Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate: Deluxe Edition is a bit of a mouthful and BAOBDE isn’t any better, so from here on out I’m going to refer to the game as Blackgate. Got it? Good. On with the show.
The handheld companion and epilogue to last year’s Batman: Arkham Origins, this new release brings Blackgate to home consoles for the first time with a few minor tweaks and improvements in a similar manner to Mirror of Fate HD. There hasn’t been anything particularly game changing added though, so if you’ve already slogged through the game on the 3DS or Vita, there’s very little to tempt you back for the Deluxe edition, unless you really, really liked it.
Set three months after the events of Arkham Origins, The Caped Crusader is sent into Gotham’s notorious maximum security prison by Commissioner Gordon to investigate a mysterious explosion. On arriving at the prison, Bats discovers that the inmates have taken over and that each of Blackgate’s three main areas are now controlled by Black Mask, The Penguin and The Joker respectively. With a little bit of help from Catwoman, Bats must regain control of Blackgate and figure out how this whole sorry state of affairs came to pass.
The bulk of the narrative is presented using comic style cut scenes with minimal animation and voice acting in a similar style to Metal Gear Solid: Peacewalker. It’s a little sedate but saved by strong performances from its principle cast including Troy Baker and Roger Craig Smith doing their best Mark Hamil and Kevin Conway impressions as well as Grey DeLisle returning as Catwoman, who takes over Oracle/Alfred’s duties by providing Bats with information on the whereabouts of new items, objectives and the best routes through the facility
Blackgate is best described is as a 2.5D version of Arkham Asylum by way of Arkham Origins. Retaining the look, feel and main antagonists of Origins but including the Metroidvania aspects of Asylum. On paper this is quite an impressive feat. Especially if you consider that the game was initially designed for the 3DS. In practice though, the results are somewhat mixed.
As you would expect, in his rush to put Gotham’s Rogue’s Gallery back behind bars Batman has forgotten most of the kit. Luckily, and inexplicably it’s all been shipped to Blackgate for you to find. Along with collectable costume pieces and stuff to smash like Black Mask’s masks which unlock additional goodies. Half the game is finding your gear: The Line Launcher, Explosive Gel and Batclaw. The other is using them to interact with the environment to open up new passages to get to an inevitable boss fight. If you’ve played any other Arkham game, you’ll feel right at home because the games controls are nigh on identical, If you haven’t, I wouldn’t recommend starting with Blackgate anyway.
On paper, the game’s environmental puzzles in which you use the analyser to highlight interactive objects in the background are a clever stand in for the main series entries crime scene sections. They would be in practice too, if you didn’t have to scan every last part of the scenery before you can use the relevant item with it. If you come to a dead end, chances are there’s a wall or box that needs scanning, as you would expect this gets old rather fast.
The game certainly looks the part as well, Armature Studios successfully nailing the tone of the main series despite the change in perspective, watching Batman grapple in and out of the environment as the camera swings around corners and flicks to first person as he sneaks through a vent before swinging back around to a side on view as you enter a new area is pretty impressive. Thankfully, it’s not as disorientating as it was in the hand held versions thanks to a revamped map which now displays information in 3D as well as showing routes through ducts. This is the biggest improvement in the deluxe addition as the wholly inadequate 2D map of the original would often show you outside the boundaries of the map, making navigation an absolute nightmare at times.
You’ll be happy to hear that combat still has the same rhythmic system as the other games, but the transition to 2.5D is far from perfect. Your punches don’t feel as though they carry the same kind of weight and as such have less of an impact. Rather than being surrounded, groups of enemies will now line up either side of you on two planes. Initially this makes combat incredibly easy as large groups of standard goons literally line up to get pounded but as more complex elements of the system and a greater variety of harder hitting enemies are introduced, the cracks begin to show, before it eventually falls flat due to an auto-targeting system that does more harm than good. More often than not it’ll target the wrong guy and you’ll end up getting zapped, stabbed, stunned and then pummelled to death through no fault of your own.
By far the worst parts of the game though are the boss encounters. Each a tedious, exacerbating and thoroughly irritating lesson in trial and error. Often lacking impact, (Solomon Grundy) and with poor sign posting (Black Mask), by far the worst offender is the fight against Penguin in which you have to outwit several waves of guards armed with mini-guns that can only be killed by tearing their backpacks off. Get spotted and it’s pretty much game over. This is guaranteed to happen several times. As an added bonus Nolan North puts in the worst performance of his entire career attempting to taunt you in a cocked up cockney accent, mindlessly calling Batman every British slang term for gay he can think of.
Predator sections fare a little better but are few and far between. Retaining much of the atmosphere of their 3D counterparts but losing some of the tension thanks to a new ability to ensnare bad guys from a distance whilst perched on gargoyles. In detective mode, each thug’s range of vision is also shown. This makes avoiding detection and trapping them incredibly easy. On the flip side though, if you are caught it’s almost impossible to sneak back into the shadows, to the point that you may as well hit restart. That being said, the transition to TV has been beneficial to these parts as Batman no longer resembles an ant trying to outwit borrowers when the camera pulls back.
Likewise, Blackgate’s crypto sequencer sections are somewhat enjoyable, replacing the main series annoying stick twiddling with a full-blown mini game in which you have to find a three-digit code amongst a sprawl of randomizing numbers, like a big numerical word search.
Sadly, the game’s lows generally outweigh the highs. Despite looking the part, Blackgate never lives up to its namesake: let down by god-awful boss fights, a throwaway story and by being inferior to other entries in the series in almost every respect. On handhelds, especially the 3DS, Blackgate could be seen as a noble attempt at recreating the Arkham experience on much more limited hardware. In that respect, it did its job. However, on home consoles it has to sit side by side with Arkham Asylum, City and Origins, as well as a wealth of much better Metroidvanias (last year’s Knytt Underground and Guacamelee! are prime examples). As such, I’d suggest playing any of the above instead of slogging through Blackgate.