Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Review
A disappointing port of a lacklustre spinoff
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (hereafter referred to as simply Blackgate, that’s a mouthful) was originally a handheld game released at the same time as Arkham Origins on the home consoles, and has now been ported to consoles via Xbox Live and PlayStation Network as well as PC. Set after the events of Arkham Origins, the game goes back to the one location affair of Asylum, as the Joker, Black Mask and the Penguin lead a mass breakout/takeover of the eponymous prison, carving up the areas of the prison between them and thus needing Batman to swoop in and take them down.
The game itself has been done in the vein of a Metroidvania type experience that presents itself in “2.5D.” This essentially means you’ll be side-scrolling a majority of the time, but you’ll also have the ability to leap in and out of the fore and background. Whilst this sounds like it’d add more depth, all it does is add to the game’s biggest problem: there isn’t enough to do.
This game is like a marathon in the worst sort of way. Here is an example: you’ll enter an area and be tasked with bringing down one of the three major villains. You’ll progress a certain amount in the prison, taking out baddies and fighting the odd boss and then your advance will be halted. The game then informs you that the thing you need to carry on is over in another area on the other side of the prison. Cue a lengthy eventless jaunt (because you’d have decked all the criminals on your way in and they don’t respawn) to where the item is and the same jaunt back again to bypass the previous barrier. Repeat ad nauseum. A decent play time in any game is appreciated but not when it’s so clearly padded like this. Every time I received a message from Catwoman (your contact in the prison as the only not-entirely-evil Batman villain there is) telling me the keycard I needed was on some thug all the way across the other side of Blackgate, it made me groan out loud.
The other main problem is the way the combat and stealth systems from the console Arkham games have been sloppily implemented into this 2D (sorry, 2.5D) instalment. First: the combat. Whilst serviceable, it suffers from the same disjointedness and disconnected from player input that plagued Origins, only now more limited due to the 2D setting. The same ideas are at play, using certain moves to attack certain types of enemies, but it all doesn’t flow as well it should. Cape stuns don’t chain properly, you can no longer knife dodge, etc. On a few occasions I was ping ponged to death between two armoured enemies as I was unable to stun and beatdown one whilst holding off another. I understand the need to make things more challenging and adjust for two dimensional gameplay, but simply removing elements of the combat system is not the way to go about it.
The same goes for the stealth, even more so. This is more due to the environment not being layered and clever enough to be conducive to a fun stealth gameplay experience. Put simply, 2D stealth attempting to use a majorly cut down mechanics from the console games doesn’t work. The beauty of the Predator system from the console games is the multitude of ways Batman can take down his foes. It forced the player to get creative and as you picked off the baddies one by one, they grew more scared of you. It made you really feel like the Caped Crusader. Blackgate is severely scaled back; now you can only take down enemies by sneaking up behind them and most of the time, even sometimes when you’re hiding in a grate, the goons will magically spin around at the last minute and spot you, leaving you to flail in the hope of hitting them all before they riddle you with bullets.
The one thing this game does execute rather well is the boss fights, particularly the ones against the three main villains, but these are brief shining moments in an otherwise lacklustre gaming experience. In the same vain as the boss fights from Origins, each boss fight challenges a different aspect of the game’s core systems, such as combat, stealth and lateral thinking. With the aforementioned problems, you’d think this would be an issue but the encounters with Batman’s rogues gallery come off as the only instances in the game where the gameplay elements are done correctly. It’s as if the programmers created the boss fights with care and attention to detail but then hung the rest of the game haphazardly around them to pad out the hours.
Graphically, it’s pretty much what you would expect from a handheld game ported to console, with the exception of the gorgeously animated cut-scenes hand-drawn and sparsely animated to resemble the comics. Seriously, if someone were to do an entire Batman series on television in this style, I would totally watch it. Unfortunately, these cut-scenes would sometimes stutter and during both them and gameplay itself, the sound occasionally cut out. It made me thankful for subtitles.
All in all, Blackgate is par for the course when it comes to the most recent trend of handheld counterparts of triple A console games. The fact that the version I played on the Xbox 360 was a direct port with no changes from the handheld version is a disappointment in itself. If you’re after your Batman fix in anticipation of Arkham Knight later this year, you’re better off saving your money and replaying Asylum or City.