Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate review for PS Vita, 3DS

Platform: PS Vita
Also On: 3DS
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Developer: Armature Studios
Medium: Cartridge/Digital
Players: 1
Online: No

The thought of making a Metroid style Batman title using the art design of the Arkham series sounds like such a great idea, that I wonder why it’s taken this long to happen. But the actual result leaves me wanting something better than Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. There’s some merit to this challenging action-adventure title out of Armature Studios, but not enough to get past the frustrating sense of design stemming from the often confusing world presented here.

The setting and background story is handled well, even if the visuals and scale are dialed back from the home console Arkham games. This is a direct sequel to Arkham Origins, but honestly you could dive right into this without having played Origins and clearly understand what’s going on. The concept here is that Blackgate Prison, the predecessor to Arkham Asylum, is under-siege by the inmates, including the likes of Black Mask, Joker, Penguin, Solomon Grundy and a whole bunch of no-named thugs. Batman, teaming with Catwoman, is tasked with restoring order and re-capturing the reoccurring characters pulled from his popular gallery of rogues.

2013-10-03-153911The Metroid style of game design is prevalent throughout. You’ll start off with virtually no gadgets as you enter Blackgate, but will eventually gain access to explosive glue, electrical Batarangs, grappling hooks, and other familiar tools. You’re also tasked with hunting down sequence codes for Batman’s Cryptoanalyzer, which end up being the red, blue and green doors of the Batman universe.

On the plus side, the way you tackle a lot of the content here is pretty much up to you. You’ll have a main objective to hunt down, but there’s some leeway given to what order you tackle bosses in. You’ll most likely stumble into some of these scenarios, but that open-endedness also ends up being a great way to get lost, which you’ll often be.

2013-10-03-165623My biggest frustration with Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate isn’t from the parts where I get stuck, but it’s the poor tools given to help me get unstuck. The map, accessible via the select button on the Vita, is one of the worst 3D maps I’ve ever seen. It’s devoid of detail, and doesn’t compensate for the verticality of the different areas at all. It’s nearly impossible to tell if you’re heading up or down, which wouldn’t be too frustrating if it wasn’t for the ridiculous amount of backtracking the game requires.

I also thought the different security levels for access codes were poor excuses for blocking access to areas. A better attempt at emulating Metroid, which is present here to some degree, is to use actual inventory items to unlock new modes of access. You get that with things like the grappling hook, and those inventory items feel more organic in this style of game. Key codes that allow you to play a boring number matching mini-game to unlock a door or two are not particularly fun.

2013-10-03-171546Also, while I understand the need to keep this game within the same universe and style of the home console Arkham titles, I don’t think the combat system translates well to a 2D space. Your regular thugs are super easy to beat, and countering is rarely necessary because you’ll only face off of against foes in front or behind you. Thankfully combat isn’t really a big deal here, and the boss fights are actually inventive and go beyond just punching familiar villains in the face over and over again.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate also suffers from an over-reliance on the Detective Vision gimmick found in the other Arkham games. It feels almost necessary to keep it on at all times, as certain objects, like grates or busted floors you can demolish, won’t become interactive until you’ve scanned them. This again makes world navigation needlessly frustrating, unless you’re willing to keep Detective Vision on at all times, and constantly run your finger across the screen in every area looking for something new to highlight and scan.

The constant annoyance I faced with substandard level design and the absolutely awful map were enough to turn me off of the game completely. The challenge here doesn’t feel rewarding enough when you finally get past some of the more obtuse elements of the world, and while the game is short, I’d challenge you to muster up the will to play through this a second time. In the end I think it’s a solid idea that is just executed poorly, and it really isn’t something I’d suggest checking out.

Grade: C-

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – PlayStation Vita (Video Game)

Manufacturer:  Warner Home Video – Games
ESRB Rating: 

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