Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Review

I can't say that I had high expectations for Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. The portable versions of big name console releases are usually hastily assembled afterthoughts designed more to capture purchases based on name recognition than for quality gameplay. And it didn't help that I've played some truly awful superhero games on portable systems as well. However, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by Blackgate. It's not so much that it's a great game, it's that it's really a bad game at all.

First off, you're going to have to let go of any expectations that you have that the game will deliver a 3D open world like that of the home console versions of Batman: Arkham Origins. Not that the Vita couldn't deliver that, at least in some form, but Blackgate has chosen instead to take a more structured and linear 2.5D approach to its gameplay. By 2.5D, I mean that the developers have taken a 2D side-scroller and added the illusion that the game world is in 3D. You can enter a door or round a corner, but then the game world will rotate around you so that you're moving in two dimensions again. Sure, it's all an illusion, but at least it gives the game a feeling of depth that's missing in most side-scrollers.

In spite of this limitation, Blackgate does a pretty decent job of giving the fights some of the same character as in Arkham Origins. The same timing-based, attack, block, counter mechanism is at work here, complete with the lines above enemies' heads that indicate an incoming attack that can be countered. There are also plenty of perches for you to use to sneak up on the bad guys or to take a respite from a fight that's going poorly, and you have an arsenal of glide and drop attacks at your disposal from these perches. While all of this still can't match the 3D fights in 3D environments of Arkham Origins, it's still fun in its own right.

The same thing doesn't quite apply to the boss fights, though, which are inconsistent in both challenge and fun. Some are pretty easy, while others are exercises in frustration, first in determining just what you need to do and then in trying to successfully do it. The boss fights also tend to drag on too long, especially for a portable game.

The game is more than just fights, though. There is plenty of exploration, including secret areas to discover. With all of the pathways available and with the 2.5D nature of the game, it's relatively easy to get lost while making your way through the game's Arkham Asylum setting. There's an in-game map available, but to be honest it doesn't really make things much easier.

Detective mode is also included in the game - basically a screen overlay that lets you see enemy locations, hidden things, and interactive objects - but Blackgate takes advantage of the Vita's touchscreen controls by having you sweep the screen looking for those things. A lot of times Vita games can make the touchscreen interactivity feel tacked on, but in this case it works nicely.

The story follows the Batman script of one man trying to prevent the inmates from taking over the asylum. There's a bit of a twist to things here, though, in that the asylum bedlam takes place shortly after Batman encounters Catwoman for the first time while rudely interrupting one of her heists. Their strange love-hate dance begins almost immediately, and Catwoman serves as a guide of sort for both Batman and the player. The story is conveyed in style, with cutscenes playing out like you're turning the pages of a graphic novel. These scenes have a great aesthetic appeal, and were easily one of my favorite parts of the game.

Overall, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is surprisingly good, but falls a bit short of being good overall. The navigation issues are a big problem in a portable game - it's hard enough figuring out where you are and where you need to go while playing, and even more so if you haven't played in two days - and the boss fights are simply too inconsistent and frustrating. Still there's enough fun to be had with the game that it's recommendable to those with an interest in it.

Final Rating: 72%. Not quite up to the standard of the console versions of Batman: Arkham Origins, but not a bad game on its own.


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