The good thing is the highly regarded Batman: Arkham series has finally made its way to handhelds. The bad news is Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate offers only a taste of the precedent set by the main series. Blackgate borrows some mechanics and certain gameplay elements from the console games, but ultimately decides to be its own thing and not an open-world action-adventure. Instead, Blackgate is a 2.5D side-scroller with gameplay that closely resembles Castlevania. Although the concept is completely acceptable, the execution was all wrong.
Blackgate‘s story is told through comic-style art accompanied by decent voice-over, which you will appreciate once you hear the first set of banter between Batman and Catwoman. The work may not be on the level 90’s Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s certainly above average. Blackgate takes place 3 months after Arkham Origins finishes and the 3 main foes are Joker, the Penguin and Black Mask. Commissioner Gordon sends Batman to investigate an explosion at Blackgate Prison and winds up embarking on a rescue mission to save the guards and security men who have been taken hostage.
Batman begins this adventure with a limited set of moves and equipment. As you make your way deeper into the depths of Blackgate Prison, you will discover and unlock new gadgets. From there, you can make your way back to that originally unopenable door you passed 30 minutes ago and bust it open with your new found toy. It’s a tried and true gameplay style that has served many classics well, but Blackgate screams unpolished and mundane.
Getting lost in Blackgate is fairly easy, because environments in Blackgate Prison look vastly similar and maps are represented only in 2D. Every area has a fixed camera angle and path and that’s where the problem lies. Because the game is constantly pushing and pulling Batman into the background and foreground, it is disorienting and it’s hard to tell which direction you’re going in regards to the map. Most of the time, I found myself checking the map as a reference point, going a certain direction for a few steps and then checking the map again to confirm which way I was going. It’s a poor design choice, because maps should be intuitive and easy understand.
Gameplay in Blackgate is very constrictive in terms of what you can or can’t do. Jumping, crawling and even using some of the Bat’s tools are completely context sensitive. Discovering a path or secret ledge is determined by whether or not you decided to try out the grappling hook’s autolock or not with a push of a button. What ends up happening is you try to autolock on stuff in every area, which is not only repetitive, but also makes sweeping a room of all its nooks and crannies incredibly easy.
What isn’t context sensitive are Batman’s combat moves. Punching and throwing batarangs are available for use at any time, but this also adds to some of Blackgate‘s troubles. There is a half second delay when you approach a door or a ledge and are prompted to act upon it. So, what ends up happening more times than desired, especially for impatient speedsters like me, is that you end up swinging wildly at a door that you simply wanted to open. It makes the entire experience feel clunky and becomes very noticeably bothersome as you progress.
Combat closely resembles its console counterpart and translates well onto a 2D plane. Enemies with guns are a bit tougher here, because shots just need to be going your direction in order to hit its mark whereas the 3D world offers the ability to sidestep. Boss battles are one of the only highlights of Blackgate as they are a breath of fresh air compared to the constant backtracking and trial and error door hacking. The bull-fighting esque battle against Solomon Grundy or one-on-one battle against Joker serve well as entertaining and challenging battles.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is everything you would want from a Batman game if this was 1997 and the Arkham main series hadn’t already set a bar really high. The thing is, Blackgate is certainly not on par with your Castlevanias and Metroids and is not anywhere close to being a good Batman game comparatively speaking. For that, it’s hard to forgive the missteps taken by Armature Studios, a team that consists of key members who worked on the Metroid Prime Trilogy. For now, it’s best to steer clear of this handheld companion game and revisit the consoles titles.