You may remember the side-scrolling Arkham spin-off that graced your PlayStation Vita last year. Well, as with so many other franchises before it, the Dark Knight has been transported from the handheld to your living room in Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition. While the portable version was widely criticised for lacking many of the elements that made its console counterpart such a success, though, does this updated DC Comics outing reclaim its mojo on the PlayStation 3?
It’s been several months since the events of Batman: Arkham Origins, and through the use of some budget comic book sequences, we’re informed that things aren’t quite right at Blackgate Prison, with escaped convicts running amok causing all sorts of trouble – and leaving Bats in for a busy night. The bare-bones plot can be attributed to the absence of series writer Paul Dini, and while it’s sufficient enough to send Bruce on yet another punching spree, it lacks the weight and depth that’s been so prominent and successful in other series titles.
Once through the tutorial mission – which sees you chase Catwoman across Gotham’s rooftops – proceedings will begin to feel pleasantly familiar. Texas developer Armature has thankfully opted to retain the fantastic combat system that’s been at the core of all of the protagonist’s console escapades thus far, but has added in a points mechanic to add even more relevancy to the combo counter. The regular punch-‘em-up action feels surprisingly at home in Blackgate’s 2.5D environments, and dispatching a clan of goons is just as thrilling as ever.
Similarly to the fisticuffs, stealth was also a key component in previous Arkham iterations, but this aspect has not made the transition quite as well as the combat. Unfortunately, the limited visibility – enforced by its handheld origins – hinders espionage to a degree where you’ll actively dislike it. Sadly, for every enjoyable punch-up, you’ll be faced with an irritating sneaking scenario, which typically involve henchmen with assault rifles. Guards still follow preset paths, and high-up ledges still offer covert vantage points, but the altered perspective yields little foresight into where the guard’s are headed – especially when they leave your line of sight. This means that stealth kills often rely on trial and error.
As you attempt to slope about Blackgate Prison in secret, you’ll move between three criminal sectors, each controlled by the Joker, the Penguin, or Black Mask. Within each of these districts are Wayne Tech goodies to collect, which house upgraded weapons or gadgets that allow entry into previously locked portions of the facility. Actually accessing these areas means that you’ll need to retrace your steps, an area where the original game was criticised due to its map. Fortunately, the navigational system has been improved here, which means that getting to a location is fairly straightforward. Actually finding the care package, though, is still a real challenge.
Important objects such as the abovementioned crates, air ducts, and ledges all require precision orientation to interact with, and there’s often little more than a microscopic icon to tell you when you can actually do anything with them. These lowlights are fortunately few and far between, but are made all the more irritating by the camera perspective, which means that you’ll be prancing around trying to find the sweet spot. This completely shatters the atmosphere, and reduces the Caped Crusader to a mere Gotham Imposter.
Beyond the mechanical shortcomings, exploration isn’t even worthwhile. You’ll find yourself endlessly navigating environments that feel all-too familiar just to gather a power generator part or hack a computer system, leaving you feeling less like Batman and more like Bob the Builder with a gym addiction. Blackgate’s biggest failing, then, is its inability to capture the essence of the comic book icon – a feat which its console companions achieved so well. With its portability taken away, it’s unclear why anyone would choose this poor imitator over the one of the three mainline titles.
Whichever release in the series you compare it to, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition will always come off worst. The awkward perspective strips it of any valuable worth, and while it does hold up visually, its gameplay just doesn’t quite work. There will be fleeting moments where you feel that the side-scrolling format is faring well – particularly when you’re tearing apart a group of guards – but then you’ll be pulled back to reality with an unpredictable stealth mission or lousy navigation sequence. In essence, this is just another cheap spin-off that delivers a depressingly compromised five hour slice of action, meaning that even Bat-fans should think twice before admitting themselves to Blackgate Prison.