Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate doesn't work all too well as a handheld Arkham Origins epilogue, but it is a modestly successful Metroid clone. The game sends the Caped Crusader to prison and, much like a real jail, it is claustrophobic, drab, and more than a little depressing, but there's still fun to be had.
Arkham Origins: Blackgate takes place three months after Arkham Origins proper, replacing snow with rain and an open world with a massive prison complex. The inmates have taken over the penitentiary and Bats has to put things back in order, though the specific order is open to the player's choice. You're given three wings of the prison to explore as, with each section ruled by Penguin, Black Mask, and The Joker respectively.
The 2D game's layout demands exploration, and watching the proper path reveal itself feels gradually more rewarding, like slowly piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, only with Batarangs. The layered goals push players to retrace their steps and re-examine areas to find the path to the next goal. And because Batman, uncharacteristically, forgot to pack his utility belt full of gadgets, usually new paths involve finding a new item and retracing your steps.
Blackgate is very intentionally a Metroid clone, and after fantastic imitators like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Shadow Complex, there's very little wrong with taking such blatant inspiration. Developer Armature is made up of former Metroid Prime staff, so the action-exploration is well-crafted, particularly when the Arkham series had more than a little Metroid in its gameplay DNA to begin with. Although Blackgate isn't a very deep Metroidvania, it does make for a good introduction to the genre.
Surprisingly, Blackgate is at its worst when it tries to be an Arkham game. Arkham's trademark Freeflow combat is there, but it was made for three dimensions; for Batman to fight a gang of thugs attacking from all sides, not just two. Working in two dimensions severely limits the nuance of the fights, letting button mashing prevail of careful timing more often than not. The mechanics still allow the fights a small amount of depth, but the side-on perspective makes combat feel a little flat.
"Predator mode may be core to the series, but Blackgate would've been better off without trying to approximate it"
The stealthy Predator sections also suffer due to the perspective. Batman has so few options for movement that you're better off just absorbing a few shotgun blasts while beating guards into unconsciousness. Predator mode may be core to the series, but Blackgate would've been better off without trying to approximate it. The same goes for desaturating Detective Mode, which works fine as a Metroid-like scanner, but you'll end up leaving it on more than not, making the already drab prison visuals even more lifeless.
There's a similar lethargy to the storytelling, where the most important moments happen in Flash animation-like cutscenes. These feel cheesey when compared to their console brother's high-end CGI, but in Blackgate the look is more forgiveable than the thoroughly average voice acting from the cast. The problem is compounded when other story scenes merely broadcast Batman's dialogue over an immobile character model, all while he has an exchange with his newest off-screen navigator, Catwoman. After missing her in Origins, having Catwoman meet Batman for the first time in Blackgate gives the story some extra heft, but immediately assumption of Alfred's role in Origins feels too limiting for her. It's a dirty job, but someone had to do it.In spite of all of these issues, some of Arkham trappings do compliment instead of hinder. Crawling through vents feels just fine in 2D, as does hacking locks and shimmying across outcroppings. And it's routinely cool to find a structurally weak wall and then blow it up, especially if an unsuspecting thug is on the other side of that wall. Those agreeable elements are usually what makes most of the boss fights enjoyable, so long as said battles don't also hinge on the compromised Predator mode.
Blackgate is essentially the same on the 3DS and Vita, with the minor differences being what you'd expect. The Vita version looks better (though still noticeably worse than current gen hardware), while the 3DS's second screen helpfully displays the map that you'll constantly be pausing to check on the Vita. You're safe going with whatever your primary system happens to be.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a solid adventure for those looking for more of the same and those that want to try their first Metroidvania. But as an epilogue to Arkham Origins, Blackgate will only give Bat-fans a compromised slice of what they love the franchise for. The truly committed Arkham fanatics should wait until they've done everything they can in the console version before they join the inmates in Blackgate.
Sticking close to the Arkham formula hurts more than it helps, but Arkham Origins Blackgate is still a decent Metroidvania
- Hard to go wrong copying Metroid
- Smaller scale adventure fitting for handhelds
- Occasionally Arkham gameplay is smoothly integrated and works
- Most Arkham franchise tropes don't work
- Half-assed storytelling