Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate - Deluxe Edition finds itself in a curious position. It was originally a game designed for the portable consoles as a continuation of Batman: Arkham Origins for home consoles. Whether it was due to news that there wouldn't be a new Batman game for the aged platforms or WB Games feeling that not enough people had a chance to play the title, it was recently made available on the same platforms as Origins. On the Vita and the 3DS, the title wasn't as well received as its console brethren, and while there were improvements made to this new version, they aren't enough to put it in the same league as Arkham Asylum or Arkham City.
Three years have passed since the incidents of Origins, and Bruce Wayne is still getting familiar with what will later become his usual cast of villains. A chance meeting with Catwoman leads to her capture, and since she was stealing government documents, she's sent to Blackgate Penitentiary. Two weeks later, there's a riot at Blackgate, and Batman is called to the scene, where he rescues an escaping Catwoman. He learns the prison staff has been taken hostage, and the prison has been divided into three territories with Black Mask, Penguin and Joker heading up each one and, predictably, waging war against one another. With a long night ahead of him and Catwoman providing radio support, it's up to Batman to rescue the hostages and bring order to Blackgate.
No one expects the story to be that original, but you definitely get the feeling that the developers borrowed from other titles instead of going for something unique. The use of the prison is the most obvious hint of this, as the aesthetics and general layout feel a lot like Arkham Asylum. The idea of wrestling control from the more noted villains is also a reused theme, and though the gadget sets and enemies are pared down, at least the developers have used this opportunity to introduce the character of Bronze Tiger. In short, there's nothing new introduced to the mythos of the game universe, but at least it gels.
The game tries to emulate the older titles by being a big, sprawling adventure in the same vein as Metroid. Though the world is split into three control sections with a fourth neutral section to visit later, you can choose which stage you want to tackle first. Mandatory roadblocks force you to seek new tools throughout the level, and some elements need to be discovered in different areas. You'll need to assemble various costumes based on the different incarnations of the Dark Knight to obtain different powers, like reduced melee damage and reduced damage from bullets. These secret areas also uncover items to augment your traits, like attack and defense; it's that's necessary since the series' XP leveling system is notably absent in this iteration.
Other elements from the series also make an appearance. The freeform fighting system is included, and as long as you're good with the timing between initiating your attacks and hitting your counterattack, you'll be treated to the same smooth fighting seen in earlier games. There are a few areas where you can initiate stealth tactics, like silently subduing enemies or stalking them from overhangs so you can glide down to knock them out. Your detective scanner also plays a big role in the game, as you can use it to identify areas of interest or uncover secret areas and items.
What makes it all different is the presentation. Unlike the other games in the series, which are full 3-D adventures, Origins Blackgate is presented in a 2.5-D perspective. Movement is restricted to the cardinal directions, but the camera moves around to simulate full 3-D movement. You also have the ability to go in and out of certain background elements, further simulating free movement. Combat also tries to simulate 3-D, as enemies dart from the background to the foreground while Batman automatically moves to each plane to hit them.
Despite the change in perspective, the core game remains compelling. The balance between combat, platforming, and detective work is there, though the developers mentioned that more fights are present in this iteration. The use of gadgets is nice, and there are plenty of areas to explore that don't necessarily lead to story-related events, so you're free to explore every nook and cranny of the facility. The boss fights are still enjoyable due to their multi-tiered nature, so you must rely on cunning rather than brute force. Also, since the game allows you to go into any area and tackle any boss in any order, the final battle can play out very differently depending on who you face last, so you can replay the game to see the difference in final encounters.
There are, however, plenty of clumsy elements, and most of that is tied into how the game translates some of the series' mechanics from 3-D to 2.5-D. The map is probably the biggest example of this, though it's actually improved over what was offered in the portable iteration. It goes for a quasi 3-D wireframe model, but it still doesn't do a good job of conveying platform height when multiple levels are involved, especially since it can only be zoomed in and out and not rotated.
While the fighting mechanics work well against most enemy groups, things fall apart during battles where shock stick-wielding enemies come into the fray. Since you don't have the space to avoid their attacks and you don't have the chance to pick who you're targeting, you'll inevitably end your combo prematurely and take damage because you automatically slide toward them with an attack instead of with a flip. The lack of 3-D space also makes the miniboss fights underwhelming. Compared to the main boss fights, which are multi-tiered affairs and require some planning, fights against the likes of Deadshot and Catwoman are simple affairs where you only need to dodge attacks and initiate counterattacks. The linear nature of the rooms makes strategy moot, and these encounters pretty repetitive.
Other parts that just don't work in the greater scope of the title all happen to slow down the pace of the gameplay. Batman moves rather slowly, forcing you to hold down the sprint button at all times. His mobility is further hampered by his inability to jump, forcing him to rely on a grappling gun. The one element that really slows down things is the scanner. While the tool is great for hiding secrets, such as the clues to fill out the backstories a bit, it becomes a requirement if you need a tool to interact with anything. Even if you already know that you must use the explosive gun to open up a wall or use your hook to pull down some debris, you have to activate the scanner first and identify the area or item before your tools can be used on the area. There are plenty of areas where the tools can be used, and it's very cumbersome to rely on the scanner all the time since manual aiming isn't present.
Graphically, Origins Blackgate looks fairly good. The cut scenes use a motion comic style, and while there aren't too many of them, they look decent. In the game, at the default camera distance, the models animate well and look rather nice. The environments suffer from being mostly gray and brown, but the few exterior scenes are pretty. Joker's section of the prison looks appropriately colorful, balancing things out a bit. Once the camera zooms in on anything, it's apparent that not much was done to translate what is presumably the Vita code into something more appropriate for home consoles. The polygon count for anyone who isn't a major villain or Batman is noticeably low, and instances of clipping through the environment and related objects is very high, especially with Batman's cape and when anyone hits the ground. Texture work is muddy on environmental objects, and those things are hard to ignore since you'll be hunting for these crates and traveling through several air ducts in a first-person perspective. Texture work is low for the thugs; what looks like dirt and gritty detail from far away looks messy when the camera zooms in for the final knockout blow in slow motion.
The sound for the series has been good, and that hasn't changed here. All of the voice actors from the Origins console game reprise their roles here, and all are very comfortable in their roles. This is especially true of Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker, who can be mistaken as dead ringers for Kevin Conroy's Batman and Mark Hamill's Joker, respectively. The effects are all lifted from the original games and still sound great, while the music sounds like its brethren in both mood and scale. They also happen to come with more meaning and importance since there are lots of silent moments in the game to punctuate the situations. The only complaint in this department is with the chatter from the numerous thugs. They do end up repeating several lines different times, which is to be expected, but they all sound like they all have one voice, and that's a little disappointing.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate - Deluxe Edition can be a fun game if you're able to get past the stumbling blocks. The combat and main boss fights are fun, but the miniboss encounters are predictable, while combat with many different enemy types at the same time is too frustrating to be fun. The backtracking and secrets in each level evoke a good deal of exploration, but the constant use of the detective scanner is an annoyance, and Batman's overall speed is sluggish enough to make everything feel slow. It remains a good game, but it can definitely be considered the lowest of the Arkham titles thus far.
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