Blackgate is a companion to Batman: Arkham Origins and continues the storyline from that game. The Deluxe Edition is a console port of the original release on the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, though with “new maps, enemy encounters, difficulty levels, batsuits, and enhanced visuals,” according to the Xbox Live store description.
Speaking of which, as a heads-up, I haven’t played either the original 3DS or Vita versions or Batman: Arkham Origins, so I’ll be reviewing this as a standalone title. I played it on the Normal difficulty for this review.
As Batman, the player follows a lead from Captain Gordon to investigate an explosion at Blackgate Prison and ends up entering the prison to rescue hostages held by the now former inmates. Presented in 2.5D—i.e., with 3D-rendered graphics and dynamic camera angles but limited 2D side-scrolling movement—Blackgate’s gameplay is primarily action-adventure and stealth, with some mild platforming elements thrown in. While Batman isn’t able to jump in this game, he does jump automatically when running off a ledge and can use his cape to glide across gaps or down drops, grapple to reach higher areas, and crouch to duck into tighter spaces. As the game progresses, he also collects additional tools that add new capabilities, such as zip lining or grappling and pulling objects, often to unlock new areas. All in all, Blackgate plays like a relatively simplistic Metroidvania-style game complete with backtracking to previous areas to explore previously inaccessible locations.
Combat feels basic but smooth, primarily involving only four actions: moving, attacking, countering, or stunning. The game makes choosing the right move at the right time fairly easy, as it’ll give the player an obvious signal when Batman needs to make a certain move at a given time, and the reaction time given is reasonably generous, even in boss battles. While targeting an intended enemy isn’t always very easy to do in Blackgate, the combat is forgiving enough that it’s not a big problem. It may not be entirely realistic that baddies conveniently line up in 2D to be punched in the face, and generally only one guy attacks Batman at any given time, but it saves some gameplay headaches.
At times, jumping into the fray isn’t the best course of action, as there are some heavily armed enemies that make short work of Batman if attacked head-on. In these situations, the game has a Detective Mode that’s used to inspect enemies and analyze environmental features that can be used strategically, as well as search for clues, which give insight into the story and unlock concept art. It took a little trial and error for me to figure out how to play the first stealth sequence, since the game didn’t explain it very clearly during the tutorial portion, but it’s fairly straightforward after that. Even when I wasn’t faced with assault rifle-bearing thugs, I found myself using Detective Mode throughout the game just to pick up clues and spot hidden treasure.
It’s useful to keep an eye out because finding items is the only way Batman levels up, so to speak. It’s not entirely clear to me why valuable WayneTech doodads are hidden throughout a prison instead of already equipped on Batman’s person, but I’ll give that detail a pass. Other than the necessary tools I mentioned earlier, various optional items, such as armor pieces, are stashed in crates throughout Blackgate, and they’re not always in plain view, so hunting them down is one of the more fun challenges of the game.
Throughout the game, Batman interacts with a number of familiar characters from the series—including villains Catwoman, Joker, Penguin, and Black Mask, all fully voiced. The voice acting isn’t half bad, fortunately, and fits the characters. The background score isn’t anything to write home about and is more ambient than memorable, but it nevertheless matches the grimy, creepy prison environment to a T.
Graphically, Blackgate is also pretty decent-looking, with reasonably lifelike animations and fluid camera movement. The cut scenes are partially animated hand-drawn illustrations that convey comic-book flavor to the game during key moments. The rest of the game’s 3D-rendered graphics are detailed and appropriately dark, distressed, and industrial for an Arkham prison and set a pleasantly gloomy, ominous atmosphere.
It’s also true, though, that many of the environments end up looking similar because of the setting. Because many areas in the game are somewhat similarly designed (probably because most of the game takes place in the same prison), and the game has Batman returning to the same areas multiple times, the surroundings can get a little monotonous after a while. Then again, maybe it’s meant to be played in small chunks, given that the game conveniently auto-saves at many locations, and playing just a few hours a night broke up the repetition enough that it didn’t bother me all that much.
Lengthwise, Blackgate is about average, and there’s not much incentive for replaying it after the first run. If you like collecting things, Batman has a huge wardrobe of batsuits you can assemble, and there are those aforementioned clues that unlock game concept art, but that’s about it. Overall, the game may not stand out as a top contender in the action-adventure genre, either in terms of gameplay depth or challenge level, but it’s still pretty enjoyable.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate – Deluxe Edition is currently available for $19.99 as a digital download from Xbox Live—about the price of a typical 3DS game, which seems reasonable, given its roots and average overall depth of content. I haven’t played the original on the 3DS or Vita and can’t say exactly what’s different between the two versions, but the Deluxe is the only edition available on the Xbox 360, in any case.