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Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate - Review

11/14/13 1:53pm

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Something the world of gaming has been missing recently is a great title in the niche genre of the 2.5D Metroidvania. Games like these encompass the grandest sense of freedom through exploration, puzzle solving through progression, and epic boss encounters. Armature attempts to bring the modern Arkham franchise to the genre and provide handheld gamers their own experience to speak of. While they succeed in doing so they also stumble along the way, making Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate just good, not great.

The game begins with a sort of motion graphic novel, introducing Batman as he is in pursuit of long time foil/flame, Catwoman. The feisty feline has stolen something once again and this will lead into the story's set piece, Blackgate Prison. You will immediately see bits and pieces from the franchise’s predecessor, Arkham Asylum, with Batman being isolated to the facility on lockdown, and the criminals have essentially become the wardens. Blackgate is divided into three sections, each controlled by famous villains like Penguin, Joker, and Black Mask. Catwoman convinces you she is on your side and helps guide you on your quest to release the prison guard hostages, along with Blackgate's actual warden. Getting there on the other hand isn't so easy and she will take you on quite a journey.

In Blackgate, you are given the freedom to approach each section in whichever order you choose. Like any Metroidvania, much of the map will be locked behind various types of gadgets or keys that you'll acquire by completing objectives and defeating bosses. This is done exceptionally well, utilizing the gadgets the Arkham series is known for. You'll kick open rusty grates, use explosive gel to destroy crumbling architecture, and solve puzzles with modified batarangs. Your grapnel gun is your primary tool for playing in the verticality of Blackgate and Batman controls fluidly when it comes to traversal. Cryptography is how you'll unlock various levels of security and the motion controlled mini-game was enjoyable. Altogether, the exploration and puzzle solving is the strongest part of Blackgate, followed up only by its visual style.

The look and feel of the Arkham games has become synonymous with Batman and video games. Beefy thugs take aim at a rigid vigilante in darkly lit hallways. You move through the shadows using the environment to mask yourself from gun wielding enemies, letting the art of surprise aid your assault. Combat is a ballet of pain, using visual cues to guide Batman as he crushes enemies and ensuring they'll never eat solid food again. For a handheld title the art style makes it feel like a current-gen console game in my pocket. There’s ambient lighting, familiar animations, and even the occasional particle effect. The motion graphic cutscenes work well as a storytelling mechanic in the comic filled world that the dark knight occupies. Alongside some truly excellent storytelling by great voice actors, there isn't much more I'd ask for visually. Now combat, on the other hand, needs a little help.

I really wanted this to be something great, but it’s mediocre at best. Since the combat is 2.5D, it lacks the dynamic aspect of the other Arkham games, and what is worse is it doesn't even try to change the formula. Instead the game plays it incredibly safe, pulling back some of the more interesting mechanics like the utilization of batarangs to maintain combos or providing a wide variety of environments for engagement. Instead, the approach feels very much rinse-and-repeat and, all too often, sparse in comparison to the puzzle-solving elements. There some gadget upgrades which attempt to change how you approach the combat, but using them in battle feels cumbersome. Having the LB activate both a gadget and being used for takedowns would often confuse the game.

That same issue would also arise when standing over a grate, causing environment interaction to trump combat execution. In fact, using a gadget without identifying targets via Detective Vision was nearly impossible. It would have made more sense to just let me touch the target I'd like rather than to use the Detective Vision. Regardless, combat was a frustration on numerous occasions. In contrast to this, the boss battle combat fared much better in my opinion. Some of the greatest moments in-game can be found in fighting Blackgate's bosses. In most cases, Batman is more brains than brawn and when you engage with Solomon Grundy or Deadshot, there is a frantic sense of accomplishment when you overcome them. The last bit of backtracking before the final boss battle deflates this ever so slightly, but it won't ruin the fact that each boss comes complete with fantastic set pieces and interesting ways of combining combat with problem solving. Power ups are great, but creativity through combat feels so much more rewarding. 

Lacking in the reward department on the other-hand was the visual sense of progression. Batman’s look throughout the campaign does not change as much as you'd hope. There were an additional four batsuits, each broken into five pieces and scattered throughout Blackgate. By the time I approached the end of the game I had acquired 17/20 pieces, but only unlocked ONE suit. Sure I was getting new gadgets and upgrades to offensive and defensive stats, but I was searching for the suits. The motivating factor of unlocking these suits was only realized a single time, for the last 15 minutes of gameplay. There is a New Game + option, but honestly I expected more and in the end felt cheated.

Don't get me wrong, if you enjoy the genre that is Metroidvania, there is a lot to love about Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. It fully understands the ideas of puzzle-solving through progression via exploration and applies those fundamentals seamlessly to Arkham universe. The boss battles are some of the most creative in the franchise and certainly more memorable than the rest of the combat. If anything the game will leave you wanting more from its 6-hour campaign and maybe that's why the new game + is there. You can even dive back into the world and find more collectable case files and villain swag to unlock concept art using Detective Vision. I only wish they had tried to do a little more with the combat to work in the 2.5D environments and had given you access to more suits in your initial playthrough. Then this game would be more than a good grab for your handheld, it’d be a great game no Batman fan should be without.


7s are very fun games that have solid appeal. They have obvious issues that stick out, but can still be enjoyed by anyone.

ScrewAttack's News Director Sean Hinz worked in logistics for over four years before decided it was time to switch industries. After a couple years spent getting an MBA and freelancing, he finally found a home at ScrewAttack.com. As far as games go, Sean likes to play anything he can get his hands on, but especially enjoys third-person action RPGs. Is that really a genre?

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