Review

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Review

  • Game release: October 25, 2013
  • Reviewed: October 25, 2013
  • VITA

Digital injustice.

by

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate should, in theory, be amazing. The recent pair of Batman games from Rocksteady Studios are the best featuring the caped crusader in years, if not decades, and mixing the constants of the Arkham games with a bit of Metroid-inspired design sounds like a winning formula. The prequel to Arkham Asylum, set after the console version of Arkham Origins, pits Batman against three familiar faces: Joker, the Penguin, and Black Mask. Each villain has taken control of a section of the Blackgate prison, amassing small armies along the way. Of course, only Batman can quell the uprising, but not without a little help from Catwoman, whose inside info is the key to identifying important locations within Blackgate. After the two penetrate the front lines, you're off to the races, free to tackle the three sections of the prison in any order you wish.

Blackgate does have a lot in common with its older siblings, but everything is presented in 2.5D rather than full 3D. Despite the change in perspective, close-quarters combat remains fluid and simple; relentlessly attack enemies, and press the counter button when a warning icon flashes above their heads. It's a straightforward dance that's effortlessly strung together in a simple but satisfying way. You aren't controlling every facet of the action, but you are performing complex combo attacks and acrobatic takedowns with ease. Occasionally, advanced enemies with weapons or increased defenses appear, and you may have to stun them with your cape or leap over them to attack from behind, but overt button prompts make it easy to keep things moving right along.

Solomon Grundy wants love, too!

Unfortunately, it's not all good news. One of the few problems with combat occurs when you're dealing with a variety of enemy types. Quite often, fights take place on two planes, but you don't have control over which plane you're fighting on. Instead, Batman attacks the closest enemy regardless of whether the opponent is in the foreground or background. Following the simple attack and counter formula works well enough when against common enemies, but that which makes multi-plane combat easy, however, breaks any attempt at strategy when fighting complex enemies. Stunning one enemy, only to attack a different enemy on another plane by accident, for example, is an all-too-common occurrence.

As you might expect, you eventually encounter well-known villains from the Batman series, and these boss fights come in two flavors. Mid-boss encounters, such as Bronze Tiger and Solomon Grundy, largely stick to the pattern of counter and attack found in typical fights, but the three big bosses are puzzle oriented in nature. These somewhat complex scenarios typically have strict conditions for success and extreme punishments for failure. A single misstep against Black Mask or the Penguin leads to near-instant death. Tackling these puzzles requires a trial-and-error approach, which doesn't work well with near-instant deathblows. Worst of all, you have to wait through an extended loading screen and start over a room or two before the boss fight. Until you know exactly what to do, it takes longer to get back into a boss fight than it does to fail.

When you aren't fending off clowns and thugs, you spend the majority of your time exploring the prison depths in search of the villainous trio. A sprawling map, filled with hidden passages, dangerous obstacles, and encrypted security panels, represents each of the game's three sections. Catwoman points you in the right direction, but once you're inside, you have to rely on the map and Batman's detective vision to find your way around. Entering detective mode by tapping the Vita's touchscreen reveals an X-ray-like representation of your surroundings. Perches, enemies, and other common elements are highlighted to stand out, and you can analyze each object's properties by touching them for a few seconds. It's important to search the screen for hidden objects that weren't immediately recognized in detective mode, and it's the most common way to not only discover solutions to environmental puzzles, but also the locations of secret rooms and items.

I don't know about you, but I prefer maps that don't keep track of where I've been.

With mostly enjoyable combat and the discovery-driven model of exploration, Blackgate looks great on paper. However, the implementation of the latter feels rushed and chaotic, often leading to frustration with the level design, and most critically, the map. This is, for the most part, a side-scrolling experience, but you're often driven into an air duct in the background, around a corner, or onto an elevator, deviating away from the typical side-on perspective. This shouldn't be a problem, but thanks to the top-down map, and a constantly-shifting relationship with your surroundings, it is.

