Batman has experienced something of a renaissance ever since the release of 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, and its follow-up, 2011’s Batman: Arkham City. The release of this month’s Batman: Arkham Origins will expand upon the story even further, and Batman’s debut on handheld consoles in Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate will function as a slight continuation, and will further expand on the dark knight’s second year on the job. Despite some small limitations in gameplay, Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate looks and feels familiar, in a good way.
Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate takes place a few months after the events of Batman: Arkham Origins. Developers over at Warner Bros. Montreal have been largely tight-lipped on plot details pertaining to the game’s villains and specifics regarding the storyline. We do know for a fact that Catwoman and The Joker, along with other villains portrayed in the Arkham canon will be portrayed in the game. The specific build I demo’ed was presented on the Nintendo 3DS and featured Batman chasing Catwoman across the rooftops of Gotham City, while battling police and thugs in the process.
I am of two minds when it comes to the presentation of the game’s story. As usual the voice-acting is on par with the original Arkham games, which is saying a lot, as those games set a high-standard for future Batman games. This was due not only to the use of the original Batman: The Animated Series cast, but to the natural chemistry between the voice-actors that was successfully portrayed on-screen. Batman and Catwoman have a very sultry relationship that is hilariously framed by their mutual antagonism of one another, and this is portrayed quite well Blackgate, especially when you consider it is all within the limits of the handheld realm.
Unlike the main Arkham series which is depicted in a traditional 3D format, Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate is comprised of 2.5 dimensional environments. The game is what you may call a hybrid of a side-scroller. The portions of the title that demand Batman to fight are shown in this semi-3d environment, while everything else is more in-line with 2d. Armature Studio has done a great job at constructing these scenes and transitional elements within them to insure that when the camera pans to a certain angle, there is no jarring or disorienting feeling. The flow of the gameplay never felt impeded as I played, and I lost myself in the game quite a few times, forgetting the fact that I was on the floor amid tens of thousands of other people. The graphics overall though, do not feel as polished on the 3DS. When in 2D mode, they looked dated and at times, even comparable to the past generation. Raising the 3D slider and adding depth improved the graphics exponentially, making the game look more shiny, and crisp.
The game’s cutscenes are delivered via a motion comic-style format, which is not the most conducive format to delivering a highly emotional or intense set of cutscenes. Characters are literally two-dimensional and it stifles some of the top-notch voice-acting work that the developers at Arkane Studios have at their disposal. Something with more movement and freedom may have been a more prudent decision. I felt more tension within the game itself when I was traversing the rooftops of Gotham than I did within any of those cutscenes.
Aside from the game’s presentation, many aspects of the Arkham franchise remain unchanged in Blackgate. The button combinations for combat and travel remain the same, as well as their responsiveness. The fast-paced grappling and hand-to-hand combat are present and maintain their brutality and quick pace. The developer on-site informed me that the 3DS and Vita versions will have no major differences between them except for the 3D, graphical, and trophy capabilities, among other small details.
The drawback to playing this series on a handheld device, is that the once-comprehensive investigation and combat systems, now feel limited. Detective mode is stripped down to its most basic principles – utilize the touchpad to move the yellow circle and find a secret or two. Combat feels bare since it is not as convenient to whip out Batman’s gadgets, though fisticuffs still do the job best on their own. Perhaps the most glaring example of the Blackgate‘s limitations in the handheld environment are during portions of the gameplay in which you need to stalk enemies that are carrying firearms. When it comes to these situations, take everything you learned in Arkham Asylum and City and throw out the fun stuff.
Considering this is Batman‘s first iteration on handheld devices under the Arkham banner, these drawbacks feel like they will lose their weight when present among some of the better aspects of the game. More importantly, despite some of its limitations, Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate looks and feels like a bonafide Arkham game, and there may be no better compliment to give than that.
Batman: Arkham Origins – Blackgate is being developed by Armature Studio and will be published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment for the PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS. The demo I previewed was presented on the Nintendo 3DS. The game set to release alongside Batman: Arkham Origins on October 25th, later this month.
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