Seeing the opportunity to cash in some extra licensing monies off of its pugnacious prequel, the keyholders at WB Games sought out developer Armature Studios to create Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, a sequel to the prequel that would fit well within the limited hardware of portable consoles, in this case the Playstation Vita and Nintendo 3DS. While some of the characteristics of its set-top siblings translate remarkably well to the small screen, there are some truly nagging flaws that make Blackgate a tough sentence to finish out.
Set shortly after the events in Arkham Origins proper, Blackgate sees a mysterious explosion at the titular Blackgate prison causing full-scale riots, with the Penguin, the Joker, and Black Mask each taking over a wing of the prison with their own quickly assembled gangs. Batman, naturally, goes in to defuse the situation with an unlikely sidekick: Catwoman.
The Arkham games have always had elements of the Metroidvania subgenre, with new gadgets opening up previously inaccessible parts of the sprawling open map, and these elements become even more apparent with Blackgate’s 2.5D perspective. Batman’s navigation is limited primarily to the X/Y axes, making it a pseudo-sidescroller, although some layering of foreground and background locations adds depth to the environments. The series’ free-flowing combat is streamlined for the reduced depth, and it translates almost perfectly to the more limited movement. Even Detective Mode makes an appearance in an enhanced form, allowing you to spot weak walls and clues, as well as now being able to see an enemy’s field of vision, allowing the Caped Crusader to plan his predatory attacks more effectively.
Ironically, this more limited perspective also makes the game world an absolute chore to navigate. Despite the limited range of movement, there are sections where Batman will turn around corners, bounce around the Z-axis, or be subject to more dynamic camera angles. This, coupled with the drab, samey environments, leads to a lot of confusion, rendering the in-game map almost useless at times and the game’s constant backtracking quickly becomes frustrating.
There’s also the matter of story. There aren’t the same sorts of mind-blowing revelations and story beats that the Arkham series is known for (a problem that carried over to the regular version of Arkham Origins), excepting a very cool hint at a possible future game that expands outside of the Batman franchise. As exciting as this hint is, it doesn’t add much to the bland story of the game proper.
On a technical level, Blackgate brings the Arkham experience to handhelds in a more than competent fashion. Unfortunately, the main draw of the franchise—the gripping story—has been all but forgotten.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is available now for the Sony Playstation Vita and the Nintendo 3DS. The game was reviewed on the Vita.