The map is, by far, the most frustrating element of Blackgate, because it fails to provide the kind helpful information you'd expect to find. In a multistory environment with complex webs of air ducts, grapnel points, and hidden rooms, a map that fails to indicate what floor you're on is next to useless. Quite often, you're told to go to a specific room, but even if it appears that you're within the boundary of said room according to the map, you may in fact be floors and a complicated journey away. You may even need to come from an entirely different entrance to the building, but you won't figure any of this out until you spend lots of time analyzing every inch of your environment, chasing trails that lead to dead ends, and eventually stumble upon a hidden path that doubles back to the goal, albeit a floor above where you started. Then, nine times out of 10, when you finally make it to the goal, you have to head to yet another far-away location to briefly interact with an object to restore power to a generator, disable a security device, or something similar.

Essentially, your journey is as follows: make your way from point A to point B, fight some enemies, head to point C to interact with an object, then return to point B to fight a boss. This pattern is common, and it's also frustrating, due in no small part to weak pathfinding and an utterly confusing map.

Prepare to analyze everything in sight, constantly.

When you've grown tired of the typical mission, you have plenty of opportunities to seek out hidden objects, represented by a question mark on the map. Most of these are out of reach until you've acquired the proper tools: the batarang, line launcher, gel launcher, and batclaw. All of these tools are used to interact with objects and, with the exception of the line launcher, act as variations on the same principle: impact another object and apply some kind of force upon it. With the line launcher, you can create zip lines that allow you to fly across the environment, and even use it as a tightrope to reach areas overhead. Since Batman can't jump, the line launcher and the starting grapnel gun are your only means of vertical movement.

The Metroid-inspired world design, where tools are the key to reaching certain areas, is a welcome element, but the rewards for your explorative efforts are deflating. Most of the time, the items you find are one component of a four- or five-part object. It's a disappointing experience after struggling with the inadequate map and the need to endlessly analyze your environment. If you could analyze your environment while on the move, maybe the process wouldn't feel like such a chore, but as it is, you have to stand still to scrutinize your surroundings. In all, you spend far too much time stopping and starting, when all you want to do is solve puzzles, fight, and grapnel your way through the world.

And this is the major conflict within Blackgate's design. When you're making forward progress, interacting with your environment, and occasionally fighting, it's a simple but enjoyable gameplay experience, but once you're forced to wrestle with the map while backtracking, and attempt to collect enough pieces to assemble a new batsuit, things start to fall apart, and Blackgate becomes a slow and frustrating slog. There is a New Game Plus option to explore after beating the game, in case you want to tackle the main villains in a different order, but there are too many frustrating elements to make that an attractive option. The first few hours of Blackgate provide an exciting glimpse of what might have been a great game, but it slowly falls apart, hour by hour, villain by villain.

The Good
Empowering combat
The Bad
Confusing map system
Repetitive missions
Unrewarding exploration
5
Mediocre
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Peter has a soft spot in his heart for Super Metroid and Sunsoft's pair of Batman games on the NES, and he's fairly certain Michael Keaton is, in fact, Bruce Wayne.

Discussion

43 comments
hadlee73
hadlee73

Having good fun with this game. I can understand the criticisms leveled at it, but I'm not really having any of the issues the reviewer had with reading the map. The game is very forgiving too, with very generous checkpoints.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

I finally started playing this after buying it day one with the ps3 origins. It's not a terrible game, but it's not very good either. It could have been so much more if it was made for the vita alone and not ported from the 3ds. Everyone that's played uncharted or killzone on the vita knows it can handle a true arkham game. I keep wanting to use the right thumbstck and then realize it's a 3ds game, not a vita game and that's what I find the most disappointing. I'm not saying don't buy it, but if you do buy it cheap.

most_games_r_ok
most_games_r_ok

5 is too high unfortunately, game doesn't deserve more than a 4

dlmcamaross
dlmcamaross

I've been playing for a while now.  A lot better than a 5.  I'd probably put it at 7.  Just because the map does suck and is not as useful as it should be.  Also, the amount of enemies is low.   Aside from that, it's a great game.  Looks great, fun game play, with good puzzles.

