Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate for the Nintendo 3DS is an interesting release for a number of reasons. First off, it’s the only game in a now four-year-old series to land on a handheld console. Second, the plot takes place sometime between the forthcoming Batman: Arkham Origins and series flagship Batman: Arkham Asylum. Third, in terms of gameplay, it’s a departure from the open-world structure of the aforementioned prequel and sequel. Blackgate focuses on the titular hero’s relationship with Catwoman and James Gordon; not much else is known about the plot at this time, but it’s sure to tie the series together and make loose ends meet.
While Blackgate does share a similar gameplay style with its console counterparts, in that it is an action adventure game that encourages environmental exploration, this game is in 2.5D, leading to more of a Metroidvania style of play. As you progress through the game you will unlock new items that allow you to travel further and investigate different parts of the map. Batman’s movements felt fluid when we played, with grapple sections clearly marked in a way similar to one-button quick time events; we were also clearly guided – most likely as this was the introduction to the game that we were playing through – but there was still a sense of grandeur in the environment, and we would have loved to explore more.
Though Batman’s movements when running from building to building were smooth, the combat that we experienced was a bit slow. Small hordes of thugs would run up to us, then we would consequentially beat them down with a series of attack and counter combos. It was reminiscent of combat found in the console titles, but the 2D perspective took away from the pacing as we could only attack one enemy on either side of us at any given time; rather than fighting baddies as a group, we were essentially stuck, surrounded on both sides and mashing our way out.
Just like previous games in the Arkham series, Blackgate has a dark pall hanging over it in both tone and aesthetic. The gloomy effect works surprisingly well on the 3DS, and the console’s ability to display images in 3D helps to enhance the environments. Much of the game may be in a 2D perspective, but at certain points – mostly when using Batman’s grapple gun – the view changes slightly to give a broader view, sometimes from over the Dark Knight’s shoulder. During these instances, the amount of detail put into the environments becomes apparent, bringing the rainy rooftops alive in the gloomy night.
When we were playing, we were also in a large room surrounded by hundreds of other gamers all playing on Nintendo consoles. Because of this, it was nearly impossible to hear anything coming from the 3DS XL at full volume. We could identify that the dialogue was voice acted, but it was difficult to hear any of Batman and Catwoman’s assuredly witty banter. While it’s very easy to blame this on the ambient noise of the room, it could also imply that the volume levels in the game are low, a common complaint among many 3DS gamers. To be fair though, we won’t be able to confirm any of this until we get the opportunity for a proper hands-on.
All in all, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is shaping up to be a solid, if not slightly watered-down, entry into the critically acclaimed Arkham series. Even if the final product doesn’t end up on par with its console counterparts, it’ll still be a side-scrolling Metroidvania game in which you get to play as Batman. Yes, please.