Heroism is a heavy burden to bear, and as we well know by now, Batman: Arkham Origins struggles to live up to the cape and cowl reputation.
Armature Studios, which includes members of the Metroid Prime trilogy dev team, have finally had a chance to stretch their creative talents on a non-exclusive title, while not straying too far from tested waters. Blackate, a Metroidvania style game, will have the distinction of being the first “good” Batman sidescroller. Praise to your religious figure of choice here. What else can we thank the Flying Spaghetti Monster for? Come on in for a cup of tea and a punch-up to find out!
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Systems: PlayStation Vita [Reviewed], Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Armature Studios
Publisher: Warner Bros. Games
Release: October 25, 2013
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is thankfully only a return-to-2d-form in some aspects for the Dark Knight, and the bad parts have been graciously eschewed. That isn’t to say that Blackgate isn’t without its flaws, but it’s by far the most playable Batman has ever been without a third dimension. Set one year after the events of Arkham Origins, Batman must once again take out the villains that have overrun the prison, making this the first canonical entry for the reintroduction of order for a chaotic world. In a unique spin this time around, Black Mask, Penguin, and Joker each control a certain territory, and can be tackled in any arrangement.
Digging into the gameplay, Arkham‘s famous combat system is almost perfectly mirrored here, complete with the slow-motion knockout animations that have become a series staple. However, with enemies being on slightly different planes and only being able to punch left or right, I did find myself often swinging at empty air before I got the hang of aiming with the analog stick at my next target. The best of Batman’s gadgets also make a return, but rather than doling them out at story-paced intervals, the player must find them in the environment, true to Metroidvania fashion. This works more as a double-edged sword though, as I was often forced to backtrack to areas I had already cleared rather than presenting a good flow of progression. It plays like the first Resident Evil with “Locked door, Find a key, Backtrack to previous area, ad nausea.” However, the hacking sequences have seen a unique overhaul, in that one must find the proper three-number code, with the higher security codes making the grid scramble if you goof up. I wouldn’t mind seeing this form of hacking return for the next console entry.
The graphics are very impressive when the camera is close enough to get a good amount of detail, but often it’s so far pulled out it makes the character design hard to appreciate. Comic-style cutscenes provide the story exposition, and they’re excellently drawn, and the all-important rogues gallery gets just enough screen time for one to admire the wrinkles in old Cobblepot’s face. Detective vision is controlled through the touchscreen on the Vita, which is a nice touch, but it would’ve been better tied to the rear touch pad. That way my finger wouldn’t have obscured what I was looking at. I think my worst enemy throughout this game was the map. Given that you’re operating in a two-and-a-half dimensional space with multiple planes and turns, a fully two-dimensional map doesn’t help keep you from getting confused. Eventually I was able to straighten out that it’s all top-down view, but a map similar to Splinter Cell: Double Agent, where the map could be rotated and all the different floors could be distinguished from one another, would’ve been welcome.
The boss fights are more of an excercise in tedium rather than tension, often leaving you to try and find the solution without any feeling of danger. For instance, against Penguin I had to take out his guards and then get the drop on him, the same as any other stealth approach when enemies have firearms. Solomon Grundy made a surprise appearance, but all he does is charge back and forth, and all I had to do to win was roll between his legs through the charges and use detective vision to locate the next environmental cue. The fight against Bronze Tiger was actually the most entertaining of the brawls, where I had to dodge and counter properly and master the timing or risk a beat-down. It’s nice to see Batman finally have a toe-to-toe equal, and speaks to Armature’s strengths that they delivered such a fight on a handheld.
The voice acting is just as good here as it is in the main Arkham series, with Nolan North turning in a surprisingly strong performance as Penguin. We also have the rare treat of seeing Batman asking for help. I can’t recall the last time the World’s Greatest Detective actually needed assistance. The writing, on the other hand, while serviceable, isn’t really up to the snuff of past Arkham games. Sadly, Joker takes the brunt of the blows in this department, lacking any of the subtlety or menace that makes him who he is. Lines such as “The librarians are in trouble. You should check it out. Get it? Librarians? Check it out?” and “Epic Fail, Batman,” when I made a mistake in his match game were particularly grating. Since when was the Joker reduced to being any twelve-year old on the internet?
Beyond that, there are some neat collectibles such as the standard suit upgrades and, even better, different Batsuits, including the Beware the Batman suit to be unlocked from the start if you happen to own Arkham Origins. Other suits are unlocked piece-by-piece as you explore, and the New Game Plus option presents a tempting offer if you’ve enjoyed yourself enough the first time.
All around, Blackgate isn’t a bad Batman game- there were plenty of those before the Arkham series began, it’s just absolutely average in every way. I personally have a much easier time reccomending Valhalla Knights 3 for Vita owners, and I’m not going to pretend that Nintendo’s fans have been playing anything but Pokemon since it came out. But, if you’re really hungry for Batman on the go, add this title to your holiday gift list. It’s at least worth a look for its accomplishments.
As for boner-popping material, there isn’t much on offer, but what’s here is nice. Catwoman serves as a sexy partner-in-vigilante-crime, and is still practically going to fall out of her catsuit. She sadly only has a few minutes of screen time before coming up in a boss fight, but the comic cutscenes show her from every angle that counts. What may be best about her is miss Grey DeLisle as her voice actress. She does a terrific job with a scintillating delivery, and will make you a Catwoman fetishist if you aren’t already one. If there’s to be any DLC for this game, let’s hope Copperhead and Ivy make a sexy poisonous duo.
– Brad Cowan aka “DevilSugar”