Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate preview: shadow of a doubt

By Steve Watts, Jun 13, 2013 11:00am PDT

Batman: Arkham Origins may be headed up by a new team while the series creator is up to mysterious doings, but it bears the general hallmarks of Rocksteady's own work. The handheld spin-off Blackgate, by comparison, is a wholly different animal, borrowing pieces of its elder siblings and attempting to fit them onto a handheld in a cohesive way.

In a hands-on demo at E3, I played one stage across the rooftops of Gotham, introducing me to two pillars of the Arkham experience: hand-to-hand combat, and predator stalking. The combat worked well enough, even if being restricted to a 2D plane meant facing off against only a few enemies instead of the circular symphony of pummeling Batman can compose in 3D space.

Hunting left something to be desired, as the new perspective made for very rigid limitations on where Batman could move. The single predator sequence consisted of three guards, and three ledges to stand on, so my only option was to switch between them or drop down to take on the guards more directly. That sacrificed a lot of the creativity that makes those sequences so fun, so I can only hope this was a negative effect of this stage's relative ease. It did seem like an early stage, most likely a tutorial.

You might have noticed that one pillar is missing from that list: exploration. Again, perhaps due to the tutorial nature of the stage, I didn't see any signs of the open world that Arkham games have done so successfully. It's easy to see how the "Metroidvania" style could fit into this structure -- the games that coined the term are in 2D after all -- so hopefully Blackgate will introduce more of those elements when Batman enters the titular prison.

In place of exploration was simple platforming. The Detective Vision was only used to open up hidden pathways that didn't honestly need to be hidden for any practical reason, and much of the demo was spent pressing a shoulder button to hook onto the next piece of rooftop. Batman was being led on this chase by Catwoman, in their apparent first encounter. She steals something, he chases her -- it's a meet-cute for superheroes. That said, when she points out that he could be off chasing more dangerous criminals, it's hard not to notice that she has a point. Especially when it's followed immediately by Batman bloodying her nose.

My primary demo was played on the PlayStation Vita version, which was passable but uninspiring for the system's abilities. The 3DS version was simply unattractive, with muddy textures distracting me from the 3D effect. It's may not be fair to judge the 3DS' visuals against the much more capable Vita, but it's curious that Warner Bros chose to use an art style that requires power from a system that can't handle it.

I can understand the difficult task of transferring concepts so built around a a 3D action game into the trappings of a 2D title, especially one so multifaceted and beloved as the Arkham games. Blackgate doesn't seem to be an outright failure, but the brief look at it so far shows a lot of room to live up to its legacy.

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