Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is the portable sequel to Batman: Arkham Origins. Both games were released at the same time, so anyone who picks up Blackgate before playing Origins is in for a few spoilers, since it takes place three months after the events of console version. It turns out that Blackgate prison has been taken over by the inmates and is sectioned off by the Joker, Black Mask and the Penguin. Each villain controls a section of the prison and must be stopped before the situation turns into something more than an uprising.
Armature Studios is responsible for bringing the Dark Knight's adventures in bad guy-pummeling down to a more portable, travel-friendly size. And while it doesn't full capture the free-roaming magic of its console cousins, Blackgate does a decent enough job at trying to recreate the action. Unfortunately, "decent" doesn't cut it when it comes to our expectations of Batman game, especially after the incredible Batman: Arkham City.
We start off Blackgate three months after Origins ends. Batman is still young and not as battle-hardened, though he's still plenty burly and packs a lot of the same moves and gadgets. In fact, you'll probably feel right at home with how Blackgate plays, since you'll still be stringing combos, performing counters, exploring environments and using Batman's many tools to help you solve some mysteries. The biggest difference here is that you're stuck in a 2D plane.
And because you're playing a 2.5D sidescroller, a lot of the awesome free-roaming moments from the console versions of the Batman: Arkham series are gone. Still, Armature does everything it can to make it feel like a 3D world. But when you're stuck having to go either left or right and are unable to freely travel between the foreground and the background, you start to feel the restrictions.
Once you grow accustomed to the sidescrolling nature, the next thing you'll have to tackle are the controls. Fighting is probably the easiest thing to do in the game and is the feature that feels like it was translated the best from the console version. You'll mash the attack button to have Batman start throwing knees and elbows into a group of dudes, hit the counter button once you're alerted to an enemy attack and then use your cap to stun enemies with higher defenses. It should all feel really familiar to Arkham series vets. So while the fighting might be straightforward, it's the actual exploration that feels cumbersome.
Getting around Blackgate prison consists of using Batman's grapnel gun to hook onto ledges, gliding around with his cape, ducking into vents, crawling around tunnels and using explosive gel to open up new locations. These actions sound straightforward, but oftentimes I had trouble getting around, simply because the controls weren't very accurate. I'd have to pace back and forth in front of a vent in order to properly line myself up to hold the "O" button so that I could crouch and climb into it.
And if you do get stuck, not knowing what you have to do because you've explored every inch of the prison that's currently available, then chances are that you missed something hidden. In fact, the game pretty much requires you to play with Detective Mode turned on, just so you can see every little object you can interact with, on the off chance that it will help you get further in the game. Many times, it felt less like Batman and more like an "I, Spy" game.
This wouldn't be so bad if exploration actually rewarded you, but more often than not you would just find yourself picking up an extra little trinket or finding a hidden room without anything of consequence inside. And even though it's a little cool to drag your finger around the screen to help you spot hidden objects, it eventually became a cumbersome task and felt like a chore.
If you make it through the labyrinthine corridors of the sections, you'll eventually run into the bosses, which are culled from Batman's Rogues Gallery. While some pretty big names show up, you might find that defeating them requires a little less finesse than you're used to and often feel like uninteresting fights. This is probably the worst part about Blackgate, since taking out Big Bads in style is half the fun of being Batman.
So the entire Batman experience isn't represented as fully as it could be, but at least you still get to play around with all of Batman's tools and beat up baddies while getting sweet combo multipliers. It's just a shame that Blackgate ultimately feels boring and fruitless. It looks like a Batman game, sounds like a Batman game, but doesn't have the same kind of heart that we're used to in Rock Steady's titles.
Still, Batfans will likely enjoy the continuation of the story from Origins, as well as the voice acting. If the comic book-styled cutscenes are enough impetus for you to brave a night in Blackgate, then by all means, suit up. Of course, you might end up feeling more like a Dark Knight-Errant than an actual Dark Knight.
This review was based on a retail copy of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate for PlayStation Vita that was purchased for review.