For a very well-liked genre of game, it is odd few publishers attempt the Metroidvania style of games. Console releases for these types of games are far and few in between, but done right tend to receive high scores and lots of positive feedback. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a good entry for this style of game despite its flaws.
To those unfamiliar with the term Metroidvania, the style of gameplay is essentially a platform-based game whose level design tends to overlap among itself by using multiple pathways and secret passages similar to a labyrinth. In addition to the labyrinth, certain areas are inaccessible until either a skill or item is obtained from another part of the level or a different stage. Stages are initially separated and players start off using some type of hub area. Stages later interconnect as the in-game world is explored. Quite frankly, this is a great design choice for a game about being Batman. Blackgate manages to create a well done environment with lots of little passages and secrets to help guide Batman through the prison and take down his enemies. There are three sectors of the prison which players can tackle in any order they want, but visiting the other sectors will eventually become necessary to gain the necessary tools to reach the end.
Blackgate introduces players to the title by having Batman chase Catwoman over the rooftops of Gotham before picking up a few months later at Blackgate Prison, where the rest of the game takes place. The intro level is well done, and shows off the touted 2.5-D perspective to the player very well. 2.5-D essentially is gaming slang for a platform title where characters can move into set background pieces. In the case of Blackgate, players will use Batman’s grappling hook to glide across areas or into the background, crawl through ventilation shafts, or knock down walls into new rooms or levels.
The game is touted as a companion piece to Arkham Origins, but having played Origins (or any other recent Batman release) is not required for Blackgate. This is less to due to any great strides on Blackgate’s part and more due to the minimal plot and anticlimactic ending. Certainly, playing the other games would give a better sense of what is going on, but by the time the post-credits ending rolls reactions are “Kinda figured.” and “Oh, I beat the game.” At least Blackgate warns you when you hit the point of no return.
Most of the game’s emphasis is exploration. Batman has ‘detective vision’ which is activated by tapping the Vita’s touchscreen. Detective vision allows Bats to see through walls and see in the dark. It also allows Batman to see items he has scanned. Scanning is accomplished by pacing a finger on the touchscreen over an object. If the object can be scanned, information will be revealed about how to interact with it. Detective vision and scanning are not only ways to progress through the game. Blackgate has lots of little hidden items to find, ranging from suit upgrades or different suits for Batman – which represent different comic interpretations and contain special abilities – to finding clues to solve cases and thus unlock artwork from the game.
At first, exploration feels a little awkward and slow, especially without any type of jump function; yet by the end of the game players will have little trouble traversing through an area. Exploration may have the heaviest emphasis in Blackgate, but combat is no slouch. Blackgate offers more opportunities for stealth than combat, but the combat system is decent and allows Batman to face multiple enemies at once rather well. Boss fights are few, but still represent a good mix of reaction-based and puzzle-based gameplay. The game is relatively easy outside some of the trial-and-error bosses and exploration, and unfortunately has no difficulty adjustment. There is a new game plus mode which keeps some of the suits and other secrets available, and allows the bosses to be challenged in a different order to unlock additional cutscenes. The game can be plowed through in five hours, but finding everything may take up an additional three.
Graphics look nice through the game’s default viewpoint, but during close-ups some of the pretty just goes away. Graphics still service the game very well. The game is completely voice-acted yet few characters have facial animations and no mouth movement. Expect some very stoic Bat-deaths. The voice work is passable, though leans toward the flat side. Cutscenes use some fairly generic comic book art. This is surprising, as with all of the artists who have worked on Batman over the years and the many which continue to do so, you’d think there would have been someone with a more dynamic style available.
Sadly, Blackgate is not without actual technical problems. The game thankfully uses a checkpoint system. This is great because twice I encountered glitches which necessitated a reset, and am aware of one game-breaking glitch which will require deleting your file and starting over. The first glitch I encountered caused Batman to walk in and out of a doorway forever. The second glitch dropped poor Bats into some type of negative zone from which there was no escape. While traversing long stretches Batman would awkwardly stop on occasion and he and I would deliberate over which way to go next before we got out bearings. And while this is not a glitch, having a game which requires multiple tiers to explore, often across multiple axes and having a 2D map explain it all is a very bad move. Navigating through a suite of offices with multiple walls and entrances up, down, front, and back is a little frustrating for a game whose level design not only exists in a 3D space, but also features a bevy of shortcuts to navigate between sections and the whole thing is represented on the map by one room. I often went the long way around these sections if such a path was possible just to avoid confusion.
If you can get through the glitches and barebones plot, there is a good game to be played. I had fun with Blackgate. I will be playing through it again because this is the style of game I really like. It certainly could have been better, but Blackgate is still an above average experience.