By: Casey Curran
Ever since the original PlayStation came out, there have always been failed attempts to translate a 2D game’s mechanics into a 3D environment. Some series, such as Sonic the Hedgehog, are still having trouble nailing a 3D game to this day. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate — Deluxe Edition is the opposite of this. It is an adaptation of a 3D game to a 2D environment (albeit with 3D graphics) that fails to translate its mechanics into this different style of gameplay.
If there is one thing Arkham games have always done well, it is deliver polished controls, and Blackgate is no exception. Every action from running to dodging to punching feels just right, providing a fantastic combination of functionality and satisfaction. There are issues, however, with combat, specifically with what villain Batman picks as opposed to what you want him to pick. Normally he selects the closest to you, but if two are roughly in the same spot, you could accidentally hit the one standing still rather than the one ready to attack.
Blackgate was meant to look and sound like an Arkham game, and it pulls this off wonderfully. The graphics look as dark as they are supposed to and while not quite at the same level of detail, the game puts the graphics at an angle so this is not too noticeable. Comic book style cut scenes present an art style shift that is mildly distracting, but this isn’t as bad as in other games given that it is based on a comic book.
The talent behind the voice work is just as great as ever, but the writing does not quite elevate them to the same standards of the other Arkham games. There are no real memorable moments present in the game, and the mystery behind what is going on in the prison is handled too similarly to the Joker’s original plan in Arkham Asylum while not being even close to as interesting.
While the polish is there, and the game both looks and feels like the past Arkham games, the actual mechanics are where it starts to falter. The Arkham formula can generally be broken down into three parts: combat, stealth and detective work. Out of these, combat translates the best as there is nothing technically broken, but it loses much of what made it interesting.
Arkham is at its best when surrounded by a large mob of enemies and planning the right move or attack at the right enemy in order to achieve as high a combo as possible. When translated in a 2D plane, however, that choice boils down to just the closest guy on your left or the closest guy on your right. Granted, the game still gives the option of dodging, countering, and using all of Batman’s gadgets, but doing so in two directions is a lot less engaging than in the countless number the other Arkham games allow.
Stealth, meanwhile, fares even worse. The game retains the gargoyles to jump on (which are more out of place here), but the options in how to approach stealth end there. Every single scenario became nothing more than figuring out which order to sneak up behind and take down each enemy so the rest will not spot you. To make matters worse, enemies will often be out of your field of vision, so stealth requires a lot more trial and error than it should; Mark of the Ninja this is not.
The detective work, meanwhile, has the most potential to work out from these three, but two mechanics severely hold it back. The first is the overreliance on detective vision. Before, detective vision was used as a way to scout areas and occasionally search for clues. Now it’s used for everything, even something as simple as using the grappling hook to pull down a vent cover. Even worse, if you have to scan something once, you have to scan it every time you see it. This is not only tedious, but it makes certain paths hard to spot, not from challenge, but due to obscurity.
The second issue comes from how difficult it is to figure out how to get to areas on the map. The game employs a 2.5D scenario, so the map reflects every spot that has Batman take a turn. The result is a 3D map with 2D navigation, making it too complex to figure out exactly where a certain area on the map is. Thus, the once-fun Metroidvania formula that made Arkham stand out amongst other action games soon becomes an exercise in tedium, which is a running theme in this game.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate — Deluxe Edition has the effort and the resources to be a great game. The issue, however, is that the developers stopped at asking how they could translate the mechanics into a 2D environment without figuring out a way to make them fun. It pains me to rate a Batman game this poorly after years of consistent quality, but at the end of the day Blackgate just isn’t much fun to play. Either replay one of the past Arkham games or wait for Knightfall instead.