Review

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

In The Belfry

Arkham Origins Blackgate proves the Dark Knight’s brand of justice isn’t always best.

By Joe Keiser • October 30, 2013

It was clear years ago that Batman’s methods of crime fighting don’t work at all. He’s been gut-punching the same villains and thugs for years, but no sooner does he lock them up do they escape and return to their wicked ways; lather, rinse, repeat, for the better part of a century. In Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, the portable companion piece to this year’s home game Batman: Arkham Origins, the villains don’t even escape. Instead, they take over the Blackgate correctional facility in which they have been incarcerated. It’s Batman’s job to, with the help of Catwoman, make sure his wild-eyed nemeses, um, stay where they are and slightly improve their behavior. The solution involves Batarangs.

It’s impossible to talk about Blackgate without noting its place in the hierarchy of Batman games because that history has shaped this game in conflicted, uneven ways. For example it is, as previously noted, a companion to Batman: Arkham Origins. It’s also a direct storyline follow-up to that game, but can’t really reference that fact because, hey, spoilers. So it instead paints a milquetoast, low detail Batman story. The prison has been overtaken! Something shady is going on! But that’s just another night in Gotham City, and these are events that are pretty easy to ignore.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

It’s more constructive to go back a little further. This is the fourth game in the Batman: Arkham series, a highly regarded run of Batman simulators with a few trademark characteristics. These are games that let you stalk criminals in a variety of ways and let you explore every nook and cranny of an open world with a utility belt’s worth of gadgets. They also have a bare-knuckled fighting style that is so visceral, it makes your teeth hurt (in a good way).

Blackgate had to replicate most of these things to fit into the oeuvre, it seems, though it did get to tinker with one major part of the formula. The large open-worlds of previous incarnations have been replaced with a two-dimensional space that is explored in the four cardinal directions. This does nothing to diminish the joy of experiencing Batman’s world—Blackgate prison is a ramshackle place, and it’s enjoyable to go urban spelunking in it. And since the prison only sprawls out primarily to the left and right, it’s a bit easier to get your bearings if you’re playing this in quick bursts in buses and on the toilet.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

But this one good change plays poorly with the series’ other trademarks that seem to only exist in Blackgate to fit some predetermined mold. The stealth and stalking aspects are particularly compromised. Where in earlier games you could easily take out a goon from behind and then hide in clearly delineated shadows, in Blackgate it’s rarely clear that you’re hiding at all. There are few corners to skulk in when you’re in a two-dimensional world, and the thugs scouting for you often need only look up, which they do. The street fighting, which is simplified but still a hard-hitting dance of acrobatic judo counters and knockout blows, accidentally injures the game technically. Because these battles require Batman to be surrounded by bad guys, this 2D game has to be at least a little bit 3D so Batman is not just hitting the thugs directly to his left and right. The camera is pulled out and skewed slightly, giving the fights a great look but introducing perspective problems and visual illusions that torque the brain. One time, I thought I was trapped in an area because I did not realize I needed to enter a vent that appeared too small to fit around Batman’s broad, sculpted shoulders. This sort of thing doesn’t happen that often, but it happened enough to make me question whether I was understanding all the necessary visual information the whole time.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate

There are other small issues, enough so that while the game doesn’t die from a thousand cuts, it’s definitely lightheaded and could use a cookie. The map, which is essential to figuring out where to go early on, has trouble flattening Blackgate’s strange simultaneously 2D and 3D world into something understandable at a glance. The primary boss fights against Black Mask, Penguin, and The Joker can be taken on in any order, but are frustrating walls to be splattered against, over and over, until understanding and reflex are combined into the exact pattern the game demands. And the end of the game gets buggy. There were two times where I used Bat-gadgets to get to places I apparently shouldn’t have been, necessitating a restart from an earlier checkpoint.

