All three games in the Arkham series have done a good job at being “Metroidvania” type action adventure games. The same efforts were put forth with Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, and although on some level it succeeds in that, the game as a whole falls short. The map structure is confusing, the mission objectives bounces all over the place, and the story is an utter bore.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a sequel to Batman: Arkham Origins (which itself is a prequel) set a couple months afterwards. You start out chasing after Catwoman from rooftop to rooftop and once you catch up to her, the police come, and Batman dips out just in time for them to catch her. The story then picks up two weeks later at Blackgate Prison, where it seems a riot has taken place and the inmates are now free to do as they please, very much like how it was done in the first game, Arkham Asylum. The story from there is thin and easily forgettable with recycled villains and constant backtracking. And thanks to the erratic missions structure, keeping focused on it is a chore in itself.
Blackgate is separated into three main areas all of which are under the control of a different Batman nemesis. They are the Joker, the Penguin, and Black Mask. All of which of course build a small army of enemy fodder for the Caped Crusader to pummel his way through. As the Dark Knight fights his way through Blackgate, he finds everything he needs with the help of Catwoman because apparently this great detective, with all his cool futuristic gadgets, needs her to tell him where everything is and what everyone is doing. This is more than likely due to the map being nothing more than a hinderance, and the inconsistent mission structure.
You can choose which of the three major sections you would like to start in, but that choice seems useless, as you will be jumping every which way over the three due to the objectives in no time, causing tons of backtracking. It is not bad to force players to backtrack, but it has to be done in a fluid way. Blackgate will have you enter a new area and after a few steps inside, the game will stop you and tell you that you can not go any further until you go back to a place you were already at and get something there to continue on. So you will take three steps back almost every time you want to take two steps forward. This makes the game feel much more repetitive and “grind-y” than it needs to be. On top of that, the map at times will makes you think you need to go one way and you end up going in the opposite direction. It makes checking the map constantly a must, and causes a big headache along the way.
Blackgate presents everything the same as the major console titles, it just does it in a 2.5D viewpoint instead of third person. Even with this change, the combat still holds up decently, seeing it is the same attacking and countering as its console counterparts. However, Blackgate does suffer some with the combat being that it is a side-scroller and the fighting quite often takes place on two planes, the foreground and background. You do not have the choice on which of these you are going fight on as Batman just starts beating on whichever baddie is closest to him. This is fine when starting out since you’re fighting every opponent with hand-to-hand combat. But it becomes more difficult when groups of enemies have a variety of weapons and abilities. You can easily find yourself stunning one enemy and then attacking a different one on another plane completely by accident on numerous occasions, leading to absolute frustration
Outside of the normal bad guys, and of course the three main villains, there is also some mid-boss fights in the game such as Bronze Tiger and Solomon Grundy. These encounters stick to a pretty regular pattern of attacks. You have to defend yourself and then attack, and mix between that and, once in awhile, stun them with your cape so that you can attack them afterward. The big three boss fights are more puzzle-oriented however. These fights can have strict conditions that are need to be met in order to be successful and will result in serious repercussions if you fail. They some trial and error, which would be fine if it wasn’t for the almost instant deaths from one mistake. If that wasn’t bad enough you restart a room or two before the boss fight when you continue. You could easily end up taking more time to get back to the boss fight than being in the fight, until you know exactly what you need to do to beat them.
Blackgate is full of hidden passages, dangerous obstacles, and encrypted security panels for Batman to wonder through when he’s not crushing the skulls of every prisoner in Blackgate. Of course there is “Detective” mode, which you turn on and off by tapping the Vita’s screen, revealing an X-ray-like representation of your surrounding from the other games. You can also hold your finger on the Vita’s screen for a few seconds to open up a small circle on the screen that will stay there and move with your finger, as long as you continue to hold it on the screen. This is useful for finding hidden objects that weren’t immediately recognized in detective mode, and it’s also a pretty neat little addition to the game that can not be done on the major console titles.
Blackgate has everything needed to be just as good as its console counterparts, but along the line it stumbles, and doesn’t match up with its console brethren. Maybe it was rushed or not given the time and effort that Batman: Arkham Origins was, and put out as just the handheld counterpart. Blackgate is a great looking game, and the combat is fun for awhile, but the story is thin and mundane, and that is what should have gotten the most attention. Seeing as the gameplay is almost a carbon-copy of the other games, one would think that took the least amount of effort, and so that would have given more time to build a story. Unfortunately that is not what happened here. It also doesn’t help forcing players to jump here and there with backtracking for almost every little thing at every turn. It would be nice to see another try at a Batman game on the Vita, as the handheld sure could use more games. I just think that after the Arkham series, which has seen four titles five years, he may indeed be the hero the Vita deserves, but not the one it needs right now.