Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate review: Trust

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate breathes new life into the Arkham formula.

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Wii U, PS Vita, 3DS
Publisher Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Developer Armature Studio
Release Date Oct 25, 2013

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a leaner, scrappier Arkham game.

A stand-alone game that accompanies console big brother Batman: Arkham Origins, Blackgate is a successful distillation of the world and mechanics of the Arkham games. Aside from some frustrating boss fights, Blackgate lives up to its pedigree, with a well-paced adventure, smart touchscreen integration and an appealing, well-designed world.

Blackgate begins with an exciting tutorial stage that effectively introduces Batman's dark, brooding world and his signature abilities. Picking up a few months after the events of Arkham Origins, Batman encounters Catwoman for the first time and ruins her in-progress burglary. Not long after her arrest, the adventure leads to Blackgate prison, where villains Penguin, The Joker and Black Mask have taken over. It's your job to explore the nasty environment, dispense justice, and take back the prison from its criminal overlords.

As in previous Arkham games, Blackgate centers on action that nimbly jumps between exploration, platforming, puzzle-solving, light stealth and combat. I beat up thugs of all shapes, sizes and criminal affiliations, used my bat-tools and "detective vision" to solve environmental puzzles and crept through dingy vents on my way to screw up Joker's evil plans. The pace here is a touch more deliberate, with complex environments and a structure that required more thoughtful exploration.

Blackgate is a successful distillation of the world and mechanics of the Arkham games

The game also brings a new control scheme and gameplay perspective, which took some getting used to. In Blackgate, Batman’s movement is constrained to 2D, with button prompts that allow you to explore or switch to designated foreground and background areas. As disorienting as this could be, Armature Studio designed the world around avoiding confusion. Within an hour, traversing Blackgate prison in this fashion felt as natural as beating a Joker-masked punk with his own pipe.


The environments themselves are impressive — huge, labyrinthine levels that open up further as Batman's arsenal grows throughout the game. Each area is populated by worthy challenges and tons of secret content; I enjoyed scouring the prison for optional "detective case" evidence. Every secret area yields new clues or upgrades for Batman, so my diligence was always rewarded.

3D or not 3D

Though it's essentially the same game, Blackgate looks and sounds a bit rougher on the 3DS. While the cutscenes look fantastic in 3D, it lacks the crisper visuals and seamless touch controls for "detective mode" — the 3DS' implementation has you press on the touch screen and use the left stick to look around on the top screen. The Vita version is the clear winner.

Blackgate's intelligent touchscreen controls augment the gameplay. To activate detective vision, you tap on the Vita screen once, and you can swipe to search specific areas of the screen. This allowed me to seamlessly "investigate" every area, and implement puzzle solutions (or experiment with different ideas) quickly.

This innovation doesn't translate to Blackgate's boss battles. While imaginatively designed, many of these fights are poorly explained, leading to frustrating trial and error. One early battle involved using the environment to both burn and electrocute an enemy — a cool set-up that suffered from bad execution. Another placed the camera in the perspective of a sniper and had me control Batman from afar, avoiding the bullets. The camera was too zoomed out for me to get a grip on the environment, leading to dozens of sloppy deaths. Later fights are even more aggravating and punitive.

Blackgate's single stumbling block is its boss battles.

Wrap Up:

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate breathes new life into the Arkham formula.

Apart from those overwrought boss battles, Blackgate is a welcome evolution for the Arkham series. The fresh perspective, deliberate pace and focus on exploration prove that Batman works just as well in a smaller package. Blackgate steps out of its console brothers' long shadows and marks territory all its own.

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate was reviewed using code provided by WB Games. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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