The Batman: Arkham videogame series has maintained a certain level of quality throughout its two iterations so far, with the forthcoming Batman: Arkham Origins looking unlikely to break this mould. Of course, this level of success breeds a desire to expand, and Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment has seen fit to do so with a release on handheld formats. Sadly, at present it looks as though Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate could be the title to ruin this winning streak.
In development for both PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS simultaneously, Electronic Theatre was given the opportunity to get hands-on with both versions of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. As both titles are being developed in parallel the differences relate mainly to the use of screens, with the Nintendo 3DS version offering a map on the touchscreen at all times. Of course, there is some difference in the visual quality also, though surprisingly very little. Whether this is proof that the Nintendo 3DS is more capable than most give it credit for or rather that the PlayStation Vita’s horsepower has not been capitalised on, however, will take greater examination.
The entirety of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is played as a 2D platform videogame which moves in depth automatically; what this means is that the player will only ever move on a single plane, but the camera will pan automatically to give the illusion of depth. The visual design reflects this obviously – with the Nintendo 3DS’ stereoscopic 3D capability put to good use – but so does the combat system. Remarkably close to emulating that of the home console and PC titles, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate’s features less thugs in each set-piece but the smooth flowing combat and adjustable targeting is retained. Electronic Theatre was also assured that the planning and execution – known as ‘predator’ combat – will be included in Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, though it was not available in this preview build.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate begins in Gotham City, however the majority of the videogame takes place in Blackgate Prison. Blackgate has been divided into three sections each controlled by a different boss: Joker, Penguin and Black Mask. The player can choose to tackle these three micro-campaigns in any order, and according to Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, the videogame experience will change depending on the order you choose. Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate will also feature plenty of side missions and collectables, and a ‘New Game+’ feature will allow players to replay the videogame in a different order for additional rewards.
While all of this sounds welcoming for a Batman: Arkham title on handheld consoles, there is certainly something a little off-kilter in the playing of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. The videogame sits somewhere between the Mega-CD’s underappreciated Batman Returns in terms of platform challenges and Batman: Arkham City in terms of combat, and never quite manages to achieve the commendable standard of either. Hopes remain high that Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate can turn a corner before release, but should it arrive in the condition witnessed by Electronic Theatre during our hands-on preview the message should be clear for all to see: quit while you’re ahead.