. You can race against 7 other players in worldwide racers, but the real fun comes with Communities.

Mario Kart 7 lets you join online racing communities, allowing you further customization in how you race.

Mario Kart 7 lets you join online racing communities, allowing you further customization in how you race.

Communities allow you to create groups that have special rules. For example, you can have a race with only shells, or only bananas, allowing you to customize what items appear in each race or battle. These are very fun, but I wish that, instead of turning some items on, you could turn specific items off (cough cough BLUE SHELL), but this is a small complaint for what is the best online mode since Mario Kart Wii.

Mario Kart 7 is the best installment of the series since Mario Kart: Double Dash. It adds plenty of new ideas to the series, without sacrificing old favorites. It’s the best reason to own a 3DS, and I’ll be playing this one for years to come.

Overall: 9.5/10

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Game Reviews

 

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