Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate PS Vita Review
As a long-time fan of the Batman Arkham series I found it odd that I was more excited for the mobile version of the game this time around. My indifferent attitude towards Batman: Arkham Origins was due to a combination of circumstances. First off, Rocksteady wasn’t leading the way on the console versions. Secondly was the fact that Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is sitting squarely within my favorite genre; the 2.5D action platformer. Surprisingly I hadn’t heard much about Armature, the studio behind Blackgate, but that did little to deter me from playing.
Armature’s goal was simple; deliver a console grade Batman Arkham experience on Sony and Nintendo‘s portable platforms. They were tasked with re-creating the combat, stealth sequences, scenery, gadgets and puzzles we’ve all come to expect in a Batman Arkham installment. Not only were they to bring the definitive Batman experience to the Vita and 3DS, the studio also needed to make an earnest effort to utilize the 3D technology on Nintendo’s device and the touch screen’s on both the Vita and 3DS in a meaningful way. And all the while supply a fresh narrative that would tie into Blackgate prison. Armature also needed to weave the many villainous faces of the Batman universe into a believable plot. Things worked out, for the most part.
If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll be pleased to see the free-flowing combat system Rocksteady hooked us with returns in Blackgate, but this time it was built from the ground-up for portable devices. For the most part everything was as it should be. As long as your enemies stayed in a tight group Batman’s punches, kicks, counter-attacks, and gadget-based combat worked great. With the exception of the takedown. There were only a few times throughout my play through that I was able to get that attack executed without breaking my combo, which was a huge pet peeve for me. The now very familiar predator mode was handicapped by the 2.5D map design. Floor grates and vantage points comprised the stealth aspect of Blackgate. Glide kicks and silent takedowns were included, but didn’t quite have the feel of their 3D equivalent. Detective mode returned with a welcome twist. This is where Vita’s OLED touchscreen was put to good use. Detective mode is initiated by tapping the display and then dragging your focal point around the environment. Points of interest are highlighted and analyzed for further interaction. I’m always a huge fan of developers taking advantage of the built-in features of a device in an applicable way; and Armature was able to do so very successfully. The cryptographic sequencer is once again used to circumvent encrypted access points. In Blackgate there’s four stages of access keys you’ll need to utilize to gain admittance to the entire map. All of Batman’s key gadgets are present and are used in an almost identical fashion as their console counterparts. The batarang, line-launcher, batclaw and explosive gel are all used to access areas that are discovered along the way. In the end, everything from the Arkham series was stuffed into Blackgate, but most of the features weren’t fully realized.
The joy of exploration is one of the more memorable aspects of the Batman Arkham games. I ALWAYS hunt down every single Riddler clue and complete side-stories to exhaustion. I’m sad to report that Blackgate just wasn’t able to capture the exploitative nature of the past Arkham games, nor was it able to reach the level of discovery games like Shadow Complex offer. For all of its strength, I still found a few session-interrupting bugs along the way. At one point I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to continue my current save. On my hunt for Wayne-Tech crates I stumbled upon a weak ceiling. I just couldn’t help but destroy the barrier to seize its hidden loot. To my dismay, exposing the secret area froze my game. The second time I deployed explosive gel and opened the secret area, it interrupted the game engine so badly that the viewpoint flipped (see below). At this point I wasn’t able to use the batclaw to grapnel my way out of the area, nor was I able to interact with anything around me. When I loaded my last checkpoint, the game was still in this state. Only after attempting several more times was I able to get the game to restore its POV and functionality. A glitch like this is severely close to being gamebreaking.
However, the visuals of Blackgate weren’t compromised in any way. Batman’s character model was stunningly accurate, environments were drenched in gothic detail, and the HUD was useful without being intrusive. The combination of the great atmosphere, character models, and interactive environments made for a rather immersive experience, especially if you’re playing with headphones on. At times I was beside myself when taking in the graphical fidelity.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate serves as a continuation of the events of Batman: Arkham Origins. All the baddies have been confined to Blackgate prison, but an enormous explosion sets a new narrative in motion. The three main sections of the penitentiary have been seized by different gangs headed by the likes of Black Mask, The Joker, and Penguin. Batman has to work to recapture control of the cellblocks, administration building, and industrial wing of Blackgate. Catwoman replaces Oracle as your information liaison in exchange for a transfer to less severe imprisonment. You’ll run across boss battles with Bronze Tiger, Solomon Grundy and Deadshot while trying to secure the prison and rescue the hostages that have been caught in the middle of the chaos. All the while a nefarious spectator is armchair casting the perfect criminal enterprise.
For all its apparent strengths, Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate just doesn’t feel like the definitive experience Armature set out to create. The combat feels great (for the most part), the graphics are top-notch, and the utilization of device specific features make it an enjoyable experience. It’s faults range from negligible, to disappointing, and all the way to near game-breaking. All in all Blackgate just didn’t deliver on it’s very lofty goals.
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