CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I've spent a lifetime trying to emulate my mother's cooking. Yet even though I use the same ingredients and follow her recipes to the letter, the results are never quite as good the original. My dishes aren't bad by any stretch, they just lack that special something extra that made my mom's cooking unforgettable.
This, in a nutshell, sums up "Batman: Arkham Origins."
The developers at Warner Bros.' Montreal studio have attempted to recapture the magic that series creator Rocksteady discovered with its first two "Batman" games -- "Arkham Asylum" and "Arkham City." All the familiar ingredients are here -- the excellent FreeFlow combat system, the nifty gadgets, the stylish graphics, a plethora of villians ... everything you'd expect to find in a "Batman" title.
But despite all this, "Arkham Origins" still manages to feel a bit different from its predecessors. Not bad, mind you. Just different.
"Arkham Origins" takes place prior to the events of Rocksteady's two "Batman" games, during the Dark Knight's formative years as a crime fighter. Set on Christmas night in a snow-covered Gotham City, "Origins" pits a young, brash Batman against a group of the world's deadliest assassins when crime lord Black Mask puts a $50 million bounty on his head. Bane, Copperhead, Firefly and Deathstroke are just a few of the rogues looking to collect. They aren't the only villains Batman encounters on this night, as familiar foils Penguin and Joker also make an appearance. I thoroughly enjoyed the story that tied all of these criminals together within "Origins" and the way they were introduced. And watching Batman meet many of these standout members of his rogues' gallery for the first time was truly a treat.
As mentioned earlier, the core game play in "Origins" follows that of its predecessors practically beat-for-beat. You'll glide around Gotham and beat up groups of thugs, you'll use your detective skills to recreate and solve crimes and you'll become an invisible predator to clear out rooms of bad guys quickly and quietly. But like any good chef, WB Montreal also introduces some fresh ingredients of its own into "Origins," from new enemy types such as the enforcer and martial artist (capable of countering nearly all of Batman's attacks) and gadgets like shock gloves and a remote claw to a new combat feedback system that rewards variety in battle with extra experience points. Optional crimes in progress offer an opportunity to test your combat skills and earn XP against groups of more-difficult enemies, and side missions put the Dark Knight on a collision course with the likes of Anarky and the Mad Hatter.
Another new feature introduced here is online multiplayer, a first for the "Batman" franchise. Two teams of two assume the role of rival gangs, while two other players control Batman and Robin. It's an interesting game of cat-and-mouse as you're constantly shifting your attention between the threats directly in front of you (the other gang) with the threats that may be lurking in the shadows behind you (Batman). While competing against others as the Dark Knight was admittedly cool for a while, I found myself constantly drawn back to the core game.