Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate 1

There’s some serious pedigree behind Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. The portable spin-off is being assembled by Armature, the Texas-based game production workshop founded by a trio of ex-Retro Studios employees, and is attempting to piggy-back off the success of Rocksteady’s wildly popular Arkham escapades, only on a device that would slot comfortably into the Dark Knight’s utility belt. Expectations for the release are taller than Wayne Tower, then – but does it cast a spell more potent than Poison Ivy, or flop harder than George Clooney dressed in the Caped Crusader’s costume?

Good demos are tougher than Bane to produce. Not only do they need to summarise an entire experience in less than twenty minutes, but they also have to clue puzzled players into convoluted control schemes faster than the Flash. Unfortunately, our slender hands-on session with Gotham’s greatest detective didn’t quite find the right balance between hand-holding and action, leaving us with more questions than the Riddler upon reaching the ‘Thanks for Playing’ screen.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate 2

We got to test out the opening level from the campaign, which sees Bats sprinting across a rain-soaked skyline in pursuit of a flirtatious Catwoman. The title adopts a 2.5D perspective, meaning that you’re glued rigidly to side-scrolling environments, but can hookshot into the backdrop whenever the opportunity arises. The linearity of the sample stage meant that we never really lost our bearings, but the game makes great use of its camera to guide the way, pivoting towards distant objects in order to plot your path.

Assuming that Armature can draw upon its background, we’re sure that this will live up to its parent property’s pedigree

It looks hotter than Selina Kyle in her full leather ensemble, too. Despite also being in production for the less technologically proficient Nintendo 3DS, the developer is squeezing every last drop of juice out of Sony’s supercharged handheld, culminating in environments that are brimming with eye-catching architecture. There’s a very gothic feel to the game, and that’s accentuated by the subdued inFAMOUS-esque comic book cut-scenes. But while the dialogue will make you cringe, the artwork’s solid, and the inclusion of multiple mainline villains may mean that the narrative’s worth investing in.

The team’s still going to need to employ the polishing services of Alfred Pennyworth before release, though. Despite ambitiously attempting to recreate the combat system of its PlayStation 3 counterparts, the game feels a little sluggish. You can still counter with a timely tap of the triangle button, but while it feels familiar, the title lacks the same sense of athleticism. Part of the problem stems from the clunky animation system, but the change in perspective also means that you never feel surrounded like in the mainline escapades.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate 3

Similarly, stealth feels stripped back and simplistic. While you were free to pick off guards in whichever order you liked in Batman: Arkham City, proceedings adopt a much more puzzle-like guise here. Confronted with a handful of armed baddies on a balcony, we quickly discovered that if we didn’t take them out in the right order, we’d be gunned down almost instantly. The ability to experiment is what made Rocksteady’s releases special, so we’re hoping that the rest of the campaign affords that authority on the go.

Our demo concluded with a QTE-driven punch-up with Catwoman, which didn’t exactly leave us purring in anticipation to play more. Despite failing to put a big black boot forward, though, we’re still optimistic that the streamlined spin-off will come good upon release. This felt like a Joker-driven rollercoaster ride through the title’s features and functions, rather than a proper snapshot of the full campaign. Assuming that Armature can draw upon its background with the Metroid Prime Trilogy, we’re sure that this will ultimately live up to its parent property’s pedigree. Well, once you get past the tutorial, anyway.

Have you attached a Bat Tracker to Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate? Are you planning to purchase the portable title instead of its full console counterpart? Riddle us this in the comments section below.