Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe Edition (known in the pro circles as BAOBDE) is the latest in the successful line of Batman simulators. This high-def re-release of the handheld game with a slightly shorter name promises the same handheld fun, but with sharper visuals and bat-tastic bonus content. While its predecessors are known for their grand sense of freedom, Blackgate tries to compensate for its lack of large-scale exploration with a small-scale price... and small-scale fun.
If you’re familiar with DC Comics, you’ll know that Blackgate is the prison where the worst of Gotham’s criminal scum end up (so long as said scum isn’t insane enough to land in Arkham Asylum). As so often happens in Gotham, the bad guys end up taking over one night, and it’s up to Batman to put down this prison riot before it spreads onto the streets of his beloved city.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe Edition makes use of the formula established by Metroidvanias past- you’ll traverse Blackgate Prison, exploring its major areas in the order of your choosing, gradually acquiring new gadgets which further your combat and explorative abilities. When you’re not checking your surroundings for clues and equipment, you’ll be beating bad guys to a bloody pulp, sometimes directly, sometime with subterfuge. Blackgate’s brawls utilize the same basic elements of its big brother, with plenty of counters, combos, and cape stuns, but things never hit the level of delicious flow here as they do in the other Batman games.
Sure, you’ll punch bad guys, and, sure, your combo counter will rise, but the waxing and waning of combat just doesn’t satisfy the way they did in previous iterations. Part of that stems from the technological limitation of brawling in 2D, and part of that stems from what feels like lack of creativity on the part of the developers. Also, your combat skills don’t improve to the same degrees that they do in previous Bat-titles; even though things get varied up with the addition of new enemies, all in all, they feel comparatively stale.
Predator mode returns, too, and it suffers the same weaknesses that the combat does. You’ll sneak, you’ll stalk, and you’ll smother bad guys into unconsciousness without being noticed, but the zoomed-out camera, decreased scale, and decreased options give a distinctly limited feel- in fact, most of the game suffers from this feeling of limitation. While these limits felt a bit more understandable in Blackgate’s handheld iteration, here they mostly feel irritating.
Despite making full use of console controllers, (and despite on-screen button prompts that are a little too frequent) you’ll probably spend more time than you’d care to fumbling around to hit the right button at the right time. 2.5D can work, sometimes, but here it mostly feels confusing, as 85 percent of gameplay is limited to what’s to your right or left. There are those times where you’re supposed to be thinking in three dimensions without realizing it, and it leads to much frustration.
Blackgate’s souped-up HD visuals, while improved, still look a bit muddy and unimpressive. The motion comics used to convey the story are hit-and-miss; sometimes they make for a stylish way of presenting a story while still keeping developer cost low, and others they just feel awkward. One element that always manages to delight, however, is the voice-acting, with a top-notch cast of actors and actresses giving the proper growl to Batman’s dark, knightly tones, or the right purr to Catwoman, or the appropriate mania to Joker’s howls of laughter.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe Edition may offer a bite-sized bit of bat-ertainment for a price you don’t have to be Bruce Wayne to afford, but, unless you’re a die-hard Batman fan who has exhausted the gameplay value of the big-budget Bat titles, you would probably be better off playing them instead.
This review is based on a purchased digital copy of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe Edition for the Playstation 3.