When Batman: Arkham Origins was announced, people were happy. With Batman games getting better, delivering action and staying true to the Dark Knight mythos, a sequel in the same vein of its predecessors sounded great. When it was also announced that there would be a portable counterpart in the form of Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate, the reaction wasn't quite as positive. Most studios have a reputation of creating a scaled-down experience of the console version on handhelds; that's especially true with a bulk of Vita games, so fans weren't exactly enthused. After playing with the preview build at this year's San Diego Comic-Con, though, it looks like Armature Studios knows what it's doing.
Set six months after the events of Batman: Arkham Origins, the Blackgate demo has you encountering Catwoman for the first time and chasing her down the rooftops of a rainy Gotham City. Along the way, you encounter the usual myriad of thugs in standard brawls and sneaking sections. After some platforming with the aid of your grappling hook and getting into a few fistfights, you finally get into a fight with Catwoman before darting away when a police helicopter comes around.
The game takes on a slightly different approach from the home console versions in that it isn't a fully 3-D title. Instead, the game works in a 2.5-D perspective, where the game is free to rotate to any angle but the player's movements are restricted to the primary directions of a typical side-scroller. It simplifies the gameplay in that players don't have to worry about the troubles of 3-D space when platforming or in combat. However, it also gives the game a chance to show off some great angles during certain scenes.
Based on aesthetics alone, the game fares pretty well among the rest of the Vita lineup. The character models are well detailed, and so is the environment, despite the dark backgrounds. The constant rain only adds to the mood without looking distracting on the Vita screen. Meanwhile, all of the other tricks, such as the look of the thermal scanning and the slowdown on final brutal hits, are done nicely and feel like fine complements to the console version features.
What's more impressive is how the basic tenets of the Arkham series translate into this new viewpoint. The fluidity of the combat system is still intact, so combos and counterattacks are easy and satisfying to pull off. Though the movement is stuck in 2-D, the game intelligently spreads out enemies to other planes, and you automatically jump to each one when you attack. Platforming is augmented with the grappling hook, and it adds a sense of depth when travelling from one building to another. Detective vision is back, but it's now handled with the touch-screen as you move your finger across the screen to analyze areas of the environment that can be used to take out enemies or open switches to new areas. Finally, the stealth portions work in the same manner as before, so you need to pick the right time to take down unsuspecting enemies and retreat to the shadows before a thug takes you out with a few well-placed shots.
The new perspective and alternate use of the standard mechanics work well in some places but not so much in others. Combat translates fine, and the fixed planes do a great job of mimicking full 3-D combat. Despite the limited movement, fighting feels natural, and those who are used to the timing of combat on home consoles will feel at ease. Stealth portions also benefit from this perspective change, as it becomes much clearer when you're in and out of the shadows and makes the stealth sections run at a faster pace.
Batman Arkham Origins: Blackgate is scheduled for Oct. 25, the same day as the home console and PC versions of Batman Arkham Origins. Until then, look for more coverage of the title, including the currently unknown benefits of linking the Vita and PS3 versions.
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