There is a lot of attention being focused on the new, major console release of Batman: Arkham Origins and this may make people overlook the handheld release of Batman: Arkham Origins Blakgate. That would be a mistake. Set in a 2.5D plane, this Metroidvania style of release in the Arkham world of Batman is complex, addictive, and a breath of fresh air in the series.
Instead of doing a dumbed down port of the Arkham Origins game, developer Armature Studio (composed of many Metroid Prime vets) went ahead and created an original–well, sort of original tale–that takes place three months after Batman: Arkham Origins. I say sort of original because the storyline is a little too similar to the one featured in the first game, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Batman is called to Blackgate prison by Captain Gordon and told that there has been an explosion and the inmates are running the facility. Heading in to lock down the inmates, including Black Mask, The Penguin, and The Joker, Batman works with Catwoman to see what has happened and to restore order. The story is presented with lightly animated cut scenes but is fully voiced by the cast assembled for the Arkham Origins game.
Armature Studio did a great job adapting the major look and feel of the Arkham series to this game. Although it is presented in a 2.5D viewpoint, all of the classic ingredients such as stealth, predator mode, gadgets and battling multiple combatants are here and work exceptionally well. There are also boss fights that try to change the tempo a little bit by challenging you to switch up tactics. They don’t always succeed and can be frustrating at times, but I appreciated the change in pace and requirement to think of a different solution.
Detective mode is back in this title and is featured in a prominent way. It uses the Vita’s touchscreen to look around to identify hidden items or features. A tap on the screen activates the mode which reveals enemies and doors, but holding your finger on the screen and panning allows you to analyze the environment and find clues or environmental challenges to overcome. This is a fairly cool way to use the often overpowered detective mode and one that I appreciated as it adds a nice level of strategy and deliberation to the process.
The gameplay in Blackgate is very solid with precise controls and a whole host of gadgets get unlocked as you play through the game. I did wonder at the start why Batman would enter a dangerous facility with only his batarangs and line launcher, but for the sake of the exploration narrative I let that go. In typical Metroidvania style, there are many areas that are out of reach or not visible until you get a certain gadget, generally this gadget gets used right away and then you are reminded of the spots you have not visited yet. Being a smaller scale game there are only a few environments (Industrial area, cell blocks, and administration plus a small lighthouse), but as chunks of them are sealed off for a portion of the game it never gets boring re-visiting them. There are also dozens of hidden crates containing costume pieces and gear upgrades as well as case clues that unlock concept art and mini-dockets of information.
While I appreciate the fresh take on the Arkham formula afforded by the 2.5D perspective and continuing narrative, I am a bit disappointed that the game seems to be designed for the lowest common denominator, the 3DS. The Vita is a very powerful system and we have seen in some titles like Killzone: Mercenary, Persona 4, Injustice and others that it can do many things a console can do, but the graphics and some of the gameplay seems a little too diluted. It is still a great experience, but it makes me wonder what kind of title Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate could have been if the 3DS were not part of the release profile. Speaking of graphics, it is worth noting that the game does look fine, it just could have looked even better if the focus were 100% on the Vita, but the atmosphere, tone, and feel is great and fits well in the Arkham mythos.
The Final Word
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a game we did not know we wanted on the PlayStation Vita. It takes an established third person fully roaming franchise and successfully transitions it into 2.5D with mostly great results. All of the exploration combat, gadgets and atmosphere make the transition to this new format and we are left with a truly fun game that lives up to the Batman: Arkham series’ legacy.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence. This game can also be found on: 3DS/2DS.