Gaming Nomad vs. Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate
MORE BATMAN! It’s been awhile since my last review, so I thought I’d check the little brother of last year’s Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate. Unfortunately, Origins’ little brother is kind of a stupid brat.
Released the same day as Arkham Origins, Blackgate was a hand held version of the game for the 3DS and PSVita. However, it was an entirely different game with a different story and gameplay style.
Designed as a 2.5D side -scroller, it’s plays like a crappy version of the classic Castlevania, only with more Batman and less classic goodness. So what’s wrong with this pile of bat guano? Let’s take a look.
Set a few months after the events of Arkham Origins (technically making this a sequel), the storyline introduces Batman during his first encounter with Catwoman on the rooftops in downtown Gotham. After a chase and some banter, Catwoman is captured and arrested. The game then skips forward a couple weeks to Blackgate prison, where there’s been an explosion. On the opposite side of the river, Commissioner Gordon watches the situation as Batman creeps in the nearby shadows.
Gordon explains the situation, and Batman heads across the river over to the prison because, well, he’s Batman. Once inside, he finds Catwoman, who explains there was a botched prison escape and that The Penguin, The Joker, and Black Mask have taken up positions in the prison and are fighting for turf. Batman must now find his way through the ruined prison and take down several of his most notorious villains once again.
Similar to Arkham Origins, the story is the best thing the game has going for it–to a degree.
While it’s interesting to see how Batman first meets Catwoman and watch the gradual formation of the Suicide Squad, there isn’t much strength in Blackgate’s storytelling. The twist at the end is nothing that we don’t really see coming. There isn’t much character development for any of the established characters from the console version of the game.
Some villains, like Dead Shot, make a return from Arkham Origins, and there a couple new ones like Bronze Tiger and Solomon Grundy. Sadly, they don’t have much back story, and Batman seems to already know who they are. Basically, the plot is like a soggy sandwich: It starts out good and has a decent ending, but everything in the middle is just bland. Well, that’s okay because there is plenty of gameplay, right? Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of Blackgate’s troubles really begin.
The game functions as a 2.5D side-scroller, meaning you’re in a 3D environment but move on a 2D plain. Let’s start with the good. The 2.5D gameplay is used in creative ways, like Batman grappling to something in the back ground, and makes interesting use of the camera as he moves through certain areas. Detective mode is handled differently in Blackgate. On the touch screen, you press the Bat Symbol to enter detective mode and hold it down to activate the analyzer. You move the analyzer around with the circle pad to find clues, secrets, and useful things in the environment.
This is vital side missions. You can find clues to various cases littered around the prison. Solving these will unlock bonuses. These are far less involved than the side missions from the previous games, however. There is no way to level up, so all of Batman’s equipment and suit upgrades come from finding WayneTech crates scattered around the prison. The game doesn’t really clarify why these crates from WayneTech are in the prison, but at least it gives you more reason to explore. You can also find pieces of alternate costumes for Batman to wear. This feature is pretty neat, and I actually wouldn’t mind seeing it in the console versions. Sadly, the good things end there.
Where do I begin with all the things wrong with this game? The controls really bugged me. They are nowhere near as responsive as they should be. There are times where you must interact with doors or tunnels in the background and you can only do that if the prompt appears, which only happens if you stand in precisely the right spot. Even after you find this magic spot, you have to mash on the B button several frustrating times before the game responds.
Here’s an annoying example: At one point you must hit a locked hatch with a batarang to get the attention of a guard. Once he comes close, Batman has to knock him out with the batarang. Problem is the prompt to knock him out only appears when it feels like it, so what should be a simple bit of gameplay turns into a crap shoot.
The game moves at a much slower pace from the previous Arkham games, which is fine but the lack of control makes the game a lot less fun. Combat happens much less often, and t when it does it’s been dulled down so much that it’s barely satisfying. There are no combos, take downs, or quick-fire gadgets. You just punch! punch! punch! — oh, and and occasionally dodge. That’s it. Defeating armed guards is much more difficult since your move set is very limited. The most you can do is sneak up on one and knock him out, or just bum rush them and punch them out before they can gun you down. It takes away almost all of the strategy from previous games.