But despite all the little complaints, Blackgate is, on balance, slightly more good than bad. Most of your time is spent exploring and brawling, and these two parts have been, for the most part, successfully wrought. It’s easy to forget sometimes that being frustrated by a hiccup that halts progression means the game is making you want to progress, and there is reason to progress in Blackgate. It’s an uneven popcorn game; the flaws are visible, but the ride is enjoyable if unessential. After all, Batman will always come back, the villains will always get free, and the Batarang throwing will continue year in and year out. If you wanted to check in later instead, it would be hard to argue that you missed anything.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate
Developer: Armature Studio
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita
Reviewed on: PlayStation Vita
Price: $40
Rating: T

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21 Responses to “In The Belfry”

  1. Spacemonkey Mafia says:

    Given the largely Retro-pedigreed staff of Armature, and my own weakness for Metroidvania style games, I had high hopes for this one. Even if does seem to be a fairly monochromatic swath of visual sameness.
    Great reviews or poor, I still won’t be checking it out until it’s discounted, so it certainly doesn’t need to be sterling.
    If nothing else, the horizontal cropping of these screenshots strongly evoke the amazing fight scene from ‘Oldboy’. I’ll just think of that when I play the game and eat dumplings.

    • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

      Yeah, this sounds like kind of a let down. I guess I’m left hoping for a real 2D Metroid game to come out for the 3DS.

      • Jovebob says:

        Plenty of metroidvania like games my friend. I recommend you check out Shantae Riskys Revenge, it isn’t a very serious game but definitely very metroid vania inspired.

  2. caspiancomic says:

    So how many colons are there supposed to be in that title? Is it really Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, with its syntactically bizarre run-on subtitle? Or Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate, which attempts to make the title less of a mouthful by committing the borderline unforgivable sin of the double colon? Or, just throwing ideas around here, how about Batman: Arkham: Origins: Blackgate, a matryoshka doll of a title that provides information from least to most specific to this game?

    • The_Misanthrope says:

      Armature Studio Presents: A Batman Simulator: Arkham: Origins: Blackgate: The Handheld Experience

      It used to be you could just slap a Roman numeral at the end of that title and call it a day. I think somewhere along the way they figured out that using these subtitles made it appear to be a chapter in a book rather than a cash-in sequel.

    • Girard says:

      Super Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate: The World Warrior: Turbo EX Alpha

    • Spacemonkey Mafia says:

      The gossip rags are just calling them BarkBla.

  3. Jackbert says:

    Anyone playing this on 3DS? Can the little tyke handle it, or is it an ugly buggy mess?

  4. Sam_Barsanti says:

    SPOILER ALERT:

    I understand that this game sets up a future appearance from The Suicide Squad, which would be way more interesting than yet another identical Batman game.

    • SPOILER ALERT:

      The Suicide Squad spin-off game spins-off into a Doctor Who-inspired Shade, the Changing Man series of games, which are all commercial flops but so cheaply-produced and critically-lauded that they keep getting made. This is not so much a commentary on the comics as much as it is my hopes and dreams for the next few years of licensed video games.

  5. boardgameguy says:

    Sounds similar to Mark of the NInja. Or I just finished new game plus on Mark of the NInja and you mentioned 2d stealth with some fighting elements and my mind made a connection that isn’t that close to this game.

    • Chum Joely says:

      Actually, it sounds like the 2D stealth is handled a lot less effectively here than in Mark of the Ninja. At least there, you knew when you were definitely hidden vs. probably hidden (unless they look up!) vs. not.

  6. Chum Joely says:

    Hey all. the Gameological “Game Revue Club” on Steam is now voting on the game we’ll be playing for our 7th edition, so I’ll be continuing to spam various threads here with invitations to come and vote!

    The vote thread is here, and voting is open until midnight EDT on Thursday:

    http://steamcommunity.com/groups/gameological/discussions/2/792924952789854447

    Here are the 13 candidates that are up for a vote (sorry, no Batman for now):
    – Alpha Protocol
    – Antichamber
    – Bastion
    – Bientôt l’été
    – Cabela Big Game Hunter Trophy Bucks
    – Dark Souls
    – Euro Truck Simulator
    – Godus
    – Gone Home
    – Hotline Miami
    – Papers Please
    – Sir, You Are Being Hunted
    – Thomas Was Alone

    The current top 3 are Papers Please, Alpha Protocol, and Cabela/Trophy Bucks (!!!), but the whole field is still close enough that a few votes one way or another could totally change the game. Join us, won’t you?

  7. Drinking_with_Skeletons says:

    Ordered this earlier in the week. I’m a sucker for the Arkham games and I’m going to keep an open mind and try to view it objectively.

    Hopefully the 3DS version isn’t so fugly that it’s distracting.

  8. Drinking_with_Skeletons says:

    Wait, wait: wasn’t Solomon Grundy imprisoned beneath the Penguin’s museum? He even said he found him when he bought the place! What’s he doing in this?

  9. NakeshaWestrick says:

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