June 2010, e3: at the last Nintendo e3 conference before the launch of the 3DS(and possibly the last Nintendo e3 conference ever), the presenter showed off a wall-sized collage of the major franchises confirmed to be appearing on the new handheld.
My eye settled immediately on the unmistakeable logo of the Batman: Arkham series(which, of course, hadn't seen a sequel yet) and I was positively ecstatic. My favorite pasttime had been playing the combat challenges in Arkham Asylum and climbing the leaderboards, so to me, the idea of punching badguys on the go- even if it had to be dumbed down a smidge- had to be the most awesome thing to find on a handheld. It was a dream I held onto even after the announcement and release of the system and even after Lego Batman came out- which was worrisome until I convinced myself that the logo was for Batman: Arkham and not just any Batman release.
In the meantime, I picked up any 3ds game that offered anything approaching an Arkham-style melee combat system, and waited. Early this year(or was it late last year?), I got an issue of Game Informer which confirmed the existence of the game I'd been waiting so long for and gave some initial details on the gameplay format. I was a little dismayed to find it was going to feature a full story-driven campaign rather than just being an arena challenge compilation a la Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D. I still kept faith, though, in the combat.
I picked up the game on launch day- I had even considered foregoing the console release altogether. I'm now about 80% of the way through Arkham Origins: Blackgate and I can't fully detail all the ways I'm disappointed in the game. It isn't a game about punching dudes in the face the way every Arkham game's been since Asylum- it's an hours-long easter egg hunt. The game has you entering 3 separate mazes that are interconnected and you're left feeling around almost blindly for the next step on the road to the finish- sometimes without even a waypoint on the nearly useless map.
I call the map "nearly useless" because it's a floor plan- a bird's eye view of the compound when you cannot access the rooms from any direction but left-to-right and all the twisting and turning is handled automatically. A 3D map would have helped immensely in navigating the environment.
The combat is the merest shadow of what even Arkham Asylum had achieved- strike, counter, stun and dodge are the basic options, but there are no combo gadgets, no blade dodges, special takedowns or any advanced maneuver other than the beatdown. Even the ground pound doesn't function as part of a combat encounter, but is used strictly as a predator maneuver. Further, you cannot target individual enemies in a combat encounter, but rather you only have control over whether you attack an enemy to the left or the right of you. This is especially troublesome when there is a special enemy type in the mix- knife wielding enemies or enemies with stun rods need to be managed in specific ways that can disrupt your combo if targeted on the wrong enemy.
I've always viewed the campaigns in the Arkham games to be a nuisance to be dealt with and forgotten once I've earned all the available combat upgrades. I put so many hours into Arkham City because I was able replay and improve my scores in the combat challenges over and over again. But there appear to be no combat challenges at all in Blackgate. And what's more, enemies don't respawn when you travel from one area to another. So if you're lost on the way to the next under explained objective, there's literally nothing to do but wander around.
So on the whole, I am disappointed that Arkham Origins: Blackgate, a game I have literally been waiting for for years, decided to go in exactly the opposite direction to how it could have best shined as a handheld entry in a console franchise.
The game isn't bad- maybe a little frustrating, but not bad. It's just focussed on, in my opinion, the wrong side of the franchise. Too much exploring and scanning, not enough punchin' stuff.
Have any of you got any opinions on the game?