Batman: Arkham Origins isn’t just a blockbuster video game coming to PC, PlayStation 3, Wii U, and Xbox 360 on October 25, 2013. It’s also the title of an upcoming mobile game from NetherRealm Studios – specifically the team behind Batman: Arkham City Lockdown – that will be coming out “soon.” Much like Lockdown, mobile Origins is a combat-driven game that is somewhat in the vein of the swipey combat of Infinity Blade and the studio’s mobile take on its DC frigher Injustice: Gods Among Us. Origins is geared toward a broader audience, however, with simpler, tap-based fighting mechanics and a business model built around offering the game as a free-to-play title.
A different kind of origin story. Origins begins with an intro cinematic that sets up the plot of its PC/console counterpart. A younger Batman who has been dishing out vigilante justice across Gotham City suddenly faces his greatest threat, when the villainous Black Mask offers a one-night-only, $50 million reward for a dead Dark Knight. Eight assassins step up to test the superhero’s might, including Deadshot, Copperhead, Electrocutioner, Bane, and others. The intro cinematic lays all of this out before throwing players into a tutorial.
The odd thing here is that the small-screen Arkham Origins isn’t a story-driven game. NetherRealm designed it like a proper arcade game, the sort that feeds you a chunk of setup story that really just serves as context for all of the punching and kicking you’ll be doing. This take on Arkham Origins features just four of the bigger game’s cast of assassins, but it is also built to be expanded upon.
Pow! Bif! Bam! Arkham Origins is a fighting game at heart. Single taps on the screen dish out Bat-jabs to your opponent’s face while a quick triple-tap delivers a Bat-combo. Arrayed across the bottom of the screen is a series of special attack shortcuts, each of which is connected to its own minigame, as well as the block command and a button for switching stances. Batman can swap between the Assault and Guarded stances as situations demand, with the former doing bigger damage and the latter offering more protection along with a healing ability. All special abilities operate on a cooldown timer, and they grey out when they’re unavailable.
Regardless of the mission you’ve chosen to take on, combat flows in a similar way. Each fight is 1v1 although most missions pit Bats against multiple enemies. You can always see the lineup of opponents you have ahead on an info bar situated in the top-right corner of the screen. Take one down, and the next in the lineup appears. Combat is a back and forth of attack and defend, which visual indicators on the screen letting you know when to block higher-damage attacks. Occasionally, a successful combo leads to a mini-quick time event of sorts, with arrow prompts indicating the directions that you should swipe in to keep the punches flowing.
The combo iconography takes some getting used to, based on our limited playtime. It’s not immediately clear, for example, whether a flashing arrow that lights up from left-to-right, right-to-left, top-to-bottom, or bottom-to-top (indicating the direction you’re supposed to swipe) is asking you to swipe once or repeatedly in the same direction. We’re told that there’s a gentler learning curve in the final game, along with multiple tutorials, but the screen is undeniably busy with information for you to keep track of as you play.
Touring Gotham. Mobile Arkham Origins‘ Gotham City breaks into four districts for you to accept missions in. Each one unlocks successively, as you proceed through the main missions; there are also optional missions, daily challenges, boss rematches, and the like to be found in each one. You don’t actually explore the city; rather, you zoom in on a district and tap the mission icon you’d like to tackle. All of these follow roughly the same pattern of pitting Batman against a lineup of bad guys, though the more advanced optional missions also bring some modifiers to the mix. Enemies might recharge health, or Batman’s own health might drain. These modifiers are meant to offer a greater challenge for those that seek bigger rewards.
There are two forms of currency that you’ll earn as you proceed through the game. Upgrade Points are the more easily obtainable of the two, and they’re spent on improving individual special attacks for each of Batman’s two stances as well as general “skills” (such as your overall armor or punch power). WayneTech Points are much less common, and are often tied to the most challenging objectives. Players also have the option of spending real-world money to buy them. Accrued WayneTech Points can be spent on things like pre-mission boosts that temporarily enhance Batman in one category or another.
Downscaled. Arkham Origins is a sharp-looking game in its mobile form. The NetherRealm team had access to all of the assets used to build the console/PC release, so we’re really just talking about slightly downscaled textures from their big screen counterparts. That’s not a bad thing though. Even at a glance, Batman: Arkham Origins makes a good case for you to check it out based on its graphics alone. It easily falls in alongside other mobile lookers like Infinity Blade. Those with souped-up A7 chips in their freshly purchased iPhone 5S will see the best of it, with the sliders turned up even further.
This mobile take on Batman: Arkham Origins seems poised to offer Bat-fans an eye candy-filled diversion for when they’re on the go. The fact that it’s free-to-play ought to encourage people to check it out, and it looks like there’s enough depth to steal away multiple hours once you get into it. We’re told that the game will be arriving “soon” – remember that the console/PC release is just two weeks away – as an iOS-exclusive.