ANUBISZER0
ANUBISZER0

Got this game along with the PS3 title, don't regret getting the PS3 title but I regret getting this one though.

inso-maniac
inso-maniac

great choice of screenshots really show off the game well

Dschadir
Dschadir

I was shocked when I read the reviews. Very low scores. And I had it pre-ordered, so I got stuck with it I thought. But I've been playing this game now for quite a few hours and I absolutely love it. No, it's not the free roaming game that its bigger brothers are, but it is still fun to play. It has sort of an Arkham Asylum vibe to it since you travel between different areas in sort of a closed environment, much like you did in the first Arkham game. The only disappointing aspect are the predator mode stealthy bits. They just don't work very well in 2,5D as you only have so many places to move to and hide in.

I have to admit, I have yet to finish the game, but it will not be long before I do so as this game is just a total blast to play in my opinion. To me it's more of an 8,5/10 than a 5/10.

docjay60
docjay60

i loved the first two games and got right into them. WB took a gem and turned it into a turd. i want so badly to finish the story but it is hard to even turn on the console after replaying the first two in anticipation of this release. in my first boss encounter it bugged twice, i have fallen through the world twice and been pushed through walls by charging bad guys. weakness of story, terrible menu and upgrade changes, bad map menu and design, and the quickfire/gadget button change are just a few things that mount the dislike upon dislike. there are more things to hate, but there isnt enough time. they should have simply repackaged arkham city and expanded the story. actually they should never have tried to slap the ultra commercial WB on what should have remained a rocksteady game. stick to making movies WB, if you want to get into gaming, hire rocksteady to do it for you and slap your name on it at the end. they wouldnt have screwed the pooch like this on a masterpiece franchise.

julio_fb
julio_fb

I finished Lone Survivor recently, and I have to say that Batman reminds me of Lone Survivor in some ways - specially considering the map (2D navigation and 3D map).

I'm stating this because the reviewer say that the map is the most frustrating part of the game. Although I agree that it requires some getting used to, its no big deal. And Lone Survivor got a 8,5 here on Gamespot.

I might be halfway trough the game and I can tell you, its a game that doesn't hold your hand. It can be frustrating at times. But the game is quite polished (at least on Vita), varied, different/ refreshing and, above all, fun. I'd love to see this particular gameplay style bloom, and we know that game scores matter on this front - if the game is bashed by critics and don't sell well, the whole experiment comes to an end.

So yes, I'm quite annoyed by this review score - even though the review itself its pretty decent.

Cheers

enderx
enderx

I don't know why, but somehow I doubt this game is as bad as a 5. GameSpot's has lost most of its credibility with the scores I've seen here. They either are too harsh, or go too easy. There's no logic behind this. Seems to be all driven by emotion rather than objectivity far too much. Not very professional.

snake63
snake63

Also due to the low amount of Vitas third party publishers will not invest the time and programmers to develop games for only the Vita.

snake63
snake63

The problem is that Sony marketed the Vita as a portable console system. Almost every third party game for the Vita is ported from the 3DS.

robertcain
robertcain

From the moment I saw the 2D perspective I had doubts about this game. It seems to me that a lot of games on handhelds are just plain lazy; you've got some pretty powerful tech with Vita and the 3DS and then developers refuse to go a step above to set the systems apart from all the mobile formats around today.

gargungulunk
gargungulunk

Not a fun game so far.  The level design has a choppy pace with no sense of stride, and there are too many quicktime feeling moments...maybe to tap into batmans more /strategic/ side...either way, it feels strapped.

I'm only gonna play more because I paid good money for it, maybe it'll get better...

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

3DS version must be 3 times worse, knowing its weak capabilities.


charlieholmes
charlieholmes

Why in the hell do companies keep making poor quality knockoff games of their big brother console versions. The Vita isn't an IPhone! We want full games in a 3D world on the Vita. Not 2.5D shallow versions of their console version. There are a few examples out there that the Vita is capable yet we keep getting crap, visavi COD Declassified and now this game. The Vita will never sale if this keeps up!

fluffy_kins
fluffy_kins

I don't get why gaming companies do this. So we got two ancillary games in addition to Arkham Origins... a free, mobile one and a 3DS/Vita one. Both of which got mediocre review scores. I think the idea was to saturate the gaming world with Batman all at once, but what's the point if you're saturating it with subpar products?? Just stop.

