Review Platform : Nintendo 3DS
Release Date :Oct 2013
Price : £24.99
This will be my last superhero themed review for a while, promise! Rounding out my rough trilogy of DC Comics based games is Batman : Arkham Origins Blackgate, another unwieldy extra subtitled game.
Arkham Origins Blackgate is the first published game from developer Armature, they are mostly made up of former staff from Retro Studios, who were responsible for the superb Metroid Prime games on Gamecube and Wii. A good pedigree to create a new 2.5D Metroidvania game, then.
Released in tandem with the Arkham Origins, Blackgate takes place several weeks later. With the main villains from the game all locked up in Blackgate prison together another riot leads to the Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask taking over the prison and splitting it up between them. As many have pointed out, this is quite similar to the setup to the original Arkham Asylum just on a smaller scale.
The initial chase against Catwoman felt far too scripted and was a bit of a let-down, but the game does improve drastically once you get to Blackgate prison. It does a lot less hand holding than the 3D games, however, so prepare for times where you just aren’t going to have a clue where to go or what to do. As is standard for the genre, on your travels you’ll pick up various new gadgets and upgrades, and you’ll typically need to revisit areas and use these gadgets to access areas you couldn’t before, such as using the line walk upgrade for the grapple gun to allow you to scale tall areas.
Combat functions much in the same way as it does in the console versions of the series, with attack, counter, cape stun and the ability to jump over enemies to get behind them. The counter icon appear above enemies heads as they attack, just as with the other games, so players familiar with them will know what they’re doing straight away. It does feel quite a bit slower, however. The standard enemy types from the games also return, with the generic thugs, enemies wielding knives and stun batons and heavies who require the beatdown attack all present.
Detective mode also returns, being vital to progression. Tapping the bat symbol icon on the touch screen switches to detective mode, turning the game blue, with useful or interactive items highlighted in orange. It has a little more interaction to it now however, as holding down the icon allows you to scan the area for new things, which will be highlighted in green. You’ll sometimes need to scan things to be able to interact with them, which can be a bit counterintuitive – you can see a vent for example and know that you need to pull it down with your grapple, but unless you’ve scanned it Batman won’t be able to target it.
There were a few points where doing this felt a bit out of place in a Batman game however, with you having to take out a ledge or platform that an enemy is standing on causing them to presumably plummet to their deaths.
Blackgate is a bit more open than its predecessors. You’re free to tackle the three bosses (and in the process of getting to them, the miniboss from each area) in any order you like. Generally speaking you’ll have a gadget and a security key for each area that you need to find to get to a certain point, and will then be sent to a different area to find that gadget’s upgrade, which will then allow you to return and reach the boss battle. The order in which you take on the bosses has an effect on the end of the game, as you’ll have different cutscenes with the ending playing out slightly differently.
As well as the major gadgets, there are several other collectables. First, there are upgrades that add extra armour and attack power. You need to collect four armour upgrades for each boost you receive, with a total of three doubling your health bar. The attack power upgrades are called the rush bar, and these charge as you attack enemies without getting hit, which amplifies the damage you cause. There are also Batsuit pieces to be found, with five per suit. These allow you to change Batman’s outfit to different costumes from the comics and games, and give boosts such as extra attack power or taking less damage.
The final collectables are the evidence pieces for cases. Similar in concept to the cases in Origins, there are various items to find by scanning the areas of the game to complete them all, though as there is no levelling system the benefits to doing so are much less and they simply unlock concept art, but these do count towards 100% completion.
I have to say the map is absolutely maddening. While I understand what they were going for, with the map being a top down view of the 3D space the game is set in, as Batman can only move in 2D most of the time it means that something that looks like it should just be over there is actually three floors up, two down, around the building, through a vent and then something you will need to grapple across a chasm to reach. It has no distinction for floors, so an area that has several floors will just be a flat space. Take the area below for example, a part of the industrial area of the prison, this room has two large elevators that take you between the floors. Despite being made up of four floors, the map renders this all as one, so it looks like you can go out the doors on each side. But you can’t, as they’re on different floors.
Armature have a 3D rendered map for the game on their website, which I can’t seem to get my head around either but something along those lines in the game would have likely been much more helpful, or a map that allows you to select different levels to view.
The 3DS version isn’t visually the best game I’ve played. A lot of the textures are quite muddy, and the character models aren’t of the highest quality. This is perhaps due to the lower processing power of the system, as I’ve also seen the PlayStation Vita version in action and it looks much sharper. I should note that it does however look a fair bit better in action than it does in my screenshots – a combination of images of course not being able to convey the 3D effect and fact that the 3DS doesn’t have a built in screenshot function. You need to pause the game by pressing the home button and post your screenshots on the Miiverse community page for the game, a process which seems to result in even lower resolution images than the game runs at.
Instead of rendered cutscenes, the game uses comic style art with various visual effects on top. Making use of the 3DS’s 3D capabilities, various elements such as the Joker’s laughter are fairly dynamic when in motion.
Returning from the previous game are Roger Craig Smith, Troy Baker, Nolan North and Brian Bloom as Batman, the Joker, Penguin and Black Mask respectively with Grey DeLisle reprising her role as Catwoman from Arkham City. Baker’s Joker was fantastic in Origins, but he really seems to fall flat here. I don’t know if the recording was rushed or his heart just wasn’t in it, but he doesn’t seem to have the effect he did in Origins and I still don’t like Cockney Penguin. Just no.
Once you finish the game, you’ll get the now standard New Game Plus option. Unlike the main games however you don’t carry over your upgrades – the only things you keep are your Batsuit parts and collected evidence. There is no noticable difference in gameplay, such as the enemy counter icons disappearing so I actually find it easier, as I’ve already learnt the layout of the prison and know how to do the boss fights. The main incentive to completing new game plus then is to defeat the bosses in a different order, to see the different endings.
It’s certainly not without its flaws and is arguably the weakest of the modern Batman games, with little that is new or original being added, but it still managed to keep me interested for the duration. This is partly going to be down to me being a big fan of Metroidvania games, and there seeming to be less and less of them out there these days, however it is overall a solid experience and one I’d recommend to any fan of the genre.
Batman – Arkham Origins Blackgate is out now on Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita.