Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition
The original Batman Arkham: Origins was a solid entry in the beloved series, but also the weakest link in the chain so far due to glitches and a samey feel. It launched alongside Blackgate on the Vita – a Metroidvania-style game that marked Batman’s debut in that sub-genre. Now, like Castlevania: Mirror of Fate HD, console owners can get a better-looking version of a portable game if they don’t mind waiting a bit. Given Origins’ relatively low marks and current presence as a bargain bin title, the timing is actually just about perfect.
Taking place after the events of Origins, Batman is led astray by Catwoman into Blackgate prison. The Joker, Black Mask, and The Penguin are all out to do horrible things to various parts of it, and to many innocent workers inside. Batman can choose any boss order, adding a touch of Mega Man to the Arkham formula. The core gameplay mechanics return from that series, which is both good and bad. On one hand, it feels great to play a 2.5D version of the Arkham gameplay. It really doesn’t lose much in the transition, so if you loved the quick countering, action, stealth takedowns, and perch attacks of those games, you’ll love them here too.
Unfortunately, when you play a Metroidvania game, you expect smooth gameplay. The same kind of holds true for the Arkham games, even if it’s not quite as smooth as those. Here, Batman’s default movement is about on par with a tank, and his run isn’t a whole heck of a lot faster. The merger of the two completely different gameplay styles is far from ideal and it feels like everything’s in slow motion throughout much of the adventure. Beyond having some issues with the flow of things, the map is a bit of a nightmare too. Instead of a normal 2D sideview, you get a ¾ overhead view with some depth to it. While this makes sense given the 2.D nature of the gameplay, it’s a bit harder to use. Luckily, the separate-themed environments aren’t easy to get lost in, and you can figure out the map, it’s just not as easy to do as most Metroidvania games. The gameplay being a mish-mash is a shame because in theory, a Batman Metdroidvania should be a sure-fire thing, but as it turns out, the Arkham-style gameplay just isn’t very conducive for it. It’s still a fun game to play, but you can’t help but feel it could be a lot better while going through it.
A new crypto sequencer is used that greatly simplifies the dual stick process from the original version. Now, instead of fumbling with the sticks and button setup from before, you have a simple number grid and need to pick three green numbers in a row. If you run across a number that is correct, it will be green and they’ll often come in groups of two – so you just need to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to solve the problem, and it’s far less aggravating here than it was before. This one aspect is a massive improvement over how things were.
Graphically, Blackgate is a mix of stunning motion comic drawings mixed with puzzling ones, and a level of detail in the core game that varies from impressive to shockingly poor for a 2014 release. The entire story is told with stunning motion comic drawings that beyond looking a bit cropped on the top and bottom, are quite crisp. Details are exceptional, and you really get a sense that perhaps the game should’ve been cel shades since the style is so radically different from the more realistic main game. However, they’re hurt by odd portions where characters don’t move their legs, so they just kind of appear to glide across the floor in a way that just breaks the reality of what’s going on.
The main game tries its best to replicate the Arkham franchise’s realistic look, and winds up the worse for wear for it. While the major character models for Batman and his key rivals look good, the dozens upon dozens of mooks you’ll fight look terrible. Moreover, they go for a lot of close-up shots of Batman that just serve to show how muddy the texture work can get on his face. He looks like a wax sculpture of himself at times, and like Mirror of Fate HD and AC III: Liberation HD, you can never quite shake the feeling that you’re playing a portable game blown up for the big screen.
The music is slow and somber. It sounds good, but doesn’t really stick with you after the game. Still, during it, a vivid picture is painted with it, and that counts for a lot. Batman games, movies, and shows are built on atmospheric music, and this delivers that quite well. The cast from Origins was used for this game, and does a fairly good job even if there’s nowhere near as much plot here as there was in that title.
Blackgate is a really hard game to score because on a technical level, it’s not awful. The individual mechanics are fairly well-done, but they just don’t mesh together well. Trying to mix Metroidvania progression with the Arkham combat system is simply clunky, and while it does succeed at delivering a 2.5D Arkham experience, it falls short as a Metroidvania game. As a result, a purchase recommendation is going to vary wildly based on what you want from it. If it’s a solid Metroidvania you’re seeking after tackling Mirror of Fate HD, then this isn’t it. But if you’re seeking some more Arkham-related fun, then give it a shot. It’s got some rough edges visually, but also has some striking shots that will dazzle thanks to impressive lighting effects and features the same kind of music that made the other Arkham games so atmospheric.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
This review is based on a digital copy of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition for the Xbox 360 provided by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.