Welcome to a new feature of mine, where I play through older games in my backlog to see just how well they fare to current day standards. We all have a huge backlog of games, so rather than spend money on new games, let's just find out what games we probably have already are actually worth your time playing!
Today I opted to look at Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. Blackgate was released in October 2013 for the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. The game later got a deluxe edition for Wii U, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and PC in April 2014. The deluxe edition featured new maps, enemies and difficulty levels; as well as new unlockables and improved visuals.
This was the one game of the Arkham series I let slip by. The series as a whole will likely go down in history as one of the gaming classics of this time. It has had its ups (Arkham City/Asylum), and some downs (Knight), but all in all, it's a wonderful series of games for any Batman fan.
Blackgate is based on Batman’s quest to catch Catwoman, who has been stealing from a high-tech building. Of course, along the way you have to deal with other criminals as well. Personally I didn’t feel any emotional connection to the story; it’s a very slow burner that doesn’t really pick up any momentum until the later stages, and even then it’s a chugging finish. Ultimately I grew bored of the story scenes. Normally I absolutely love Batman lore, but Blackgate just didn’t grab me. Maybe I am just spoiled by what the other Arkham games offered.
One of the benefits of the game being light on story is that you don’t miss out on much if you haven’t played the other titles in the series. Well, I would question why you haven’t played them, because they are absolute masterpieces, but that is beside the point. If you go into Blackgate expecting an interesting story, you will be horribly disappointed; just think of this as an arcade-style game and adjust your expectations accordingly.
Let me just say, Blackgate is a very impressive looking game for consoles like the 3DS; although I’ve not had firsthand experience with its handheld graphics, from screenshots it’s hard to even believe that the 3DS can push out such graphics. That being said, though, Blackgate definitely looks like a 3DS game when playing on PC. The character models (apart from Batman) are so low-detail that you can actually see the polygons. Don’t even get me started on the textures; resolutions so low that they may as well just be flat colours. The only redeeming element of the visuals is the background environments; since they are a little further away from the camera, they don’t need to be as detailed, so they look ‘OK’
The lighting and special effects are nothing to shout about either; they are just your run-of-the-mill bargain bin level graphics. I was really expecting more from such a high profile release, even if it is a port from the 3DS. Thankfully, due to the subpar graphical fidelity, I was able to get 60FPS with great ease throughout my playthrough.
Thinking back now, even just a few hours since completing the game, none of the music really stands out to me; to be able to say a game’s soundtrack is successful, it really needs to have some sort of effect on me, whether that be drawing me into the immersion, or sticking with me after playing. Blackgate offered none of this.
The game does have voice acting though; all of the characters are well-voiced, with the same actors from the rest of the Arkham series. It certainly helps progress the little story that Blackgate has; I would quite easily have skipped over cutscenes if I didn’t have the voice acting to listen to. Sound effects are a straight copy/paste from the Arkham series, which isn’t a bad thing. You can really feel the weight behind Batman’s punches with the thuds and wallops that they make as they crash into the enemies’ chests
Blackgate is a single-player adventure game, very different from the rest of the games in the series. It’s played from a 2.5D angle -- and this really does get some getting used to. I was so accustomed to being able to freely move Batman in a 3D space that it felt very constrained being funneled down a hallway and unable to follow my own path. Even though it’s 2.5D, it more constraining than a regular platform since you can see all this empty space that you want to move into but can’t.
The combat uses the classic Arkham style system; it’s a tried-and-tested method that does more things right than wrong. Surprisingly, it felt OK even when playing from a side view. I was still able to pull together a number of high combo streaks and special moves. Sadly enough, the combat is probably the only part of Blackgate’s gameplay that I actually.
As you would expect from a side scroller, there is going to be a mean amount of platforming involved. This is where Blackgate takes a turn for the worse. I was playing on a Xbox controller (God forbid a platformer actually play properly on a keyboard and mouse), but even when using such a standard control everything felt unresponsive and sluggish. A perfect example for this is when I needed to time my jump to avoid being electrocuted, and then glide into a hole in a wall: because the controls were so unresponsive, even though I timed my jump perfectly, I still ended up sliding to my uncontrollable death because the game didn’t recognise my button presses. Now, usually I am a very calm person when it comes to gaming, but this caused me to get mad at a video game for the first time in my life. I had to take a half-hour breather from the game before attempting it again. The control problems alone really made me want to stop halfway through the game. Thankfully the combat system was done well enough to keep me going.
If Blackgate is your introduction to the Arkham series, please don’t think that this is the norm for the series. Whilst Blackgate does an OK job at explaining the basics of the game, the basic lack of a proper control system will discourage newcomers.
The AI is quite lackluster too. I was able to perform “silent” takedowns on guards quite obviously in plain sight of other guards without being discovered. This basically eliminated one of the more challenging (but extremely fun) aspects of the Arkham games completely. I was able to clear out collections of guards with ease.
Blackgate only has one game mode: the story. If you do manage to get through one playthrough, collecting and seeing everything will require you to play it through up to two more times. Honestly the thought of doing that is making me cry a little on the inside, so godspeedto any completionists out there.
On the subject of collecting things though, Blackgate does have a wide variety of “side” objectives. Remember in Arkham City where you could solve the crime scenes/puzzles? Well there is something similar in Blackgate - you need to locate a set amount of crime scenes and evidence sites scattered around the world in order to solve the mystery. I found myself going out of my way to find these hidden objects and it did help to reduce the monotony from the poor platforming/controls. Additionally, there is also a large amount of collectibles to find in the form of Joker’s chattering teeth, Black Mask’s mask and Penguin’s bird cages. These have no benefit in terms of gameplay advancements, they’re just there to quench that hidden adventurer inside us all.
Finally the last piece of loot available for you to find are upgrades to Batman’s gear. These are nothing too impressive or customizeable though unfortunately. Simply find four or five of the same item in order to improve the gear. Ironically, even though these did contribute to gameplay advancement, I wasn’t at all compelled to go out my way to find them. Just goes to show how easy the combat is in this game, I guess.
Ultimately, Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate is a huge letdown for the series. Even the likes of Arkham Knight beat it by a country miles in terms of gameplay, visuals and control system. I very often feel relieved when I finish a game, but the sigh of relief I let out after finishing Blackgate was unlike any released for any other video game. The lackluster control system and - to be quite honest - boring story really pull Blackgate down to bargin bin levels.
I wish I could abolish this title from the legacy of one of my favorite game series ever. Blackgate retails for $19.99, but even at 50% off I would struggle to recommend it. I’d say wait for a deep sale on this game - something along the lines of 75% off, maybe - before you consider picking it up.