Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate made the move from handhelds to consoles rather quickly. This side-scrolling beat’em’up take on the Arkham formula received generally middling reviews the first time around, so how has the console Deluxe Edition improved on its formula? Not a great deal, it turns out, as the 2.5D game remains stuck between the world of Metroidvanias and that of its 3D action adventure cousins.
At least things start with a splash, showcasing the stylish comic-style cutscenes that were universally praised by reviewers in the original. On the big screen, the transition from those cutscenes to bog-standard 3D graphics and lumpy character models is almost painful. If only the creators had the courage and vision to create the entire game in that comic style, it could have made something of itself visually.
As it is, Blackgate doesn’t gain a great deal from the transition to HD. It turns out that there’s a reason people hate being sent to prison. The game takes place entirely in the Blackgate correctional facility, and save for the single prison wing that has been vandalized by the Joker, the environments are bland, blander, and blandest. Character models look oddly misshapen and are generally unattractive. It’s probably easier to pick out important environmental details in HD on a big-screen, but Detective Mode has always been available to cause those details to shine with neon intensity.
Gameplay remains the same, and that’s the biggest issue with Blackgate . It attempts to take the basic formula of the Batman Arkham games into a 2.5D Metroid-style exploration and beat’em’up game, but the compromises involved seem to have doomed the title to mediocrity. Most of the combat lacks the challenge or excitement of the kind of arcade title that the game emulates. Batman has several combat abilities, but it’s generally easier and more efficient to mash the basic attack button and punch people out than to attempt to evade attacks or use the cape stun. Boss battles fare better in the interest department, but are few and far-between.
The exploration elements in the game fare better, as long as the player has the patience to backtrack through the dull prison environments whenever Batman obtains a new tool. Players who enjoy finding hidden treasures and power-ups will find plenty of them here. The game helpfully marks hidden treasure areas with a question mark on its map, which informs the player that something is available in the area without spoiling the secret of how to find it. A bit more variety in hidden areas might have been nice, as there’s a great deal of crawling through air ducts involved, but the rewards for exploration (helpful power-ups or fun things like new bat suits) are nice.
What really bogs down this element of gameplay is the confusing design decisions made around the exploration and detective elements. Many common actions simply take too long. Batman frequently needs to enter Detective Mode and scan objects in the area, a process that involves holding down a button for entirely too long as a scanner bar fills up. Worse, there’s a frequent requirement to tap A repeatedly in order to perform an action. Who thinks this is good design? Having to tap a button repeatedly does not cause the player to feel like Batman, muscles straining as he struggles with the rusty grate or tugs on the bat claw’s cable. It only causes the player to feel mildly annoyed at having to mash a button several times to perform an extremely common task.
At least the biggest improvement found in this HD edition revolves around exploration. One of the biggest complaints about the original Arkham Origins Blackgate was the unintuitive top-down map. In this version, the map has been tilted to reflect the prison’s three-dimensional nature and show multiple levels, so it’s now easier to get around. It’s still not entirely user-friendly, simply because the entire prison is so labyrinthine that finding one’s way around the map involves following an awful lot of air duct passages and dotted red lines on the map.
While its story isn’t particularly ground-breaking, the game does feature strong voice acting. Everybody involved seems to be having a great time portraying their classic Bat-characters, and Catwoman puts in a particularly charming performance. Still, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve been here before and seen it done better in Arkham Asylum . It’s time to leave the prison-style environment alone for a while and send Batman out into the wide world to fight crime.
With tighter, arcade-style combat, a more interesting environment, and less time-wasting tedium in the exploration sections, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate could have been an entertaining Metroidvania game. As it is, it’s a wholly middling experience. It’s not a bad way to spend a few afternoons, but it’s almost entirely forgettable. Whether on a handheld or in this new console iteration, the game is easy to skip and difficult to love.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.0 Graphics
While the animated cutscenes are great, the game itself hasn’t transitioned well to HD. 2.5 Control
Controls can be sluggish, common actions are needlessly dragged out, and combat works best when just mashing X. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice acting is quite good and the rest of the sound design is appropriate but isn’t a standout. 3.0 Play Value
Blackgate stops short of being a good Metroidvania-style game, hampered by an uninteresting setting and sub-par combat. 3.0 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|