On top of that, you only have four gadgets: batarangs, line launcher, bat claw, and sticky explosive launcher.
While I do like how many of these gadgets are used to progress through the game, they are nearly useless in combat. The only exception is boss battles, which are hit and miss. The early boss fights feel like quick time events, just dodging attacks and knowing when to counter. The Dead Shot boss fight is pretty neat, though. Half the fight you have a POV from Dead Shot’s sniper scope, and you have move between cover between his shots. The fight with the Joker actually makes use of most of your equipment, and it feels like the first real fight with him in the Arkham series.
But what ultimately frustrated me about this game was the large amount of back tracking. I hate back tracking. It seemed like every time I got to an objective, I wouldn’t be able to progress until I went and got something from the other side of the prison. It got very old very fast, following the endless repetitive game-padding. The layout of the levels and map are confusing, with limited direction, and most of the time left me running around aimlessly wondering where the hell I was supposed to go next. The other Arkham games have lots of varied side missions with huge areas to explore. This element is painfully missing in Blackgate.
I know it’s a hand held game and has limitations, but they could have done more to make playing this game feel like less of a chore. I could only play this game for 10 or 20 minutes at a time before having to put it down again from dying of boredom in this convoluted maze of a prison. Any fun or interest I was having at the start of this game was killed within an hour.
I had to resort to using walkthroughs multiple times, and it is hard to find full walkthroughs of this game. That’s a bad sign.
GRAPHICS AND SOUND:
The graphics in this game are like the good, the bad, and the ugly. Let’s take a look at the good first. The cut scenes are designed as an animated comic book similar to the cut scenes from Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, but here it is much more fitting since, you know, Batman is a comic book hero. The cut scenes are very colorful and ultimately become what you look forward to seeing in the game.
Some have said they would like to see a Batman game that is entirely made up of this visual style. That might be a cool idea.
The Bad: While the environment of Blackgate is nicely made, it’s just boring to look at. There is very little color variation. I know it’s a prison, so ugly gray walls are the norm, but even the first Arkham Asylum game had lots of variation in scenery. Blackgate is like purgatory for your eyes. It’s just boring to look at all the way through.
The Ugly: The in-game character models are downright ugly. They are on par with the character models from the first Metal Gear Solid. The regular thug enemies are just a smear of textures, and their hands look like mittens. The main characters have slightly better models, but they still look like potato people. I know it’s a handheld game and there are limitations, but the character models in Resident Evil Revelations and Pokémon X and Y looked amazing.
The sound has much more going for it. The music is good, even if it’s just reused music from the Origins and Arkham City soundtrack. The voice acting is good, as we have the same voice actors from Origins along with the return of Grey DeLisle as Catwoman (Grey’s Wikipedia picture is hilarious). It is a little annoying that some of the dialogue is just reused sound clips from Arkham Origins, but only a big time fan of these games would probably notice. Like me…
Overall, Batman Blackgate is a disappointment, though I can’t say what I expected exactly. Arkham Origins was the bigger disappointment (though was improved with patches). Blackgate is a boring mess of mazes and backtracking that takes an almost-decent game and makes it a chore to play. It may have been better if it was just a straight up linear, level to level, side-scroller like the Sunsoft Batman game on the NES.
I got this game for $18 and I kind of regret it. If you see it for $5 or so, it might be worth picking up, but definitely play Arkham City or Arkham Origins over this. I can only recommend it to the absolute most hardcore of Batman gamers. Thanks for reading! Look out for my upcoming Anime Corner sub-series and, hopefully, the new Metal Gear game in the near future.
- Cool comic book style cut scenes
- Neat version of the detective mode
- Good voice acting and music
- Confusing level layouts with poor map and lots of backtracking
- Unresponsive controls at times
- Ugly character models