PinkSpider79
PinkSpider79

Did someone forget to tell Gamespot there are Nintendo versions of both games, sick of GS leaving Nintendo out in the cold... Bout time they started acting like a video games website and not a Microsoft/Sony site

endorbr
endorbr

Score still seems overly harsh based on the text of the review but that's typical Gamespot so nothing new there...

TheGreatPhoenix
TheGreatPhoenix

ah peace and serenity, not like the shitstorm on its sister game

Sokol4ever
Sokol4ever

I wonder why they didn't used full 3D.. Either way you can't help but wonder if the game had been rushed to the market, PS Vita deserves better Batman game especially after we had seen how superbly well build the handheld itself is. 

ultimate132
ultimate132

I wanted it to be better and tbis is by far thw harshest review of the game thus far. But this review is much better than carolyns review on origin. It provided perspective of the game, pros and ACTUAL cons. The critiaue matched with the score and was logical. I hate to sound like I'm hating on carolyn but her inept reviews rely frustrate me.

pozium
pozium

And I was kinda looking forward to this game. Not surprised though!

Lhomity
Lhomity

That's a shame. I was hoping this would turn out more interesting. I think I'll pick Blackgate up anyway, next week. Big W are advertising this for AUD $38.

Picked up my Arkham Origins CE today. Will be enjoying that over the weekend, for sure.

Apastron
Apastron

@enderx What does the score matter?  Have you read the contents of the review?

gargungulunk
gargungulunk

@robertcain  

Agreed, it's the locked-track of Batman that gets crippling.  I can get over the lack of 3D swinging cameras, yet It would fair better with more of free roam on the 2D field, like up and down..on the y-axis, I guess I'm saying...this is straight along the x-axis movement.

This could be ported to mobile rather easily, so yea---it doesn't seem to utilize this gens handheld abilities.

gargungulunk
gargungulunk

The game gets better once the controls are memorized more, although the shoulder buttons can feel wonky at times. jus-saying. 

There are choices on how to clear a room.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

@fluffy_kins Because most people don't read reviews, they just see "BATMAN" and buy it. The disappointment comes later, when money is paid. Simple as that.


Queuingreturns
Queuingreturns

@Lhomity 

What a waste of money.

Blackgate will likely be on PS PLUS provided it gets an average metacritic score of 70 or above.

NO ONE should buy either games brand new. They're not worth the price tag.

gargungulunk
gargungulunk

I'll shut-up now, but this game is getting better the more I play it.  It's pretty tight even.

I skipped all pre-release reviews, so a lot of the frustration was figuring out what the game /is/ instead of what it isn't.  

It's got a lot in common with Arkham Asylum, & is starting to take shape on it's own...

ultimate132
ultimate132

No actually by logical and argumentative standards. As someone who's constantly looking at analyses, reviews and essaya from a critical perspective and who's essaya are constantly critiqued I ca. Tell you that this is poor writing. No its. Ot an essay but argumentatively,a good review still sets out to prove their point through logic, clear points and their evidence matches their conclusion. Carolyn goes out of her way to make sure her review has nothing to so with her wcore.

Lhomity
Lhomity

@Queuingreturns @Lhomity  The combat, the setting, and of course Batman, is enough for me to get my money's worth. I buy games that interest me, and I enjoy playing games and judging them for myself.

I also prefer to buy new and sealed items whenever possible.

st_anger10
st_anger10

@Lhomity @Queuingreturns I bought the wii u version because its cheaper,online is not a end of the world for me,lol and bought the vita version and lovin both.........i never go by reviews because in the end you are gonna love it or hate it or be in the middle.Batman is enough for me as well as combat and the setting.Hope you enjoy cheeko!

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate More Info

First Release on Oct 25, 2013
  • 3DS
  • PlayStation Vita
  • + 4 more
  • Xbox 360
  • PlayStation 3
  • PC
  • Wii U
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a 2.5-D game that serves as a companion game to Batman: Arkham Origins. Players can continue the storyline of the console version and discover more detalis of the Dark Knight's past.
6.7
Average User RatingOut of 48 User Ratings
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Developed by:
Armature Studio
Published by:
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Genres:
3D, Action, Adventure, Open-World
Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
Teen
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