‘Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate’ Review

Platforms: PlayStation Vita/ Nintendo 3DS

Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment 

Developer: Armature Studio

Genre: Action Adventure 

Platform Played: PlayStation Vita

The Batman Arkham series has proven it is possible to allow gamers to jump into Batman’s shoes. The exploration, storytelling and combat all tie together wonderfully to make the player actually feel like the Dark Knight himself. So, with the first handheld version in the Arkham series, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, how well does Batman transfer to the portable landscape?

Everything about the Arkham games captures the look and feel of Batman, including the score and art design. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is no different. When I first loaded the game and heard the score playing in the background on the start menu, I knew Blackgate was going to have great sound design. The score is great with the dramatic tracks we’ve come to expect from Batman games and movies. Unfortunately, the score is not present that much throughout the game except for the cut scenes.

Speaking of which, the cut scenes are presented in a comic book style of animation. This style of animation allows Armature to bring the best of the comic’s medium, add voice acting and sound effects. It’s a unique style of storytelling that is effective and beautiful at the same time.

The voice acting sees the cast of Arkham Origins playing the same roles (if they had one). Troy Baker as the Joker is definitely a stand out, but Roger Craig Smith (Batman), Grey DeLisle (Catwoman), and the rest of the cast perform stellar jobs too. The chemistry between the Joker and Batman has been created and played out well with the Joker’s playful, teasing tone contrasted by Batman’s to-the-point attitude. Baker’s Joker has a laugh that is so good it will send chills down your spine. However, this only occurs for about a third of the six to seven hour game, because of the way the game is structured. Similarly, Blackgate features Batman’s first run in with Catwoman, and the chemistry between the pair is also expressed well.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is set three months after the events of Arkham Origins. There has been an explosion at Blackgate prison and Joker, Penguin and Black Mask have each taken over a different part of the prison. In any order you choose, Batman must infiltrate each area and take down the villains. The last thirty minutes or so change depending on which villain you take down last, but this does not have much impact on the overall story because the final events are the same. This adds some replayability to the game, with the player able to change the order they approach the levels each time. While there are a couple of references to the console version, given I had not played Arkham Origins before reviewing Blackgate, I don’t feel these references spoil either game.

I found the plot to be fairly weak. It appeared to be just a way to justify Batman’s exploration of Blackgate Prison. There is very little character development and character interaction is mainly left to the cut scenes. I feel that Armature Studio assumed players would have already played Arkham Origins before playing Blackgate, so that’s why there is not much in the area of character introductions or back stories.

The gameplay in Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is based on a Metroid-Vania style of exploration. That is, a game where backtracking through environments is necessary. You may have to go back to find a new gadget, or to head to a different objective. The areas you explore can only be described as giant mazes. The 2.5D graphics mean remembering where to go can sometimes become a difficulty with branching paths often leading you astray.

The Bluepoint Engine makes the environments you explore look great on the Vita’s screen. Blackgate looks just like the other Arkham games, but with scaled down textures and effects. The engine makes handheld games look surprisingly good considering the power restraints. It will be interesting to see what Vita games could look like if someone pushed the engine to its limits.

The map does an adequate job at helping you get your bearings, but I found it to be poorly designed. At times, you cannot tell what rooms lead to where, and whether the room you are looking for is even on the same level you are on. Sometimes, even though I was standing on the exclamation point on the map, it failed to tell me I actually had to go up a floor. This often led to frustration as I walked around and around searching to no avail.

Thankfully, it is mostly fun to explore Blackgate Prison. Using Batman’s grappling hook to get around is fun and the vast amount of collectables means you are always on the lookout for hidden rooms that can usually only be accessed once you have acquired more than one gadget. The collectables range from things like Joker Teeth or replicas of Black Mask’s mask, to suit upgrades, to new suits and evidence for crime cases. Even once you’ve finished the game, there is always another reason to head back in to Blackgate Prison.

One of the best things about the Arkham games is the free-flow combat system. Armature has managed to bring the system to the handheld version, and it feels very much like the console counterpart. However, Batman cannot use his gadgets in combat so you are left with only a few options to beat enemies. Nonetheless, combat remains fun and engaging. There is a nice mix between stealth based combat and hand-to-hand combat, but I would have liked an additional mode that allows you to just do combat challenges (think Riddler challenge mode from Arkham City).

There are a couple of down sides to the combat, though. Once enemies in a room have been defeated, they do not respawn (except in rare cases towards the end of the game). So once you have cleared out nearly every room, there are no combat sequences to break up the backtracking. This is a shame considering how well the combat has been brought over. Furthermore, there is no difficulty level so advanced players may not find combat much of a challenge. Similarly, casual players have no way of making the experience easier.

The boss battles may be some of the most frustrating I have ever played. I found them to be quite difficult, but they are fine once you work out patterns. That’s not the problem I have with them though. Some of the boss battles are fairly long, and checkpoint placement in my opinion, could have been better. When you die, you have to sit through loading times of the level loading, then the cutscene loading, and then the boss battle loading. If you die multiple times, you have to do this multiple times.

The exploration must be emphasised because it will ultimately determine your enjoyment of the game. If the exploration segments of the console Arkham games were not your forte, you may want to give Blackgate a miss. The game has a mostly slow pace which is especially true towards the end of the game.

With Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, Armature Studio has proven that a console quality Batman experience is possible on handheld devices. There is definitely room for improvement in most departments, but fans of the caped crusader will not be disappointed. The excessive backtracking can sometimes feel like a burden, but there is a fun experience to have if you look past that. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a good game, but some of the design choices prevent it from being a great game.

The Good:

+          Batman on handheld devices

+          Comic cutscenes

+          Voice acting and score

+          Exploration

The Bad:

–          Excessive Backtracking

–          Weak Plot

–          Enemies do not respawn

The Score: 7.8