Batman: Arkham Asylum for the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC quickly captivated gamers and fans of the Dark Knight with its combination of brutal melee combat, exploration, stealth elements, gadgetry and story. This led to a sequel in Arkham City, and two prequels. Arkham Origins struck the consoles and PC while expanding on the same formula but Arkham Origins – Blackgate attempts to take the game’s most attractive elements and convert them into a 2.5D “Metroidvania” style world for the Nintendo 3DS. Surprisingly, this works well for the combat but not so much for other instances.
Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate takes place three months after the events in Arkham Origins. However, playing the home console based version is not a prerequisite for the handheld as it is a stand-alone story set in the Arkham universe.
The game opens up with Batman chasing Catwoman across Gotham’s rooftops while also encountering the private security thugs trying to get back something the thief stole. This section of the game serves as both a tutorial to the game’s mechanics and a setup for the plot and the two character’s relationship in the rest of the game.
From there, the action moves to Blackgate Prison where a riot has broken out and the Penguin, the Joker and Black Mask have set up their own little fiefdoms inside the prison. Catwoman, having previously, been caught by Batman is there as well but strikes a deal which puts her in the role of Alfred/Oracle to feed the Caped Crusader information and provide some witty banter.
Fans of the voice actors will be happy to know that the cast from Arkham Origins returns such as Troy Baker reprising Joker and Roger Craig Smith as Batman. Even Grey DeLisle reprises her role as Catwoman from Arkham City. The cast is able to showcase their work both in motion comic style cut-scenes and in-game which greatly enhances the experience though the cut-scenes and dialogue sometimes leave something to be desired.
The Batman: Arkham combat mechanics are easily the best feature to make the leap over to the 2.5D. Virtually nothing is lost in the flow of hitting, countering and evading while taking on a group of thugs in hand to hand combat aside from being able to move in the third dimension. Otherwise, the behavior of Batman is almost identical down to the sometimes giggle-worthy extra- long slides he takes while moving from thug to thug.
Stealth, however, is hit or miss. The 2D nature of the game doesn’t always translate well to the stealth sections which are generally limited to using the grapple gun to reach an outcropping in an area to get the drop on thugs or hiding under grates in the floor to leap out and sneak attack. Once discovered, it is difficult to become hidden again and even when you do manage to hide you are sometimes left wondering, “How the heck does that guy not see me?”
The stealth combined with the combat can truly be a trial and error experience though. It may take multiple tries to find the right route to take with the stealth sections because of the difficulty to hide again and the Penguin boss fight can truly test your patience.
The gadgets are a mixed bag as well. The experience point and unlock system that is present in the other Arkham games does not make the leap to Blackgate. Instead, Batman starts out with only the Batarang and Grapple Gun but can unlock by finding hidden WayneTech crates lying around the prison which is completely illogical. Still, the Zip Line, Explosive Gel and Batclaw are still extremely useful in getting to new areas on the map and the electrified Batarangs are always good for a laugh.
Detective mode makes the jump as well but is implemented in a slightly different way on the Nintendo 3DS. The player places their thumb on a spot on the touchscreen and then uses the circle pad to scan the environment in order to discover clues, hidden objects, and paths or to identify enemies and friends. Also, simply tapping the touchscreen activates Detective Mode without the scanning which is really only useful when trying to be stealthy to see which way thugs are looking.
The Nintendo 3DS makes the most of the Metroidvania style world by displaying the action in the top screen and the map in the bottom screen. It definitely gives the handheld a leg up over the PS Vita version of the game as it is incredibly useful. Developer Armature Studio also did well to set the game in a prison where this style of gameplay can shine versus the streets of Gotham City. There are nooks and crannies to explore, hidden clues and costume pieces to discover along with the aforementioned WayneTech crates. The three sections of the prison where the three main villains can be played in any order as well and the game comes with three different endings depending on which is the last one defeated. However, this also leads to much backtracking down empty corridors.
As for the game’s graphics, the Nintendo 3DS holds up well but character models and the environment are clearly not as sharp as what is available on the PS Vita. The 3D effect does work well though to add depth to the rooftops of Gotham in the opening as well as to the prison’s interior. The camera is dynamic too which means you won’t always be viewing the game from the side. Some sections swoop in behind Batman’s shoulder or look nearly directly at him as he swings in from the background to the foreground. It is an admittedly cool use of the handheld’s primary gimmick.
Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate is a solid first entry for the Dark Knight into 2.5D Metroidvania genre and will give you about six to eight hours of brutalizing thugs and sneaking around Blackgate prison. Not all of the mechanics from the home console made it over to the handheld and the one’s that did make it may not always be fleshed out. Still, the spirit is there and it’s a good treat to fans who need their Batman fix on the go.
Title: Batman: Arkham Origins - Blackgate
Platform(s): Nintendo 3DS, PS Vita
Developer: Armature Studio
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2013
A review copy for the Nintendo 3DS was provided by Warner Bros. Interactive for the purposes of this review.