Before the hype train begins in earnest for Batman: Arkham Knight, a history lesson is in order.
With the well-earned success and praise of Rocksteady’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, and its even more epic sequel, Batman: Arkham City, I thought it would be worth looking back at that non-Rocksteady title pushed into the lineup, particularly with the recent article on annual releases and how they might be hurting gaming. On October 25th, 2013, WB Games Montreal, who had not previously released a Batman game, entered this now storied Batman franchise with Batman: Arkham Origins. The results were, well, less than spectacular.
The issues abound…
The game’s plot centered (ostensibly) around Batman having eight assassins being sent after him by Black Mask, one of the lamer Batman villains ever dreamed up (unless you’re a fan of The Man in the Iron Mask, then you might like him). The assassins are contracted for a one-night free-for-all on Christmas Eve.
Before Batman leaves the Batcave, Alfred actually observes that if Batman stayed in for the night, nothing would happen! I actually fell out of my chair laughing. Of course, staying in isn’t exactly Batman’s style, even if it is the logical course of action when one is being pursued by eight of the deadliest assassins in the world for a single night. Thus begins a night of lackluster fights with quick-time event bosses, predictably patterned bad guys, and a twist everyone saw coming ever since Troy Baker was announced as the voice of the Joker.
Leaving the plot aside, the game is a bug-riddled mess. And I don’t just mean right after release. I mean even today, over a year after release, the game is STILL A BUG-RIDDLED MESS. One of the most popular bugs in the game, the Burnley Tower glitch, was simply put, a bug in a Riddler tower where, while attempting to climb into a vent to escape a small room, you could not pull yourself up. This effectively broke the game because that vent was the only exit from the room—time to hit quit and go back to your last save.
WB Games did eventually release a patch, which made the problem much worse—now, the buildings directly adjacent to Burnley Tower are physically intangible. You cannot glide from them to Burnley Tower because you pass directly through the building into the abyss of nothingness:
It gets worse. Several places you would think you can grapple to, you can’t. The ledge takedown is completely broken, with the Dark Knight content to hop a railing directly in front of an enemy with a machine gun, stealth be damned. Combos are often inexplicably dropped, to the detriment of anyone who is trying for those achievements. The enemy AI is just as bad. You are either spotted well outside of the range of human vision acuity (during a blizzard, no less) or you are never noticed, even if you are directly behind them.
I must repeat—these are present issues, not post-release issues. In fact, WB Games even made an announcement (over the uproar of upset customers expecting a product with the quality of the other Arkham games) that they would not be patching the game any further, instead deciding to focus their efforts on downloadable content.
Presumably they made this decision because they can charge for DLC, but not patches. As you can imagine, the DLC was also bug-riddled. For example, the “Brightest Day” Batman skin completely breaks the game. Their storyline DLC, Cold Cold Heart (three guesses as to who that refers to) was also riddled with bugs, which you might expect from DLC built on a broken game.
Why release in this state?
To look at why a company who had to know their game was a fucking mess decided to release in this state, you have to look at the bigger picture. Specifically, the launch window of that month. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag was slated for release on October 29th, 2013. Considering the Assassin’s Creed series also focuses on stealth gameplay and features gadgets and a vision mode, WB Games Montreal was probably correct in assuming that Black Flag could absorb some of their sales. But that is no excuse—there is no excuse for releasing a completely broken game, no matter what. WB Games Montreal has a Quality Assurance department who almost certainly informed them of the numerous problems with their game. This was a cash grab, plain and simple, from a company who doesn’t care about the end user experience.
The worst part of all is that anyone who only played Origins might be prevented from buying the upcoming Arkham Knight based on their experience with this game. It’s not just users who might suffer from this monstrosity; Rocksteady Studios might also take a hit in the wallet. Not every consumer will make the distinction that WB Games Montreal made Arkham Origins, while Rocksteady made the first two and the upcoming Arkham Knight. Maybe they should put a disclaimer on the box art:
“When it’s done.”
Shigeru Miyamoto once said this of his opinion on video game deadlines:
A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.
Miyamoto clearly follows his own advice, Say what you will about Nintendo constantly rebooting their series and reusing old characters, but it’s hard to argue with the quality of those results. Arkham Origins could have been another great title in a series of great titles and put WB Games Montreal on the map. Instead, it’s an example of how to make a terrible game in a great series and mishandle your consumers in the aftermath. Yet another lesson in not pre-ordering, even from a series you have known and loved in the past.