I’m one of those rare people who has never played Arkham Asylum or Arkham City. It means that I was able to approach Arkham’s handheld companion Blackgate with no expectations or preconceptions. That being said, I had a very short go on it at Eurogamer and enjoyed what I played. So now that we have the full experience on our hands, how good has Batman’s journey to the Vita turned out?
You play as Batman (Hi, I’m Captain Obvious, nice to meet you!) who catches Catwoman stealing one night and promptly sends her to Blackgate prison. Weeks down the line, all hell has broken loose at Blackgate and it has been taken over. Hostages have been captured and the prison has been split into 3 territories, occupied by Joker, Penguin and Black Mask. Batman sees Catwoman at Blackgate and they combine to form an unlikely alliance that Batman is justifiably a bit dubious about.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a 2.5D side scrolling Metroidvania game. In typical Metroidvania style, the events can be tackled in any order. The game looks great and you can definitely tell a lot of care has been taken visually. The cut scenes are delivered in a comic book style (see above) and it really works. You’ll spend your time searching Blackgate for Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask but will come across other enemies along the way. The thugs in the game are pretty easily dealt with and the combat is reasonably enjoyable. Where Blackgate becomes frustrating however is the map, which you can view by hitting Select. Presented in 2D, there is no indication of what levels you need to step up or down to, just direction. It offers very little help whatsoever and for the amount of help it gives you, you might as well look at it sleeping upside down. This is a big problem, because exploring is a huge part of what this game is all about. Exploring goes hand in hand with Detective mode. You can open this by using the touchscreen. This will help you see things that you may not see with your naked eye, such as a wall you could knock down or a vent cover that could easily be pulled off (see screenshot below). Whilst a cool little feature, you will have to use detective mode in practically every room. And there are a lot of rooms.
Despite the shortcomings of the map and the constant use of detective mode, without a doubt the most frustrating thing about Blackgate is the endless, needless searching involved. Catwoman will say you need to head to one area. By the time you’ve finally reached the destination, you’ll be informed you can’t get through without a certain object. So you’ll have to tediously walk back through rooms you’ve already walked through before, just to get back to where you originally were. At least the first time you were in these rooms there were enemies to fight. They don’t respawn, so essentially hours of your playthrough will be spent walking through bleak, empty rooms. It’s exasperating and feels like it’s been put in purely to drag out the playthrough time. Another issue here is some parts are almost too clever for their own good. There were many sections where I had to refer to a guide online because I couldn’t take walking around aimlessly anymore not having a clue what to do. Sure, I’m not the smartest bat in the cave but I’ve been gaming for 20 plus years and I found areas here incredibly difficult to figure out. There is one section where you need to stabilise generators to get to Black Mask. It’s ludicrously complicated to figure out and leaves you feeling like giving up. Intelligent is good, but not at the expense of having fun. Sometimes you just want to fly around as the caped crusader beating up bad guys. Also included are masks, cages and detective case clues to find but again, these are really just collectibles to search out for extended game time.
The boss fights are enjoyable and whilst you have to use your brain, they are more about timing. They are a huge positive here. Unfortunately a lot more of your time is spent talking to Catwoman. Catwoman acts like an annoying ex girlfriend throughout as she constantly flirts with Batman. It never comes across as charming or seductive, just insipid and wearisome whilst adding nothing to the story. It’s a shame because in spite of some avoidable issues, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate looks great on the Vita and has a considerable single player campaign to play through which at times, is enjoyable. Sadly, it lets itself down with repetitive gameplay and a frustrating map layout. As much as I persevered with this game, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate left me wondering if I was even on Batman’s side anymore.