Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Review
Batman: Vent Inspector
Portable Batman games have…not been good, to say the least. I shudder now as I recall having played Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker on Game Boy Color, which ranks right up there as being one of the worst games ever created. Before the Arkham series, his console exploits weren’t really all that great either (I did enjoy Batman Begins and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, though). Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is meant to be a companion to its console brethren, Batman: Arkham Origins. It’s not a very memorable experience.
Set three months after the events of the Arkham Origins, Blackgate begins with Batman being introduced to Catwoman. Batman catches her and she is placed in Blackgate Prison. A few weeks later Captain Gordon (he hasn’t been promoted to “Commissioner” just yet) contacts Batman and informs him that an explosion has occurred at Blackgate, which has led to the prison being divided into three sections, each being controlled by Black Mask, Penguin and the Joker. Batman must journey between each section several times and figure out what’s REALLY going down. All is not as it seems.
The combat system in Blackgate is almost exactly the same as it was in the other Arkham games, which is remarkable considering it’s a side-scroller. The familiarity of it is undeniable, though, once Batman starts leaping from opponent to opponent, delivering blows and racking up combos. However, the combos in Blackgate don’t really matter; they’re really just there to make players feel powerful. Blackgate features no upgrade system like the other Arkham games, relying instead on a few of Batman’s gadgets.
That’s because Blackgate is concerned more with Batman’s detective skills than it is with his fighting abilities. Batman spends the majority of his time in Blackgate Prison figuring out which of his items will open which door/gate/vent and deciding which section of the prison he needs to visit next. One section might require an item that Batman doesn’t have yet, so he must visit another section to acquire it. This could lead to a boss battle, and the boss battles in Blackgate are composed of that rare trait that makes them the best thing in the game they’re in. All of the bosses are fun to fight, but even some of them are just puzzles.
Batman must use his much-touted Detective Mode in just about every area to plan his next course of action. Necessary objects in the environment are highlighted while the mode is activated. Interacting with each and every one of these objects is the key to success in Blackgate. Since Blackgate does play out like a Metroidvania-type game, hidden power-ups are everywhere, but they’re usually pretty easy to find as long as Detective Mode is constantly active.
Graphics & Sound
Blackgate unfortunately suffers sometimes visually as a result of being a portable experience. The moody, dreary atmosphere present in the other Arkham games is still there, but character models aren’t that detailed. Batman looks as if he doesn’t have eyeballs, and the thugs Batman takes down are hard to tell apart aside from the fact that some of them carry weapons. It’s not an ugly game at all, but some of its graphical discrepancies are pretty noticeable. The cutscenes are odd, taking on the appearance of a comic book in motion, and they look good as long as the characters in them aren’t moving. Then they just look silly.
The soundtrack is made up of music from the other Arkham games, which means it’s pretty good, but sometimes doesn’t fit. The music is so loud at times it seems as if it’s going to bust the 3DS’ speakers. All the voice actors from the Arkham games are present (save for Mark Hamill, who was of course replaced by Troy Baker). They’re all good in those games, and they’re all good in Blackgate.
Blackgate constantly gets in the way of itself. It strikes a nice balance of exploration/combat for some decent stretches of time, but then it does that annoying thing that all Metroidvania games do where it requires players to backtrack to obtain an item in order to progress. Blackgate does this a lot, to the point where it’s almost unbearable. However, sticking with it will usually lead to another enjoyable stretch. Still, it’s irritating to, for example, figure out how to open a gate only to find a locked door behind it, leading to more backtracking.
Also, Batman just can’t seem to stay out of vents in Blackgate. Were doors included in the blueprints for Blackgate Prison? If so, you’d think Batman would be able to use them. Instead, in the interest of “stealth” (which isn’t required at all in Blackgate), Batman rips at least 72 covers off ventilation shafts and then crawls through them at .5 mph to reach a new area. The new area usually has a door in it that LEADS DIRECTLY BACK TO THE AREA HE ENTERED THE SHAFT IN. The thing is, he couldn’t open the door from the opposite side. Batman, the world’s greatest detective, can’t open doors. Gotham City is screwed.
As I mentioned, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate has some good stretches, and because of that it’s an OK game. It’s merely playable because much of it is a drag. I believe Armature could create a great Batman-style Metroidvania game, but they haven’t yet. They developed one that is interesting, but filled with all sorts of inconveniences. The handheld crowd is still begging for a worthy Batman game. They’ll have to keep waiting.