Release Date: October 25, 2013 Developer: Armature Studio Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Platform: Nintendo 3DS (Reviewed), PS Vita Genre: Action-adventure
You won’t have to look very hard on the internet to find evidence of just how much people love Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series of video games. But like most good things, change is always inevitable, as development duties shifted hands in recent years, and left us with a handful of prequels that outline just how The Bat became the crime fighting hero that we know and love today. I thought Arkham Asylum was great, and when the unique combat system finally clicked for me halfway through Arkham City, there was simply no turning back.
Well now Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is here to serve as a mobile spin-off of sorts to the console version of Batman: Arkham Origins. But how does this incredibly fine-tuned series adapt to its new smaller platform and 2.5D perspective now?
The story in Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate feels like a hybrid of sorts between Arkham Asylum and the recently released Arkham Origins. Still serving as a prequel of sorts to the series, Blackgate finds a young and ruthless Batman traveling to the feared Blackgate prison institution, and having to deal with many of the iconic villains who are wreaking havoc on everything within, from The Joker and Penguin, to Arkham Origins stars like Deadshot. You’ll be getting some insider information and support from Cat Woman, though, to help you on your way, and the cutscenes are told through comic book-style interludes with fully voiced characters and moody illustrations.
If only the actual in-game graphics were anything to write home about. Batman, the enemies, and the environments themselves are all simplified and muddy at best, and the added visual effects of the Nintendo 3DS version are barely felt outside of the menu and interface screens.
You’ll be moving back and forth between three larger areas in Blackgate throughout the course of the game, like the administration offices and the inmate cell blocks, but none of them are really all that special or stand out in any way, visually. In fact, most of the environments all blend into one another before long, and remind me of the most forgettable and uninteresting segments from Arkham Asylum.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is probably the most comparable to fellow Nintendo 3DS title Castlevania: Lords of Shadow Mirror of Fate, in that the two games both try their hand at taking the core essence and gameplay mechanics of each respective console franchise and force-fitting them into a new 2.5D mold. Blackgate is very much a “Metroidvania” game experience, in which players are forced to backtrack to previously cleared areas after unlocking additional gadgets and skills in order to move forward overall. Batman Arkham fans will recognize many of the gadgets that Batman will gradually earn, including the Batclaw, Batarang, and even Explosive Gel. Each one functions with perfect respect to how they work in the console games. However, the upgrades to Batman himself are a little less inspired, and mostly revolved around increased armor and the sort.
One of the shining moments here in Blackgate is that the spin-off game manages to retain the pitch-perfect rhythm-based combat system that’s become such a staple of Rocksteady’s Batman Arkham series, albeit in a more linear and sidescrolling-esque environment. Slugging thugs around the room and countering their every attack feels just as smooth as ever, and you’ll even see a number of advanced enemy types from the console games make a reappearance here, forcing Batman to use his trusty Beat Down and Cape Stun maneuvers.
You’ll also engage in a number of fresh and exciting boss fights that throw a monkey wrench into the traditional gameplay, like the aforementioned encounter with Deadshot, in which you’ll need to strategically dodge his sniper shots while moving from cover to cover.
But it’s the actual 2.5D perspective that really makes the flaws in Blackgate show through the cracks: specifically in the segments that try to encapsulate the predator stealth maps of the big console entries. While the game remains faithful to the stealth components that were established in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, they just don’t translate NEARLY as well with this new sidescrolling setup and fixed, rigid camera angles. Sure, you’re still able to do stealth takedowns from floor grates, and you can still distract the armed thugs by triggering various environmental items, but swinging from vantage points is incredibly cumbersome, and having to manually switch between your targets is frustrating at best.
Another problem with the game’s perspective is that it directly conflicts with Blackgate’s overall level design, resulting in a hugely convoluted map screen: a feature that’s very important in games with a large emphasis on backtracking. Instead of just running left and right light most Metroidvania games, Batman will be crawling through winding air ducts, zipping around curves in the building, and just all-around gaining access to higher ground that just can’t be portrayed with the kind of needed precision on a flat 2D map screen. The storyline is also incredibly short, and the depth of exploration and discovery also feels a bit held back at times.
The game also attempts to throw in some additional side quests of sorts along the way, which are basically limited to scanning hidden objects that are scattered around the game world and unlocking different files about various crime cases.
At least entering Detective Mode is incredibly rewarding, especially when it comes to searching your surrounding environments for clues: players simply need to press and hold on a circular icon at the bottom of the touchscreen, and then move a highlighted area around on the screen using their Circle Pad. Completing each case will unlock some additional concept art and a few other surprises in the game’s main menu.
As a standalone game, I wouldn’t exactly say that Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is something that you absolutely need to go out and try, especially with the big-brother console game Arkham Origins still so fresh on the shelves.
Like most handheld iterations of a AAA franchise, Blackgate serves as a nice companion piece and portable homage to all of the many components that make the main entry games in the series so great and applauded. However, it also shows us that certain components, such as the predator segments and inclusion of side quests, are better left to the big boys upstairs. At least we all know that things certainly went uphill for Batman after this, with a certain asylum and city still glimmering in the Bat’s immediate future.
Story – 7/10
Gameplay – 6/10
Graphics – 6/10
Soundtrack – 9/10
Replayability – 6/10