Bringing a successful console franchise to handheld systems is no easy feat. Handheld renditions of popular titles tend to be dumbed down and generally inferior versions of their console cousins. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, however, manages to provide a simplified, handheld friendly, Arkham-esque experience while still remaining faithful to the quality we’ve come to expect from the series. Blackgate accepts that it is a portable title and embraces the features that come with that label, though that’s not to say that the game isn’t without its flaws.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate puts players in the shoes of none other than the Dark Knight around three months after the events of Batman: Arkham Origins. An explosion at Blackgate prison, the current abode for Gotham’s all-star cast of villains, sends Batman on a quest to investigate and save the hostages still trapped within the prison walls. Things have managed to go from normal to bad fairly quickly and by the time Batman arrives to the scene, the three sections of the prison have each been taken under the control of a local crime lord. The Joker reigns over the Cell Block, the Penguin overseeing the Administration Offices, and Black Mask in charge of the Industrial Area. These three areas can be faced in any order and each is jam packed with unlockable weapons, upgrades, and armor to be found hidden about. Likewise, bosses and minibosses from each can be faced in any order desired.
Those who have played any of the past three Arkham games will feel right at home. Naturally, the PS Vita isn’t able to compete with the graphical experience on the PS3, Xbox 360, or PC. Despite this, Blackgate still manages to look pretty dang good and is probably one of the best looking games I’ve played on the Vita to date. From good old fashioned vent destruction to familiar combo based combat, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate pulls much inspiration right from its parent games. You have access to many of the same tools found in the other games, such as batarangs, explosive gel, grapple, the zipline, and Detective Mode. Combat, though slightly different due to the 2D nature of the game, is largely the same as anything else you’ve experienced. You’ve got an attack, a counter, and a stun. Punch the heck out of opponents to build up a combo meter, all while watching for the lightening bolt symbols that indicate its time to counter an incoming attack. Different types of thugs are gradually introduced into the mix, forcing you to dodge and stun rather than just mash the square button.
While the overall feel and look of the game is reminiscent of console Arkham titles, the core gameplay itself couldn’t be farther off. Some elements remain similar, such as the combat system and function of batman’s gadgets mentioned above. But while the preceding Arkham games have boasted an open world environment, Batman’s Blackgate adventure is experienced through a mostly 2D interface, or 2.5D, as it has been called. So yeah: Blackgate is pretty much a sidescoller. Environments are modeled in 3D, but for the most part you witness a correction of the scene from a static camera angle. The hallway may twist into the foreground or background as you progress, but the camera moves right along with it. You’ll hardly ever need to tilt that analogue stick upwards in regular exploration. The effect was underwhelming at first, but as I progressed in the game it began to grow on me. 2.5D is something that works well on a handheld system.
Though movement through a scene is essentially on one ‘track’ down the middle of the room, Batman is able to grapple to higher ledges to any direction of him. To pass between the foreground and background in some areas, you are able to drop down or grip ledges in either so you are granted the illusion of depth in that way. And while, overall, the 2.5D maneuver system works wonderfully for the game, it did have its shortcomings. Very often I felt that I was hardly interacting with the game, especially early on. Progressing in a level was no harder than pushing the stick either left or right then holding down X to run/jump a la Assassins Creed 1. This faded some as I progressed into the game and was introduced to more obstacles and maneuver abilities (zipline, ducking through vents, rolling over randomly placed spike strips, solving minor puzzles) but the feeling of slight boredom from moving through the levels never fully vanished.
You are given a map which displays the layout for all buildings and rooms accessed, but overall the map did little to nothing to help me in the game. Nine times out of ten, reaching your destination is as simple as running the direction you didn’t enter from. At least one time in each of the three zones you’ll reach an obstacle that requires a gadget from one of the other two zones to bypass. There is no quick way out. This means retracing your steps through an entire level to get back to the entrance of whatever building you were in. It takes forever and, despite the journey into the level being fairly linear, by the time you’re forced to backtrack you’ve opened up multiple pathways and tunnels through vents and exploded walls. The map is next to no help in navigating these twists and turns. The topdown blueprint layout of the map does very little to work with the 2.5D movement the game boasts.
One thing I’m always eager to discover about handheld titles is how they utilize the hardware they’re played on. Both the 3DS and the PS Vita have mobility and touch screen capabilities. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate makes use of these features in just the right way. Motion and touch controls are used, but not overused through very specific functions. Activating detective mode enhances Batman’s observation skills. While in detective mode, touching anywhere on the map will activate a special investigation tool. This tool can detect fragile objects, find blood or chemical trails left by enemies, or even find hidden clues to the game’s hidden ‘mysteries’. Adversely, if an object is able to be broken by a batarang or other tool, it must first be targeted and analyzed through this mode. Though sometimes tedious, this is an overall positive use of the touchscreen feature. Motion control is harnessed, optionally, through the crypto sequencer which uses the motion controls built into the handheld to select a series of numbers from a grid. In both instances, the features the current generation of handheld gaming systems has to offer are used wonderfully.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a unique member of the Arkham series of games. Though it differs from its predecessors, those differences do not hold it back. Blackgate makes good use of the tools and limitations it is given. Though it does fail to amaze at times, Blackgate still manages to be an average game despite its flaws.
[+2.5D Works Well For System, Simulates Depth] [+Great Looking Vita Game] [+Motion and Touch Controls are Used, but not Overused] [-Frequent Backtracking Sucks] [-Tedious Movement and Gameplay] [-Rage Inducing Maps]