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Batman: Arkham Origins: The Kotaku Review

Take the Crime Scene Investigations, like the one above. When Batman comes upon the site of a murder, players will need to scan for multiple pieces of evidence that will eventually congeal into a virtualized version of what happened. But all you’re really doing is looking for glowing indicators in Detective Vision. There’s no real sifting through possibilities, no red herrings to lead you astray. It’s just turn the camera and click on the red thing. What would Harvey Harris say?

Then there’s the Dark Knight System, which is a bit of a split offering. It’s sort of like the synchronization tiers that the Assassin’s Creed series added as it annualized, a subset of challenges that task you with fulfilling the role of The Dark Knight in a specific way. So, you’ll have to do stuff like take out two enemies in one slide or finish a stealth encounter without ever being seen. The system isn’t invasive and acts as a set of passive objectives that unlock XP points as you clear them. There’s also a related scoring system that feels like an attempt to make players care about how they fight and sneak in Origins. I never cared about that stuff in previous Bat-games, though, and while adding this tweak here doesn’t seriously hurt anything, it mostly feels like distracting clutter. Every fight judges your performance and grades you, so instead of the world being immersive, you’re constantly being reminded of the game-iness of the whole thing.

Batman: Arkham Origins: The Kotaku Review

However, boss battles are one significant area where Origins feels like it’s better than its predecessors. The Bane showdowns—yeah, there’s more than one—are less of a goad-charge-dodge-attack endurance affair than in previous games. You feel like you’re actually fighting and out-thinking the ‘roided-out mercenary rather than reacting to his brute force. The fight with Firefly is a nice departure, too, changing up camera angles to top to side and creating a larger playfield for the flying pyromaniac to torment Batman. The reliance on quick-response prompts hasn’t gone away but at least it’s embedded in duels that show some varying approaches.

Batman: Arkham Origins: The Kotaku ReviewS

The fast-travel feature is yet another thing emblematic of the changes that WB Montreal is implementing to the Bat-Arkham game recipe. You need to unlock the travel points in each section of the map by hacking security consoles. Where hacking puzzle sequences were more or less elements unto themselves in previous games, here they’re more embedded into the gameworld. So, it’s “defeat one node, fight the guys guarding another, solve the traversal conundrum making the last node impossible to reach.” It’s a lot of busywork and it’d be worth it if it unlocked a cool story beat or impressive cutscene. But after all that effort, all you’re getting mostly is a way to get around faster. Other subquests open up, too, like the option to track down and destroy the relay network that Enigma (a pre-question-mark Riddler) uses to collect blackmail information. But that, too, is tertiary, just more busywork that adds nothing to narrative momentum. You don’t have to do any of it, of course, since it’s pinned to an auxiliary but still helpful procedure. But the alternative is much slower travel across the map.

But this deeper interconnectedness feels good in other portions of the game. The Most Wanted missions are threaded tangents that form a sort of mini-campaign away from the main plotline. They’re standard open-world side missions, like tracking down and destroying Penguin’s weapon caches, defusing Anarky’s scattered bombs and foiling Mad Hatter’s kidnapping. But, whether it’s the psychedelic sidescrolling of Mad Hatter’s mindscape or the philosophical orneriness of Anarky’s speeches, they’re presented in ways that experiment. Yes, finishing a Most Wanted campaign unlocks even more gadgets but—combined with the tougher Crimes in Progress pop-up encounters in the open world—they all congeal to make the game feel like Bruce Wayne’s final exam in Batmanology.

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Speaking of Batmanology, Origins’ story will ring familiar for longtime fans. It’s a mix-and-match buffet of Significant Bat-Moments, with Barbara Gordon hero worship, Alfred pleading with Bruce to stop his crusade and the earning of Jim Gordon’s trust all nestled in the Story mode. If you’ve absorbed seminal Bat-lore like The Long Halloween, The Dark Knight, The Killing Joke, Batman: Year One and the previous Arkham games, many scenes and plot threads—psycho-criminals supplanting mobsters, for example— will ping off of your memories. There’s also WB Montreal’s take on a fateful first meeting between Batman and Joker, where each comes away realizing that their lives are going to be much different because of each other.

Some of the proceedings reek of formulaic thinking, though. Oh, look, it’s another sequence where Batman’s stumbling around hallucinating because he’s been drugged. Oh, look, more guilt-ridden visions. Oh, look, Batman being terse and dismissive of allies. It doesn’t matter that this is a prequel and that these moments may be chronologically justifiable. They may meant to be homage but feel like required assignments on a Batman 101 syllabus.

