Many times super heroes are off saving the world from huge, other-worldy creatures and saving us from things we didn’t even know exist. Other times it’s good for them to keep things grounded and help out when the city needs us. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate explores some of the early days of Batman’s storied career back before he was teaming up with characters like Green Lantern and the Blue Beetle. It’s a time when he was still relatively unknown and didn’t yet have access to many of the gadgets that would come to be linked to his storied crime fighting career.
What You Need to Know
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a sidescrolling action, adventure game that takes place a few months after the events of Arkham Origins. An explosion inside the prison has cause some chaos and allowed three of Batman’s biggest foes, Joker, Penguin and Black Mask to take control over different sections of the prison. The game, developed by Armature Studios, has you exploring different areas of Blackgate Prison in a Metroidvania style of play where access to different areas will be locked off until you obtain the right equipment. Catwoman teams up with you and will provide off screen assistance to Batman giving him hints and help about how to navigate around the prison.
The combat system from the Arkham series is pretty well liked by a lot of people. It’s so good that a number of other games like Captain America and even the Assassin’s Creed franchise, to some extent, have used similar styles for their melee sections. Most of the button commands from the console games are faithfully recreated in the handheld version. Some things had to be changed due to the 3DS and Vita having fewer buttons than the consoles, but as much as possible it will be second nature. That makes transitioning from console to handheld will be very easy.
The combat is smooth, fluid and dynamic. If you’ve mastered the console fighting system then you’ll pick this up very easily. One button controls your main attack and another button controls counters when you see the icons flash above inmates heads. You also have the ability to stun people with Batman’s cap taking them out of the action temporarily and helping with crowd control when you start to get overwhelmed.
It’s really nice when a franchise can keep some continuity between the different versions of the game and this will make it very easy to pick up any version of the game and be successful.
The boss fights in this game are going to be some that get you talking to people. I also think they’re going to be something you either love or hate. I fall into the love category of that equation. The boss fights in Blackgate don’t fall into a single type of fight. They’re not puzzle oriented. They’re not straight action and they’re not strictly quick time events. The developers actually do a really good job of mixing all of those into some pretty interesting sequences. You’ll have to scan the environment for clues to use during the fight, learn how enemies react to those clues and get close enough to actually fight. It’s really hard to talk about any one specific thing without spoiling some of the solutions to the puzzles in these fights. The baddies like Black Mask and Penguin won’t always be alone in these fights either and you have to be able to deal with gun wielding henchmen while trying to get close enough to trigger some of the quick time events to damage the main villain. One fight in particular against Bronze Tiger was particularly fun and utilized a number of Batmans athletic skills to avoid damage while countering his attacks and tossing him into electrified fences.
Say what you will about Metroid Other M, but I really liked that game. I liked the way that Team Ninja made you feel like you were moving around in a huge 3D environment while keeping your movement restricted to a mostly 2D plane. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate feels very much like that. It was developed by a group led by for Metroid Prime Developers and it feels like they took their experiences with that franchise, mixed in a lot of Batman: Arkham City and baked a delicious cake of action goodness. All of the action takes place on a 2D plane, but the levels are laid out in such a way that you really feel like you’re exploring a huge 3D environment. The levels bend around corners, you play with elements in the backgrounds that then shift up to become the foreground, and there are plenty of hidden paths to find if you want to explore a little bit. When in the middle of a brawl with a group of inmates you’ll see them shift in and out of the same plane as Batman to get a better position on you. Batman will shift back and forth between the two combat planes as you rack up higher and higher combo counts. The game feels like it’s got a lot of depth to it and tricks you into thinking you’re in these huge areas, when really you’re on a pretty fixed path.
I’m not really sure how to feel about detective mode in the game. It’s great to have the feature make its way over to the handheld and be implemented in ways to keep making you feel like Batman is a brilliant detective. It’s used nicely to find little things in the levels like hidden staches and clues to uncover small details about things that happened in the prison. On the other hand it’s also used to find every hidden crack, every breakable wall, every small thing that can be interacted with and it slows the game down considerably. I would have loved to have been able to just say, hey I noticed that the floor is discolored in this nice square pattern that looks like it can be blown up (because it totally can), let me get out my exploding gel gun and blow it up. You can’t though. Not until Batman has scanned it first to confirm that it can be blown up. I know it’s there to make detective mode useful, but it really slows the pace of the game down.
Some Puzzle Elements A Little Confusing
Puzzles are a pretty common thing in games, and the Batman series has been no exception. While most of the puzzles in Blackgate have been pretty straightforward there were a few that gave me pause and cause a bit of frustration. Not because they’re hard, but because there aren’t many clues as to what you need to do. One example was in the cell blocks there are a series of broken platforms in the background of one area. When you grapple over to these you’re stuck there until you figure out what to do and you can’t get back to where you were. You’re supposed to grapple and glide across and around these platforms to navigate from the right of the area to the left. At one point it seems like there’s nowhere left for you to go. What I ended up having to do what glide blindly off a platform until when I was almost off screen. At that point a platform appeared for a brief second near the top of the screen that I could grapple onto. There’s no way to see this platform at all from where you were standing originally and I just happened to luck into the solution. These puzzles are very few and very far between, but could end up being incredibly frustrating until you figure out the solution. Outside of a small handful of them, though, the puzzles are very well designed.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is the first original title produced by Armature Studios since their founding back in 2008. The early team members splintered off from Retro Studios, famous for the Metroid Prime series. This game shows that they still have some ties to that franchise while taking that knowledge and adding it to their own title. What you have is a very solid Batman game that really makes you feel like you’re in the shoes of the caped crusader. Sneaking around the prison is very satisfying and finding every little nook and cranny will take you a long time to do, but you’ll be rewarded for doing so. The combat system feels great. The story, while not really breaking any new ground pulls you along for the ride. If you’re looking for something a little more in depth than Mario or Rayman you need look no further than Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate.
Review copy of the game provided by Warner Bros.
Played through the full campgain
Total Play Time: 12 hours