Hearing about any franchise moving to a handheld device is a polarising experience. On one hand, it is great to be able to take a beloved franchise on the road. On the other hand, how faithful will the handheld version be to the original games? From my playtime at the EB Games Expo, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is somewhere in the middle.
Even though Blackgate has shifted to a 2D gameplay style, it still looks very much like its console counterpart. While the visuals do not look as good as Arkham Origins, they definitely still look like an Arkham game – especially on the Vita’s screen.
The visual style is not what will make Blackgate a good game though, it will be the gameplay. In this department, Blackgate has me on the fence. While the combat and level traversal is similar to the Arkham series, it does not necessarily feel that good. During combat, Batman feels heavy to control. He does not glide to enemies like in Arkham City. Instead it feels like more of an effort for Batman. This could be to emphasise to gamers that this is a new, rookie Batman, but that does not make for fun gameplay. I found myself getting bored of countering and attacking goons until they were knocked out (because Batman does not kill, duh), something that never happened to me in Arkham City.
Outside of combat, Batman still feels sluggish. Considering the game will require back-tracking through environments, this could be problematic as getting from one place to another could become a chore.
The demo saw Batman chasing Catwoman across Gotham’s rooftops at night. The level design was very linear with Batman being told where to use his grappling hook, where to walk, etc. These traversal sections were broken up by combat sections which consisted of fighting about four enemies before advancing.
Further on in the demo, after chasing Catwoman some more, Batman is presented with a stealth area, similar to the ones from Arkham City and Arkham Asylum. Considering the demo was probably from early in the game, Batman did not have access to any of his gadgets, so the only way of taking down the enemies was by glide kicking them and then quickly retreating to a safe hiding spot above the enemies.
Once again, I felt like I was fighting with the controls because of the unfamiliar heaviness of Batman. Instead of gracefully diving down on an enemy, knocking them to the ground and performing a ground finisher on them, the actual events turned out to be: glide down to the enemy, knock them out, move back and forward until the ground finisher icon came up, fail at pressing that a few times. and then quickly trying to stand in a certain direction so the grappling hook icon could come up to escape.
While some of that sequence could have been down to user error, controlling Batman just does not feel as fluent as previous Arkham games. However, the game is looking great on the visual side considering it is a handheld game. Hopefully the graphical power of the Vita is finally being used properly. Furthermore, the comic book style cutscenes are very fitting for the game and longtime Batman fans may find delight in watching the narrative played out in that format.