Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

Yeah, I AM Carrying Around Batman

The game is smoother than the title in Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate.
Author: Aram Lecis
Published: November 14, 2013
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When we first heard rumblings of the NGP (soon to become the Vita) one of the promises made was that we’d be seeing unique AAA releases from existing franchises. It’s a promise that was also made in the PSP era but never really panned out with barely a half-dozen notable titles over the life of the system. There’s been a better tracker record in the first 18 months of the Vita’s lifetime with titles like Golden Abyss from the Uncharted series, Burning Skies from Resistance, Liberation from Assassin’s Creed and the recent Mercenary offshoot of Killzone. Those games have been a bit all over the place in terms of quality but if nothing else it has shown a commitment from both first- and third-party developers to bring legitimate titles to the Vita.

Now Warner Brothers is the latest publisher to toss their hat in the ring as they tasked Armature Studio with creating Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate for the Vita for simultaneous release alongside the console game Batman: Arkham Origins. Unlike Armature’s past work with the Metal Gear and Infamous series, Blackgate isn’t a port of the console game but instead a unique adventure that borrows heavily from its consoles counterparts but also brings the most significant changes in the series to date.

If you had to compare Blackgate to another Arkham game it would probably resemble Asylum. First and foremost this game eschews an open-world format for a classic Metroidvania setup with the action taking place in three sprawling indoor environments with various parts locked off until you find the right way to access them. They go so far in that direction that they drop 3D movement in favor of (mostly) 2D action.

The story takes place shortly after the events of Origins and explores some of the early relationships with Catwoman and James Gordon. An explosion in Blackgate prison creates all sorts of chaos and allows Joker, Penguin and Black Mask to each take control of one wing of the prison and consolidate their power through the liberal use of henchmen. Batman of course cannot abide this and soon finds himself deep in the bowels of the prison attempting to foil the nefarious plots. Along the way he’ll find a pared down selection of his gadgets (no explanation as to why they’ve been strewn throughout the prison instead of being kept on his belt, but that’s comics for you!) and plenty of gargoyles and vents to hide in.

Obviously the focus of these games has been the combat and the biggest question mark is how that combat would translate to the Vita. I’m here to report that they’ve kept all the core concepts from the console and translated them to the small screen mostly with aplomb. The same counter-combo system returns and works the same way. You won’t get the grading system after every encounter that was introduced in Origins but otherwise you’ll find most of the same moves and combos you’ve come to love the last few years. One big change is that the timing is WAY more forgiving and you’ll string together high-value combos much easier than you would on the consoles. I struggle to get over a 5x combo on the PS3, but I was routinely in the double-digits here. That, combined with the heavier focus on exploration than on combat in this game definitely marginalizes the challenge this time around.

Yes, that’s correct, exploration is the name of the game here. Not only will you need to poke and prod and check every area just to find your way to each checkpoint but you’ll also need to explore to the nooks and crannies to find all the collectables and upgrades if you want to go whole hog. While there isn’t quite the range of gadgets you get in the main games you’ll still find familiar friends like batarangs, ziplines and explosive gel to help you get around and knock guys out. One of the gripes I DO have with this game though is how you find some of the hidden areas. Detective vision is back, and that can help to highlight the occasional breakable wall or other object, but some stuff only appears when you hold down a scanning search (by tapping on the touchscreen) in the right area. Even if you can sometimes plainly see what you need to do, you’ll have to complete the scan of the spot (which takes a few seconds) before it’ll actually be “active” for interaction. It seems like a really unnecessary extra step that usually annoyed the piss out of me.
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