Baker’s Joker is an amazing if occasionally strained Hamill impersonation. You can almost see him clenching his jaw to get the killer clown’s cadence just so. To his credit, Roger Craig Smith

doesn’t try to ape the legendary Kevin Conroy with his Bat-voice. His Bruce and Batman are essentially the same, a medium-rumble growl that occasionally breaks into shouts. It’s a safe Bat-voice but I found myself wishing for more enough emotional inflection in Smith’s performance.

It needs to be said that there’s a ton of stuff to do in Origins. When the credits rolled on my Story Mode playthrough, my completion percentage stood at 21%, after about 10-12 hours of playtime. It’ll take some digging to root out all the characters lurking around Gotham as some of the assassins are buried in side missions. For example, I went through the entire story mode without encountering Deadshot or Lady Shiva, even though I know that they’re in the game.

Batman: Arkham Origins: The Kotaku ReviewS Origins makes me think about what I want out of a Batman game. The answer has always been a deeper, interactive understanding of what it’s like to be Batman. But Rocksteady’s efforts had it easy. The first one oozed atmosphere and established Batman as a stealthy opponent, fearsome combatant and observant detective. Arkham City showed us the scope of his crusade, giving us a whole chunk of Gotham to prowl and adventure through. This one? It has the burden of showing you how it all started.

Maybe the name of this latest Bat-game bothered you. Arkham Asylum and Arkham City were places, locales that the games bearing their names brought to life in expert fashion. Arkham Origins doesn’t have the same clear-cut messaging and it has the unfortunate ring of

prequelitis, that disease that makes serial entertainment go backwards when it can’t figure out how to go forward. But, in its latter third, Origins does illustrate why there needs to be an asylum for the new breed of criminal. There had been thugs and mobsters before but not sheer insanity.

Origins is an incremental installment, not a transformative one. It doesn’t have the massive leaps forward that differentiated City from Asylum. It’s almost understandable since WB Montreal have been tasked with harmonizing along to someone else’s lead vocals. Right here, right now, the result is good enough. But the very success of the

Batman video game franchise could prove to be its biggest limitation. And decisions to ever so slightly vary the template could be a slowly contracting deathtrap that not even the Caped Crusader can escape.

Note: Arkham Origins also includes an asymmetrical

multiplayer mode which I haven’t yet had a chance to try. Look for an update to this review once I’ve been able to log some time online.

To contact the author of this post, write to

evan@kotaku.com or find him on Twitter @EvNarc

Candy Box, The Best Game To Sneakily Play At Work, Just Got A Sequel

Sure, I love playing Cookie Clicker at work, but that love began with Candy Box. It starts so simply, just a handful of candies and two buttons, then turns into a genuine RPG. The sequel more than lives up to the original, and you need to check it out.

The video up above should give you a good idea of what the game is like, but I left out spoilers and answers to certain puzzles so that you can have the experience for yourself. Go play it. Just one click. It’ll be fun.

Watch Us Play is your chance to get a first look at video of new and upcoming games right here on Kotaku. Want to see more? You can see all our Watch Us Play videos right here

And for more videos from Kotaku, subscribe to our YouTube channel

Song by Patrick

Last of Us voice actors judging fan art contest

Fan-submitted t-shirt site WeLoveFine has scored some A-list guest judges for their The Last of Us design contest, with winners being picked by Joel and Ellie in their toughest choice since (SPOILER FOR MEDICAL STUDENTS) voluntary encephalectomy.

Would-be winners have until November 11, 2013 to submit up to five designs, which will be scored by fans. On December 17, 2013 the most popular designs will move on to the final round of judging. Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Troy Baker (Joel), as well as Neil Druckmann (Creative Director) and Bruce Straley (Game Director), will then choose their personal favorites for special prizes categories. The Naughty Dog-chosen grand prize winner will receive up to $2,000 cash, the Post-Pandemic Edition of the game, Season Pass DLC, Dark Horse’s The Art of The Last of Us, a trade paperback copy of The Last of Us: American Dreams, and a poster signed by the development team.

Any and all designs have the potential to be featured on future The Last of Us merchandise. Rating doesn’t start until November 19, 2013, but you can go ahead and peruse the submissions or, if you’re artistically inclined, gauge your competition.

Wind Waker HD

King of Red LionsI’ve been spending most of my time playing Wind Waker HD lately. It’s not really my favorite game in the series but that’s like saying “banana” isn’t your favorite Runts flavor. It’s still delicious and you’re going to eat it anyway.

