Batman fans rejoice! You have not one but two games to sink your batarangs into this year. Both take place before the events of Arkham Asylum showing off a younger, less refined Bruce Wayne before he grows up to be the Caped Crusader we know from Rocksteady’s games. Unfortunately only one of them is any good, we bet you can guess which one it is already.
We got a hands-on with Batman: Arkham Origins on the PS3 and any worries about Rocksteady handing over control were dispelled immediately. The game looks and feels exactly like the originals with some nice extra bits added in. The combat system works just as well as it always did but with a new ranking system thrown in. You get points for both the way you fight and the threat that the goons posed. If you’re able to take them all out stealthily and without taking damage then you get more points then you would for a straight up battle. The system works well and is easy to understand, meaning you can see just how well you’ve done on every fight.
The other mechanics of the game seem largely unchanged with movement and gliding nigh on identical to it’s predecessors. One nice addition though is the ability to tune into the GCPD radios and hear about crimes in progress. Spotting these and stopping the criminals gets you more experience points and can help with side missions. One that we got involved in involved us stopping thieves from breaking into an armoured van and led to us discovering one of Anarky’s bombs, several of which are located throughout the city.
With the game taking place earlier in the Bat’s life the city is much more dangerous. Criminals with guns are everywhere meaning that there is no simple start to the game as in the other games, right from the start you are thrown into the deep end. However you do get a couple more gadgets to help you out, including the Remote Claw which allows you to grab two objects, or two goons, and throw them together. This makes taking enemies down from gargoyles even more of a pleasure. Of the main enemies we saw only Bane and Joker though the variety of characters on offer promises to offer several classic Batman battles. We just hope that Warner Brothers haven’t announced too many of them already and left little for fans to discover in the game.
Unfortunately it’s a different story for Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. The first problem for the game is the name. By having Arkham Origins in the title there is an expectation that it will be in some way related to the full sized game but apart from being set just after the events of the main game there is no relation at all. The combat and movement system have been built from the ground up by Armature meaning that even they feel weaker than they should. The game is played as a 2.5D sidescroller which is fine, but you feel that both the 3DS and the PS Vita, which we played it on, could handle something more.
In terms of the combat it’s very much a toned down version. The rating system that appears in Origins just isn’t there in Blackgate. Neither are several of the gadgets or the Batwing. Even the movement feels clunky and just not quite up to scratch. This may have been acceptable if the game had just been called Batman: Blackgate or even Batman: Arkham Blackgate but we feels it’s a little bit disingenuous to suggest that this game could be compared or related to Origins.
It does have some positives though. The game opens with a cel-shaded cut scene that manages to invoke the charms of the 1960’s TV series but again is let down when the game starts and you’re met with the same dark tones of the main series. Perhaps as a spin off based on the Adam West version this could have worked out well but tonally it doesn’t seem to fit with Arkham.
The touchscreen is utilised nicely for you to enter detective mode and the mainstays of the series like the ledge takedowns and the countering system are present. In some ways it is an acceptable way to have the game on a Vita, and the Bluepoint engine always handles the machine well. We just felt let down that the game could have been so much more.
Arkham Origins is going to go on to be a hugely successful game, of that we have no doubt. The way that Warner Brothers have managed the transition from Rocksteady to Warner Bros. Montreal deserves to be applauded. By starting from a solid base and making little tweaks of their own they’ve improved even on Arkham City. We’re sorry to report that Blackgate is not going to be so successful. Yes it’s nice to have a handheld Batman game but the Vita and 3DS are capable of so much more, it feels like a lack of ambition to just make a 2.5D game. The naming of the game is also a worry, making you think that perhaps they’ve named them so similarly in the hope that they can confuse some buyers into thinking that the handheld version is in some way comparable to the console game. It’s not, and don’t let them make you think otherwise.