Developer: Armature Studio
Publisher: Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: October 25th, 2013
Available On: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
Reviewer’s Note: I played this game on the PlayStation Vita. There may be differences between versions.
While the Arkham series has done great on consoles and PC, there hasn’t been much effort in the mobile space. Batman: Arkham City Lockdown was a decent Infinity Blade knock-off, but now we get an attempt at a full Arkham game on the 3DS and Vita. The result, unfortunately, is a watered down game that doesn’t hit nearly as many of the highs as the main series.
Taking place between after the events of Arkham Origins, Arkham Origins Blackgate sees a prison riot at Blackgate, and Batman getting called in to stop it. Making a loose alliance with Catwoman, who seems to have her own agenda, Batman must bring down the three ringleaders of the riot: Joker, Black Mask, and Penguin. The real big plot point in Origins Blackgate is that this is the first time in the Arkham universe that Batman meets Catwoman, but there’s not really much to their meeting. There’s a lot of hints made towards the creation of the Suicide Squad happening and Bronze Tiger also makes his debut in the Arkham universe (though he is woefully underutilized), but there’s not really much else to Blackgate and as a whole the story can mostly be ignored.
Unlike normal Arkham games, Blackgate is a 2.5D game that could easily fit into the metroidvania genre. Batman has to travel through three different areas of the prison to end the riot. To do this he has to constantly find new gear to continue advancing forward. Sometimes I had to stop going through one area and start another to get the right tools. It’s not bad, and every part of it works decently enough. Yet one thing continued to drive me insane through the game and that was the need to analyze everything. By holding my finger on the touchscreen I could “analyze” areas of it. Yet even when the way to move forward is painfully obvious, Batman can’t do anything until I analyze the object. See a grate that can clearly be pulled down by the batclaw? Got to analyze it first. Even after I analyzed the last four. Obviously destructible wall? Analyze. Unlocked door? Not until it’s analyzed it ain’t. It’s a maddening mechanic that seems to serve no purpose other than to waste time.
Of course the criminals aren’t just going to let Batman wander around. Combat in Blackgate takes the basic cues from the main games. Combat requires good timing and paying attention for when to counter attack enemies. Batman can also stun enemies or quickly throw a batarang during combat. Yet while the very basics are here, the game lacks a lot of the complexities seen in the other Arkham games. Combat just feels simple, like there’s little to do other than the basic punching and countering. While I do believe that the main series has gotten rather confusing, dialing it all the way back down to combat that has less options than even Arkham Asylum wasn’t the answer.
The occasional boss fight provides a nice break in the action. Each boss at least feels unique, and provides some interesting challenges. A few of them are just regular fights against enemies with health bars, an early boss against Catwoman is so easy that I wasn’t entirely convinced it was a real fight and Bronze Tiger is just one long brawl. Yet there’s enough unique ones to make it worth it. An exciting fight against Solomon Grundy sees him charging back and forth while Batman lays out traps for him. Another fight required me to stay out of Deadshot’s cross-hairs as I made my way to him. There’s more winners than losers here, so at least one part of the game makes good use of the combat mechanics.
Yet overall I couldn’t shake the feeling that Arkham Origins Blackgate just isn’t quite up to snuff. The basic combat and insane analyzing mechanic keep the game down. It’s not terrible, but it’s not good either. It’s just painfully average.