Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
- Street Date:
- October 25th, 2013
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- November 3rd, 2013
- Game Release Year:
- PS Vita
- Warner Bros.
- WB Games Montréal
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
Due to the their related stories, this review of 'Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate' contains some minor spoilers for 'Batman: Arkham Origins.'
The Bat is back in action and more readily available than ever before. With the release of 'Batman: Arkham Origins,' players are able to adorn the guide of an early career caped crusader across a variety of gaming platforms, including a separate game for the PlayStation Vita and 3DS that has a story set after the events of 'Batman: Arkham Origins.' With 'Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate,' Armature, the development studio responsible for providing hand-held versions of 'Metal Gear Solid HD' and 'Injustice: Gods Among Us' for the PlayStation Vita, have been tasked to shrink the Dark Knight down to size and provide millions of fans the opportunity to fight crime from their back pocket. Combine this with the whispers of 'Metroidvania' and the expectations for 'Blackgate' present an extreme threat for the Dark Knight.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
'Blackgate' begins shortly after the conclusion of 'Arkham Origins,' and the uncertain safety the citizens of Gotham continues to permeate the air with the perhaps not yet living up to the crime-fighting icon he was born to be Batman still having much to learn and a cast of unmet criminals. Just such an encounter kicks things off with 'Blackgate' when Batman chases down the alluring and lithe Catwoman. After sentencing her to Blackgate Prison – an institution reserved for the more hardened criminals of Gotham – Batman has second thoughts and realizes her incarceration may have been too harsh a fate for a common thief. Coincidentally, Blackgate Prison has been taken over by Gotham's super villainous Black Mask, Penguin, and the Joker. Deciding to infiltrate the compromised prison, Batman strikes a deal with the comely cat burglar. In exchange for inside information, Batman will seek a more appropriate prison sentence for one Selena Kyle.
'Blackgate' is a side scrolling 2.5D action platformer reminiscent of the Xbox 360 downloadable exclusive, 'Shadow Complex'. In true fetch-quest, Metroid-style gaming, you're tasked with locating a number of hidden Wayne Tech resource boxes that inevitably deliver the tools - those wonderful toys - needed to progress through the prison and through the story. As a result, you'll find yourself doing a considerable amount of backtracking (much more than I generally prefer), regardless of which section of the prison you decide to liberate first: Industrial, Administration, or Cell Blocks.
Although the free-flow combat system of the series is present for 'Blackgate', there are obvious limitations put in place as concession for this more bite-sized experience. Where the console versions of the Arkham universe allow for a more fluid combat system, in 'Blackgate,' the series' group altercations are reduced to lining enemies up to the left or right of Batman, and knocking them back or countering their attacks, until the room is clear. Although it still feels good to walk away from a pile of unconscious prisoners, it just doesn't have the lingering satisfaction of its big-brother consoles.
The combat also feels much slower on the PlayStation Vita. While the button mapping is nearly identical to that of the PlayStation DualShock 3, the responsiveness is simply not there. Regardless of your combatants – average Joe or Boss battle - your actions (and reactions) often feel muddy and less Bat-like than what is customary for the series. While it was never enough to cause frustration, it simply did not meet the high expectations that I had for a Batman Vita game.
It's no secret that the PlayStation Vita boasts numerous touch and Sixaxis Motion control inputs. Thankfully, the developers at Armature have kept the exotic controls to a minimum and primarily relied on the more standard combination of the direction pad, face, and shoulder buttons. Beyond that, a simple tap on the Vita's screen activates Detective Mode, while scanning the environment requires you to hold your finger and swipe across the screen to highlight your surroundings, hidden objects, collectibles, breakable walls, etc. While repeatedly scanning the environment is simple in concept, in practice, it quickly became tiresome. Various key objects (doors, switches, etc.) remain static until they have been fully scanned, often slowing down the gameplay. What worked well in the 'Metroid Prime' series just comes off as forced and wearisome when wearing the cape and cowl.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The visuals of 'Arkham Origins Blackgate' are a mixed bag of accomplishments and missed opportunities. Armature was successful in their capturing and displaying an impressive 2.5D environment. The fixed camera, while typically pulled back and perpendicular to the action, does a wonderful job of rotating and shifting perspective as Batman's path would change. Background objects were effectively deep when grappling, pulling the Dark Knight to a new section of the room and delivering a true sense of dimension. The mob of inmates, when free to roam the prison halls, would attack Batman from the sides as well as the foreground, quickly enveloping the Caped Crusader. What could have been the most commonplace of side scroller experiences became alive with the 2.5D treatment. The details of Blackgate Prison – both indoors and out – are nicely rendered on the Vita's smaller screen, but suffer from a lack of variety and too often appear to be rehash of rooms and corridors already visited.
The use of motion comics in place of fully animated cut scenes, although adequate in moving the story forward, came across as more of a short cut for the developers than an interesting stylistic choice. Some may consider a lack of full-blown cut scenes an acceptable limitation of the PlayStation Vita. However, having recently played Guerilla Cambridge's 'Killzone Mercenary' it's more than obvious the PlayStation Vita has the visual power and fidelity to attempt to match the production goals of the best AAA console games available. This is easily the area most impacted by the shared target of the 3DS.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Playing a game like 'Arkham Origins Blackgate' and relying on the Vita's built-in speakers for audio would be like watching Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight' on a 60" HD LED TV and using the TV speakers instead of proper surround sound. You'd only be getting half of the experience. For purposes of this review I swapped between my Senheiser headphones and Sony Pulse Stereo Headset – Elite Edition, and the resulting auditory experience was in line with series' expectations.
Explosions were heavy and booming, while the more subtle actions from Batman – grapple hook, zip line, and cape stun – were right on par with what I have come to love when playing the Arkham series. Even the voice acting, while poorly written, was an adequate representation of Batman, the Joker, and Catwoman.
The much teased 'secret endings,' which can be found by varying the order of progression, deliver along the lines of various director's cuts where the ending has a few seconds of different camera angles, but otherwise are the same. This alone makes replaying the game far less of a worthwhile experience than hoped. While the replay factor of 'Blackgate' is fairly low, completionists may be inspired to head back behind the prison walls in search of any remaining Black Masks (actual masks) locations, Joker's chattering teeth, and Penguin's cages. There are also a number of detective cases that can be solved. Unfortunately, this sounds more inspiring than what it actually is. Detective cases are nothing more than the scanning of objects (typically 3-4 to each detective case). As items are discovered, cases are completed.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
As missions are completed and bosses are taken down, 'Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate' rewards the player with concept art and a replay theater for cut scenes. This is an added feature that the 'Arkham' series has become known for and remains an enjoyable bonus.
The pitch for 'Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate' was just as tantalizing (if not more so) as a full-scale console title, but the final execution of the game has left me feeling slightly empty and very much wanting more. Armature Studio has delivered a game that exudes a decent, playable quality, but is well short of the definitive, must-play, hand-held 'Arkham' title. I can't help but also question the release timing. Was the marketing tie-in with the console version worth introducing a far-reduced entry? Perhaps providing Armature with a bit more development time to refine and polish 'Blackgate', while allowing consumers to take a breather from the Batman universe, would have been a better plan of attack. Regardless, 'Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate' is still a worthwhile, albeit uninspiring, experience for PlayStation Vita owners.
All disc reviews at High-Def Digest are completed using the best consumer HD home theater products currently on the market. More
about our gear.
Puzzled by the technical jargon in our reviews, or wondering how we assess and rate HD DVD and Blu-ray discs? Learn about our review methodology.