Originally released on the 3DS and Vita, the side-scrolling beat-’em-up Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate was generally welcomed with a yawn when it came out alongside the vastly superior Batman: Arkham Origins last year. Now Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate: Deluxe Edition brings the game to the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, WiiU, and PC, and with it, many of the same problems that plagued the original versions.
Set after the events of Origins, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate has the Caped Crusader infiltrating Blackgate Prison when a riot erupts and The Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask each claim a section of the facility for themselves.
For those who’ve already played Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate on the 3DS or Vita, there’s no reason to get the Deluxe Edition, as the changes are largely cosmetic. While this has some new encounters, and a couple new Batsuits you can wear that have absolutely no impact on your abilities, the biggest upgrades are to the visuals, which are now high def. So, I guess you’re free to go.
As for those who didn’t play the earlier versions, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate injects the unique mechanics of the Arkham games into the template of a side-scrolling action game. Which is why you run from side to side, and from fight to fight, while also doing some sneaking some investigating, all while you try to get around without falling to your death.
The problem is that the unique mechanics of the Arkham games and the tenets of side-scrolling action games don’t always work well together. Because this game is two-dimensional, with occasional bouts of going in an out of the picture, your vision is somewhat limited. As a result, many of the situational problems you’ll encounter are equally flat by necessity, and are often solved by using Batman’s Detective Vision to figure out what you’re supposed to interact with and which of Bat’s wonderful toys should do the interacting.
The lack of three dimensions in Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate also causes problems when the game attempts to recreate elements of previous Arkham games. The biggest of these is when you’re suppose to use stealth to take out groups of armed guards. Because the areas and the perspective are limited, you can’t get very creative, and thus typically have only one course of action, one you just have to time right. Which can be fun at times — like when you have to take out three guys who are walking back and forth between two different rooms, and you have to wait until they separate before squishing one before their buddies notice — but those times don’t happen all that often.
Also problematic because of the game’s lack of visual depth is the brawling, which has you fighting off guys coming at you from the left and right at the same time. While you can do many of the same moves as you could in the other Arkham games — like stunning guys with your cape — the game’s perspective limits your ability to do that quick, fist-first hopping from one bad guy that’s always made the fighting in these games like a brutal ballet.
Sadly, some of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate’s problems that have nothing to do with the lack of three dimensions. For starters, some of the control don’t work as well as they should. When you’re trying to crawl into a small vent, for example, you sometimes have to be in just the right spot for it to work.
Then there’s the voice of Bats, Roger Craig Smith, who here sounds like he’s doing a bad impression of Kevin Conroy, the iconic voice actor who portrayed The Dark Knight in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City (and will, thankfully, be doing it again for the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight). Which is exacerbated by the less than stellar dialog, courtesy of someone other than Arkham Asylum and Arkham City writer Paul Dini.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate also has a problem that used to plague the same comic books that inspired this game. Instead of cutscenes made of in-game elements, Blackgate uses motion comics to tell its story. But while they’re well drawn, they don’t mesh with the game’s graphics. It’s like how comic books sometimes have covers drawn by one artist, and inside panels done by another, and even when both are talented, they still doesn’t work together.
For all the issues born of the developers trying to make an Arkham-flavored side-scroller, the developers did get one thing right by dialing back on the Arkham-ness: Batman’s reliance on his Detective Vision. Though you will use a lot, because Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate has fewer collectibles to find, it’s not like in the other Arkham games, where you have to use it nearly all the time.
Of course, by trying to marry elements of the Arkham games and the tenets of side-scrolling action games, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate actually ends up being more of an action game, as opposed to a stealth action one. But while this may turn off longtime fans of this series, I’m actually okay with this change of genre. Or rather, I would’ve been had they done it well. If you’re going to take this series down a dimension, and insert elements of side-scrollers, it makes sense to cut the stealth bits and make this more of an arcadey action game.
The problem is that the developers didn’t take it far enough. They clearly felt too beholden to the Arkham name and what that name implies. Had they gone full side-scroller — say, by letting you do some cool jumping and by having more action and less pseudo stealth stuff — Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate would’ve been a better game.
But since they didn’t, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate ends up being neither Arkham enough for fans of that series, nor side-scroller-ish enough for fans of that latter type of game. While there’s been worse Batman games — I’m looking at you, Batman: Rise Of Sin Tzu — this is a big disappointment because of the quality that the Arkham part of its name implies, and because its easy to see how easily this could’ve been a better game were they not so beholden to, well, the Arkham part of its name. Which is why, once again, this game gets welcomed with a yawn.