The awkward, sidescrolling adventures of the Dark Knight.
Isn’t it strange that so many handheld games are being upscaled and ported to HD consoles? It happened with Resident Evil: Revelations, Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate. Now it’s happened to Arkham Origins: Blackgate, a game that previously appeared on the 3DS and Vita. I never played it on those handhelds, but I’d always wanted to try—the concept of a 2D Arkham game from the people who brought you the Metroid Prime Trilogy seemed too good to be true. From what I understand, this “Deluxe” Edition brings an improved map and new costumes for Batman to find. I can’t really comment on how the map was improved, but I can certainly comment on how it operates now.
Blackgate is set three months after Arkham Origins, which feels like déjà vu, as the latter third of Arkham Origins takes place in…Blackgate Prison. At any rate, here the Penguin, Joker, and Black Mask have taken over different wings of Blackgate, and Gordon sends Batman to deal with them. Cutscenes are told through hand-drawn motion comics that probably looked fine on handhelds but feel a little cheap on the big screen. Roger Craig Smith is still voicing the Dark Knight, so I still believe that Chris Redfield is underneath the cape and cowl (I know I shouldn’t care, but it’s distracting).
It’s not really fair to call Blackgate a 2D game, because you’re very often moving towards and away from the camera. It would be more accurate to say that Blackgate is a 3D game with a fixed camera, but even that description doesn’t really get the point across. In fact, it’s this dual identity that brings about so many of the game’s issues.
Rumors of Blackgate being short are simply incorrect: this is a huge, sprawling, multi-area facility with innumerable cracks and crevices to investigate and items to find. The three main areas include the Administration Building, Industrial Complex, and Cell Block. Each area eventually leads to the other areas, but there are times where you can leave the facility and manually choose your entrance point to one of the other buildings. Each building is itself a labyrinth. One wonders how the staff gets any work done when it requires a treasure map, a GPS tracker, and a special encryption key to get from the warden’s office to the bathroom.
The routes are needlessly complex and the level design has been over-engineered. It shouldn’t take me a half hour to get from one end of the Administration Building to the other with all my equipment. It does, though, because new equipment is almost always used to get to new place; it is rarely used to make an existing route easier or quicker to navigate. Contrast this with the Metroid games, where most upgrades allow access to new areas but also make getting around easier. No amount of Batarangs, Line Launchers, or Explosive Gel can make the trek through a mile of ventilation shafts any easier.
Things might also be easier if the map was easier to read. I know that Armature supposedly improved the map for consoles, and if so, I’d hate to see how atrocious it was on handhelds. On the consoles, it basically looks like a Metroid Prime map, but cadres of rooms will be quarantined and connected to other cadres of rooms by innumerable dotted lines. Elevation is poorly represented, especially in areas where two different rooms overlap. Being able to rotate the map might help things, but you can’t do that—you can only zoom in and out. For me, the most brain-twisting aspect is that this is a 3D map because the game’s environment is essentially 3D, but you’re still moving on a 2D plane. When Batman needs to go south to get to a door, but his map icon is facing east, and then I go back to the game and he’s only moving left or right, I’m throwing up my hands.
Eventually, I got acclimated to the map, but never comfortable with it. I’m taking it room-by-room. Another improvement could have adding a waypoint system, where you set a target and then you can flash a route to that target, like in Dead Space. In the end, the fusion of a 2D playing field on a 3D map just becomes overly confusing. I will, however, recommend Miiverse for people who get stuck or lost, it helped me a ton.
Combat proved to be a fun and rhythmic feature of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but WB Montreal screwed up the timing in Arkham Origins and Armature just doesn’t know what to do with it in Blackgate. This is another case of a 3D world hampering 2D design. Enemies appear all around Batman, but he only attacks people in front of or behind him. He doesn’t (consistently) string hits together—your combo will often break because Batman decides to ignore the goon two feet away and punch empty air. It’s also difficult to tell armored enemies or knife-wielding enemies from everyone else, and goons don’t give you a chance to pull of the required stun combo on those guys before they start pummeling you. Overall, the combat is wildly inconsistent and always frustrating. Thankfully, it’s not nearly as prevalent as it is in other Arkham games.
One more bad thing: Remember how, at the end of Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2, the developers showed you the door to the final boss and said “go explore the entire world all over again and find a bunch of keys” and you threw the controller across the room? Well, they did it again here, except the keys are pointed out to you. Unfortunately, getting to the keys involves navigating Blackgate’s frustrating map. There are a lot of keys, and I’ve already gone through this world looking for pickups. I don’t appreciate having to do it again.
But a few things really save the game for me. When you’re doing nothing but exploring for the sake of exploring, Blackgate shines. There are lots of collectables to find: boosts to your melee strength, upgrades to your equipment, the equivalent of Heart Containers, and new skins that offer different stat boosts. Batman can also learn a little more storyline by searching for clues using Detective Vision (more on that in a minute). Once he finds all the clues in a given case, it unlocks some concept art. I also love how Batman’s items are integrated into the world: you’ll constantly be switching between your Batarang, Line Launcher, Explosive Gel gun, and Grapple to navigate. It was fun to use the analog stick to focus on particular things in Detective Vision, which are then analyzed just like in Metroid Prime.
Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate Deluxe Edition is both fun and frustrating—exactly the kind of game I don’t like reviewing. If you can focus on the parts that work (exploration, collectibles) and downplay the stuff that doesn’t (the map, the combat), you’ll have a good time. I can’t recommend this to people who already played it on Vita or 3DS, though—unless you really loved it, it’s probably not worth the double-dip.