Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Sorta Review 3DS
Thanks to the marvels of modern shipping, I was able to get my copy of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (heretofore referred to as Batman Blackgate) a tad early and I’ve been giving it quite the bash over the weekend.
Now, I don’t own any sort of device that lets me screen-capture from a 3DS, nor did I feel like snapping images with my smartphone, so I’ll simply be borrowing a few images via the magic of Google Image Search.
I also do not know what the differences from the Vita version are, if any. With that said, I’ll just go ahead and let you know what I thought of Armature Studio’s version of Batman.
While this game is canonically set some months after the events of the regular Arkham Origins (which has not arrived for me as of this writing) it doesn’t seem to rely on that narrative at all, and instead focuses on doing its own thing. And I appreciate that. Much better that they make a portable version that does a different thing from the big release, even though neither game needs the other to be enjoyed. Much approved.
So what’s the deal here, you might be asking. Well, Batman Blackgate is a 2.5D Metroidvania-style game (for those not familiar with the term, it’s a free-roaming platformer game-type, where you will have to acquire certain new powers/skills/gadgets to access/unlock a lot of the areas in the game, like in Metroid or Castlevania games. Oh, and there will be secrets) set in the infamous Blackgate prison where an explosion has happened, super-villains have gotten loose, and Batman has to figure out what happened. And of course lock the villains up again.
First thing I noticed was that the game seems to be set up to feel as much like the 3D Arkham games as possible, in the way you move, use gadgets, and fight. And that caused a bit of an adjustment period because you’re now on 2D plane that occasionally mixes in some turns and background/foreground grappling to make it feel more 3D. Thankfully the fixed camera angles do a good job at helping you realise where you are and where to go. With a few exceptions where I got rather lost.
The whole experience was a bit of a mixed bag for me, so let’s talk about what the game gets right first.
The hand-to-hand combat is great. There aren’t as many enemy types as in the big games, but there doesn’t really need to be. I’d say it’s less forgiving than I remember from either Asylum or City, but once you get into the flow of it, you’ll be kicking arse like a champ. Going from punch to counter to counter to punch feels fluid and responsive. Unfortunately the way gadgets now work means that they don’t fit well into combat. They’re simply too clunky and slow to try to mix into a fast melee with eager mooks.
The atmosphere feels solid, and the whole thing is more like a call-back to Asylum than a spin-off of City or Origins. You are once again in a confined area trying to puzzle together what has been going on, and tracking down tricky super-villains to give them the beatdown they deserve.
You are now hunting for clues and evidence to piece together detective cases which reveal some of what has been going on, both before and after the explosion. I sadly had to leave three cases unfinished, because I ran out of patience to look for the final three pieces of evidence, but I’ll probably go back to it at some point. The updated way the detective vision can be used actually made me feel more like a detective, so bonus points for that, Armature. Good use of the touch-screen, as well.
Batman Blackgate is limited to four different gadgets, but they can all be upgraded for added functionality. And to their credit, all four feel useful and clever. Except if you try to use them in combat, that is. As a slight deduction of bonus points, I should mention that it’s kinda annoying that you always have to analyse a weak wall, vent grate, etc with the detective vision before the gadget will be able to lock onto it.
And it uses animated cutscenes that seem very comic-book-ish, and the art for these is absolutely gorgeous. And to my limited knowledge of the Batman mythos, I felt like the characterisation and acting of Batman and the various villains was spot on. Joker’s curious games and incessant taunting, Penguin’s megalomania, and Catwoman’s flirty and confident attitude.
To cap off the good list, I will say that I like the idea of being able to collect parts for various alternate suits, and putting them on once you have the whole set. Even if it makes no sense story- or lore-wise that these things should be in Blackgate, but that’s just an expected part of these sorts of games. (Pro-tip, make sure you find all pieces of the Blackest Night suit before the final boss.)
Now then… the level design. This is not universally bad, far from it, but also not universally good. On the whole, I felt like the Cell Blocks and the Administration sections were well set up, with clever and interesting ways to get about, an understandable layout, and only the odd room that was poorly designed for encounter reasons. And then there’s the Industrial Ward, which is just a confusing mess. Seriously, was there a different team of level designers on this one?