I think I’ve actually only played the original Wind Waker once back on Gamecube. At first that seemed kind of odd but now that I think about it there are several Zelda games I’ve only played once. Actually, probably most of them with the exception of Link’s Awakening and Ocarina of time. Still, I have a fairly good recollection of the original and I’m quite glad to see some of the following updates they have made to the game.

The Visuals

Wind Waker was probably the easiest game to give an HD update. The visuals were already fantastic, timeless, and now they look even better. The cel-shaded art style is one of my favorite in the series but I guess that is something that will differ from person to person. I still remember several years ago when people were crying and bitching about the “cartoon” graphics and the lack of pretty-boy adult Link. Those people can screw themselves and take their werewolf Link with them.

Wind Waker HD Graphics

Updated HD visuals are gorgeous

Still, there is one thing that bothers me… Nintendo went a little nuts with the bloom lighting. It’s like they hit a point where they used too much bloom and figured they’d try to cover it up… with more bloom. Other than that I don’t have many complaints. The game seems to run perfectly fine and the only time the game “seems” to slow down is when you are killing multiple baddies at once or setting off many explosions. I think that’s due to the zantetsuken-style effect, though. There’s a slight freeze or slowdown for effect. Personally, I don’t care for it; not enough that it bothers me, anyway.

Cha-cha-changes

Things seem largely unchanged. There have been some slight changes and additions but other than that it’s the exact same game and it plays great. I heard that they sped up the timing on the Wind Waker and the treasure hauling but I honestly don’t remember well enough to tell the difference. In the original game you could acquire the Tingle Tuner which was a device that (I think) let you plug your GBA into the GameCube and use it as a little companion device during play. I think I used it once so I have no real idea. Anyway, that’s of course gone and in its place is a special message bottle that you can write notes in and add pictures which then get uploaded to Miiverse. While running/sailing around the overworld you can actually find the messages from other players. It’s kind of cool but as time went on I found myself veering away just to avoid collecting more of them. One cool bit, however, is you can share specific pictures that are required for the figurine collecting side-quest. Pretty nifty in case you missed taking somebody’s picture, etc.

Wind Waker HD Swift Sail

Swift Sail is the best addition

The absolute BEST addition to Wind Waker HD is the new Swift Sail, which can be acquired from the auction house on Windfall Island. Not only does it let you sail across the vast ocean world MUCH faster but it also automatically changes the direction of the wind to always be at your back. I knew it made you go faster but when I found out about the second bit it felt life-changing. No longer will you have to pull out the Wind Waker, conduct the tune, pick the wind direction, and watch the 4 second cutscene and chime. When I told Keen about it he said something like, “Oh, so it’s like cheating?” Obviously he’s never played the game or he would know the sweet deliverance this sail brings.

If the original game wasn’t hard enough then fear not! Hero Mode has been included in this version and can be used right from the start. What is it, you ask? It’s a mode where you take twice as much damage and get ZERO heart pickups. The only way to heal is via fairy, potion, or finding a heart piece/container. Essentially it’s for people who hate themselves and like to take all of the fun out of their game, like myself. Honestly, it’s not that bad. It’s a little rough at first but after you get more heart containers and bottles then it essentially becomes a non-issue. Really the only thing that bothers me about it is how it makes cutting grass and breaking pots feel a little empty when nothing pops out. Of course you still get rupees and other trinkets every now and then but the hearts are missed.

The Gamepad

Wind Waker Interface

I really like using the gamepad in this kind of game. It makes swapping items on the fly  super easy and fast. Not only that but having your sea chart and dungeon maps at hand is incredibly useful. You can even use the controller’s gyro sensor when using various devices that require aiming. At times I find that particular element useful but even if I hold the device perfectly still I still seem to get some wobble being detected. You can turn it off if you really want to, and I’ve been tempted many times, but it does sometimes feel easier for more accurate targeting. Especially if you suck at aiming with a control stick.

You can also play the game entirely off-TV, which I love.

The Whole Package

They did a really good job on updating the game. It may not be a remake, but it is much more than just an HD update with all of the additions and changes they threw in, of which there are more of than I even mentioned. I’m still crossing my fingers that we will get a Majora’s Mask updated game.  Until then, this will tide me over until A Link Between Worlds. I’d highly suggest picking up Wind Waker HD even if you didn’t care for the original. I know the sailing aspect turned a lot of people off but it has been made a lot better. With any luck this will give the Wii U a little boost in sales, which it really needs. If this doesn’t do it then hopefully Super Mario 3D world might.