Developer Rocksteady did something that only few super hero games have accomplished, and something no Batman game ever had before. They found that by balancing Batman’s stealth, acrobatics, fighting skills, and world class detective ability, they could make Batman feel like so few had even attempted to before: the whole package. Blackgate still consists of all these elements, and after playing it I was left to wonder; if this game has everything its console predecessors have, why is it so bad?
The root of the problem with Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is in its fundamental design. Batman can only move from left to right and sometimes up and down when given the prompt to do so. Taking away the freedom of movement also takes away something vital to the Batman experience: options.
In the Rocksteady games, when Batman entered a predator room, players would be able to take their pick of numerous ways to take out enemies, and also be able to mix and match while moving freely around the room in all directions. In Blackgate, since you are funneled in one direction from room to room, predator rooms just blend in with the rest of the prison. I actually didn’t know a room was built up to be a predator room until my second pass through it when I put two and two together with the two gargoyles perched at either sides of the room.
The reason I would just blow through these rooms is because combat is so easy and nonthreatening. Batman packs a punch and can take one more so than ever this time around. While it sounds cool to have a bulletproof iron-fisted hero with a utility belt, it is not very fun to play. Enemies go down in three or four hits, making counters useless, while Batman can soak up 20 bullets before even starting to worry about health. I never had to worry about being stealthy when I could just brute force my way through a level.
All this is flipped on its head as soon as you are in the boss fights, where in two out of the three getting caught results in instant death. This becomes an alarming swing that takes much more getting used to. There is also a puzzle element that because of the punishing difficulty quickly devolves into a lot of trial and error.
The prison is laid out in four different sections, three of which are run by one of three gang leaders that you know and love, while the fourth serves as a small side section that is used for stretching out missions by making you backtrack through entire sections just to go there for ten minutes. The bosses are presented in a fashion that makes you believe you can go after them in any order, but to get to each boss you will need a gadget from another section, forcing you halfway through the next area, making it feel pointless to backtrack twice so you might as well get the closest boss out of the way.
The prison doesn’t look bad, just bland. These four sections are only distinguishable by the map telling you which one you are in. Character models look good enough, but nothing mind-blowing for handhelds. The motion comic that is used for cutscenes, on the other hand, looks more like a story board with some color, and they do a poor job of keeping up with the action that takes place in them.
The biggest staple in the Arkham series is probably Detective Mode. In Blackgate, Detective Mode is activated by a tap on the screen, and analyzing objects is delegated to holding down on the touch screen over what you would like to investigate. Instead of being able to use your own wits in conjunction with the Detective Mode to puzzle your way around rooms and continue on through the areas as you would in previous games, progression is locked behind a need to analyze that next vent you need to go through.
Blackgate feels so much worse than its predecessors because of one main reason: it just doesn’t feel like Batman. Taking away strategic options and a feeling of intelligence while being led along by the hand cripples Blackgate immensely. On top of all that, this character in a Batman costume runs around in an uninteresting world doing uninteresting things for uninteresting reason, leading to an uninteresting game that should have just stuck to the shadows.