When WB announced they were making a handheld entry in the Arkham universe, I was excited to see how it would turn out. One of my favorite franchises from this generation has been the Arkham games, and having just closed out the third (and likely) final chapter of the series for this set of consoles, I am ready for something fresh. After watching the credits roll on Arkham Origins, I immediately booted up Blackgate, which much to my surprise didn’t pan out as well as I had hoped.
The story of Blackgate takes place after the events of Arkham Origins. Blackgate prison has been overrun by inmates and is now being run by Black Mask, Penguin and The Joker. It is best to note that those wanting to avoid spoilers for Origins, might want to wrap up that game before tackling Blackgate. I was also a bit disappointed that this game focuses on an area that is featured in Origins, making it feel recycled, especially coming hot off the heels of the console version.
The voice actors return to reprise their roles, though the cut scenes are handled differently this time around. They are now still comic book panels with some minimal animation. It looked cool at first, but wore out its welcome by the time the credits rolled. It was nice seeing some new faces such as Catwoman, but a lot of the characters are again recycled from Origins.
The biggest change to the Arkham formula here is that Blackgate takes place from a 2.5D perspective. Most of Batman’s movement is done by moving left to right. Bringing that formula from 2D to 3D was a smooth transition, going backwards feels awkward at best. Blackgate tries to bring the same mechanics that make the Arkham series so great such as combat and stalking enemies, but it feels stiff.
Even though Batman is returning to Blackgate after Origins, he seems to have lost his gadgets. It is never explained outside of the typical “it’s a game” mentality as to why Bats is only carrying his trusty Batarang into the prison. It is also never explained why his gadgets are lying around the prison to be found either.
Blackgate succeeds mostly when it is focusing on the exploration of the prison. The map is decent in size, and gated areas are abundant. Obtaining a new weapon that unlocks a new portion of the prison is always interesting; I just wish the combat implications were as entertaining. The prison is broken up into three sections, one for each villain. Sadly they all feel familiar except Joker’s area, which is of course littered with his colorful markings.
Combat is the area where most of my issues stem from. Blackgate inherits the same free-flow style from other Arkham games, but on a flat plane. There is a bit of wiggle room when in an encounter, but it’s never enough to keep things straight. For starters, enemies are simply dumber here. Many times they would swing the wrong direction at me. Countering also becomes an issue as being so tightly confined I couldn’t tell who was attempting to hit me. Batman also lost some range in his attacks, as pressing the button and a direction ended up in me whiffing air when enemies were too far on the other side of the screen.
Predator sections also suffer the wrath of 2D. Going into a room in an Arkham game full of armed soldiers was always tense. In Blackgate it is sigh-inducing. Options are far more limited, and when they do open up, keeping track of tiny Batman is a chore. The camera pans out so far that it is nigh impossible to see our dark knight amidst the scenery. In smaller spaces it becomes a game of cat and mouse, where I decide how many bullets I can take combined with how many enemies there are. It just isn’t as fluid or fun as the console games.
I understand it is a handheld, but in that instance I would ask that they design it with that in mind. Instead they attempt to shoehorn the same mechanics into a different style of game, and it simply doesn’t work.
Another sore spot are the boss fights. What ended up being a highlight in Origins turns out to be a disappointment here. These encounters almost always consist of heavy quick-time events that do little to challenge the player. Sadly there are also recycled encounters, but they do add enough new ones to make it worthwhile. I just wish they were more inventive.
Visually the game looks good. Animations are almost as sharp as its console brethren and seeing it on the Vita really showcases that gorgeous screen. The voice work is top-notch and outside of the comic book style cut scenes; this is one fine looking game. The 3DS takes a small hit in resolution, but makes up for it with the 3D effect during the cut scenes.
Arkham Origins: Blackgate is an interesting first entry, but it attempts to mimic its console counterpart a bit too much. Some of these elements simply don’t work in a 2D style game, and it hurts the overall experience too much at times. Still, fans of the lore will enjoy the continued narrative and characters, and I hope the team at Armature gets a chance to make another one of these with some new ideas behind it. For a game that combines Batman and Metroidvania-style game play, Blackgate lacks enough ingenuity to keep me interested.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.