And outright bad is the fact that stealth isn’t really viable in this game. Even in rooms full of gun-mooks that can kill you in mere seconds. As far as I’ve been able to deduce, it comes down a few things:
First off, room design is not up to snuff. I’m sure players of Asylum, City and Origins are familiar with the rooms where you can stealth about and silently take down crooks one by one until just a single terrified bastard is left that you pounce on and make him soil his pants. It seems Armature wanted to re-create this, but failed to account for the limitations of 2D movement. Maybe the vantage points you can swing between don’t really help you get around into good positions. Maybe it’s just that they’re too high up for you to be able to string mooks up into for a semi-silent takedown. Maybe the vents you can hide in to pounce from are set in the middle of the room where jumping out alerts ALL the mooks. Things like that.
AI patrol patterns seem a bit too erratic. This might have sounded like a good idea on paper, but in reality it just means you can’t reliably single out a mook to take down silently and get away before being noticed. And if you’re noticed, there might not be a suitable place to escape to thanks to the awkward room design.
Gun-mooks recover too quickly. Even trying to fight two at once is largely ineffective, because you can’t disarm them. And they can get back up and start firing again in like 0.5 seconds. So you knock one down, and try to move to the other, and the first is back on his feet and shooting again just after your first punch connects. And trying to use gadgets is far too awkward for you to not die. And you die fast.
There’s also a fair few notable bugs. It didn’t seem as bad as I’ve heard Origins is in that regard, but there were still some glitches in how Batman reacted and interacted with certain ledges, sometimes refusing to drop down unless I walked a bit away, and then came back and tried again. And it would sometimes seem to not register your command to enter a maintenance hatch on the floor, especially if you’re trying to escape gun-mooks. And there were a few instances where Batman just didn’t want to interact with removable vent grates. Like I wanted him to brace and push out a grate with his foot from the inside, and he just auto-canceled every time he put his foot on it, until I went back to the previous room, then re-entered the vent again. Also had a similar issue with trying to use the grapple to pull a grate down, and it just wouldn’t connect until I left and re-entered the room.
Motherfucking boss fights. Minor spoilers incoming. Fighting Catwoman is fine, because that just relies on the hand-to-hand combat, which I already said is great. There’s also a mini-boss with similar mechanics that also works fine. And then when you fight the Joker, you have to rely on gadgets. And considering how quick he is, that works like arse. There’s a mini-boss that also relies on gadget use, and is fucking awkward, but thankfully he did very little damage so at least I didn’t die. And then Black Mask has a two-stage fight. The first stage is okay. The second he will just insta-kill you if he spots you. And when you keep getting knocked back to the checkpoint in the other room that gets infuriating quickly. And finally the blasted Penguin fight. Firstly, the room is set up so that you can’t swing directly from vantage point to vantage point. Secondly, his minigun-mooks will kill you VERY QUICKLY if they see you, you can’t fight them, and escaping is next to impossible. Thirdly, it’s a three-stage fight, and dying anywhere during the first two stages makes you start all over.
Which brings us neatly to the final annoyance. The checkpoint system. It is mostly fine, but it also likes to just shit on you sometimes, especially involving the afore-mentioned boss fights. Or maybe you’re doing a complicated platforming section, and you stumble into an insta-kill environmental hazard, and it throws you right back to the beginning, not even letting you keep any secrets or investigation clues you found along the way, so you better remember to pick them up again on your next try.
So what’s my final verdict? I liked it. Really, I did. It had its issues and problems as I detailed above, but it also did a lot of things right, and it felt very Batman. And that’s kinda key to Batman games, I feel. Just running, jumping, gliding, grappling and zipping around the place feels great, and so does punching a bunch of mooks (so long as they don’t have guns). And I’m such a lore-nerd that the investigation stuff kept me going back through the rooms to hunt for clues. (Plus they made a hacking mini-game that isn’t annoying.)
I will say that if you want a good Batman and/or Metroidvania game for your portable system, this is a pretty good choice. Assuming you are willing to put up with its less good sides.