A standalone title that compliments the bigger main event Batman: Arkham Origins found on console.
Blackgate is the perfect amalgamation of what is offered on the console and what is possible on the PS Vita. Thankfully the developers Armature Studio haven’t tried to cram in all of Arkham City into the tiny Vita and made a lesser game because of it. Armature have decided to play the 2.5D metroidvania card and to great effect. Aside from some terrible dialogue, jarring cut scenes, what we have here is a smart, well-paced adventure that is appealing to all.
Blackgate begins with a pretty easy but exciting tutorial level which introduces gamers to the new 2D style gameplay, and Bat’s new moves and abilities. You’re guided through this tutorial by Catwoman who you’ve just caught in the middle of her thievery. With an uneasy alliance under your belt you take off to Blackgate Prison, a place for dangerous criminals who are deemed not insane enough to be shipped off to Arkham Asylum. It is your job as Batman to explore the prision, dispense justice to the three main villains of the peace, The Joker, Penguin and Black Mask and take back the prison. All in a days work.
So 2D then eh? Well I wouldn’t worry about that, Armature have done a great job of creating huge labyrinthine levels, that at first felt confined when compared to the freedom of Arkham City. But as soon as you start upgrading Batman, the levels open up and are ripe for exploring. Traversing the levels is also just a smooth as Arkham stalwarts should expect, button prompts pop up on screen when you can use your grappling hook, or when you can dive under the grating in the floor. It works really well and is perfectly suited to the PS Vita.
Sure it can be confusing at times as The Caped one does fly in and out of the screen meaning that working out where to go can get confusing, but an hour in, you’re soon used to the mechanics and becomes second nature.
To help you navigate the levels, find all manner of secret entrances and hidden items, the famous detective mode is here in full, A tap of the touch screen brings up the X-ray mode where you can then drag your finger around to highlight objects on screen, making searching for the many clues a breeze, and quick. It is a natural fit to have this mode mapped to the touch screen.
When it comes to combat however it’s a bit hit and miss. Armature have done a great job bringing the excellent combat system to a 2D game, the button prompts are all there, so pretty much straight away you’ll be leaping over enemies dishing out all kinds of pain. it’s fast fluid and solid. Where it falls short is if you’re trying to be stealthy, something the Arkham games are famous for. you see being on a 2D plane, you can’t use a camera to search your surroundings. So if there are enemies off screen, you can’t see them so a stealth takedown immediately gets you in trouble as there is a guard watching you just off screen. it’s annoying but doesn’t really take away from what is a great combat system.
What isn’t so great though are the cutscenes and dialogue. The cutscenes are presented in a motion comic style, which sounds great, but they aren’t very good motion comics, but worse than that is the massive jolt you’ll get when the comics end and the 2D rendered characters begin. I can’t see the point in this, the cutscenes bring nothing that couldn’t have been done in the game engine. To top it off the dialogue is woeful, especially with Batman and Catwoman, it boils down to little more than innuendo, bringing nothing to the characters whatsoever.
I really enjoyed my time at Blackgate, a brilliantly realised version of the Arkham games for hand-held machines, the mechanics all work well together making for a fluid and exciting Metroidvania style 2D platformer. Of course no game is complete without some downsides. Blackgate has a few, but by no means a deal breaker. The biggest issue I had found was with the map. It’s really confusing, not in terms of clarity, but it’s a 2D side on game but the map is top down, so working out where to go is an unnecessary brain bender. The boss battles can be frustrating, with a lack of explanation as to how to defeat them leading to lots of cheap deaths. Lastly, Blackgate is by no means a bad looking game, from the main perspective, its a great looking game, but close up the some of the textures are poor, which disappoints a little seeing as the Vita can handle a game like this with it’s eyes closed.
Batman Arkham Origins blackgate proves that you don’t need flashy 3D worlds to make a good game. I wish more developers would take a leave from Armature and bring famous game worlds to the hand-held in 2D form, rather than trying to cram everything from its console big brother into a machine that isn’t powerful enough to handle it.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is available now and was reviewed on PSVita.
In order to review the game, we purchased a copy from the PSN Store.