Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Review

The Arkhamverse's first venture into handheld gaming is a solid entry to the series' near perfect mythos.

Whilst Warner Bros. latest console addition to the franchise didn't bare as well as its predecessors, Batman: Arkham Origins was undeniably the best written and best looking entry to the trilogy. However along with the release of this perculiar prequel came the addition of a game unique to the PSVita and 3DS platforms - I'm of course refering to Blackgate.
Set three months after the events of Origins, Blackgate follows Batman's journey into Blackgate Prison in order to take out the three gang leaders - Joker, Black Mask and Penguin - who are holding the facility hostage after a suspicious riot breaks out. Working alongside The Dark Knight is Catwoman, in her first canon appearence of the franchise, whos motives seem uncertain to her caped counterpart. The story is the main focus of the game as it should be, with the same stellar voice acting and the same stellar writing behind the series that we've come to expect. Troy Baker in particular steals the show again as the Clown Prince of Crime, and the game actually manages to be pretty dark at times. Without giving too much away, Blackgate's loose plot and unneeded cameos in the form of boss fights ties up nicely at its climax, alluding to a much anticipated WB project in the works. In all honesty, many faults cannot be pointed out within the story itself, and the game is certainly a worthy entry into the Arkham universe. Although one must bode the question - haven't we seen this all before in Batman: Arkham Asylum?
What's particularly interesting about this game is it's platforming style, modelled after Metriod and the such like, in contrast to the sandbox enviroment of its console equivalents. In every sense then, Blackgate was designed to be handheld, and not a mere copy and paste job.
Playing on a 3DS though, it's hard to say many traditions of the franchise have transitioned all that smoothly. Keeping up a combo in combat is near impossible thanks to the device's tiny buttons in comparison to console controllers, meaning that the now iconic Freeflow Focus system developed in previous games is lost entirely to clunky, slow fight scenes. This can be particularly difficult for some of the boss fights, in which you have to multitask evading and using gadgets without the ability to quickfire them like in the game's predecessors. I specifically mention that I played the game on a 3DS as I feel the experiance may have been slightly different should I have played on a PSVita. In fact, I would say the game is designed even more so to the Vita's advantage; the collectables throughout the game don't feel that rewarding to gather unless you're earning a trophy for them, and similarly so for unlocking each ending (which we'll get into a bit later).
As far as Detective Mode goes, again the limitations of being a handheld game restricts overall enjoyment of playment. Each predator sequence feels laid out for you, not making it much of a challenge if you know the basics of any Arkham game. Of course there are the odd encounters that require you to think more than usual, but the new ability of analysing your environment is really what seals the deal.
Although briefly touched upon in Arkham Origins, the new feature of being able to analyse your surroundings using Detective Mode makes an emmersive gaming experiance where you truly feel like the World's Greatest Detective, and rightly so takes up the majority of gameplay. I actually found myself really liking this new feature after initial skepticism, and it isn't as tedious as it looks. Blackgate is very much a puzzle based game, with this new feature being the core of it. I'd love to see something similar introduced into the future console entries to the franchise, as it makes the Caped Crusader's journey that little bit more interesting.
Also unique to the game is the ability to backtrack. Each boss holds out a specific area of the prison, and once you've explored around half of each facility, you'll be required to travel to another via a secret entrance to obtain a gadget upgrade in order for you to move on. Admittedly this can be a bit tedious, but the structure works out OK for the most part, and the great set designs are good enough to occupy you otherwise. This also allows the player to complete the main story in different orders, making it great for replay value if you want to unlock all the villain's secret (all be it short) cutscenes and a slightly alternate climax - note the word slightly.
If anything however, the games biggest fault lies in its atrocious character models. Although only noticeable up close, by slapping a texture onto a character model rather than designing them more carefully is in all honesty a disgrace to a system that has had the likes of the beautiful Uncharted and Forza on their resume. Again, this may differ from console to console, but the 3D was certainly not doing the character models any justice.
What is gorgeous to look at however is the motion comic cutscenes. With a stunning blend of hand drawn animation and realistic textures, these drive the story forward and look fantastic in 3D. Bar some characters being drawn slightly off, it's a neat addition that delivers on what TMNT: Out of The Shadows failed to do so. As I mentioned earlier, the backdrops are also extremely well designed and laid out, whilst also being easy to navigate over time, allowing the platforming experience to be as entertaining as it should be.
In conclusion, Arkham Origins: Blackgate is similar to its prequel twin in that both have technical flaws and don't deliver 100% of the time. Despite these problems though, both also give us a great story, and the new features added are really what make them worth checking out.
Score: 7/10