After not getting around to finishing the final version of the original Vita release late last year, I was delighted to see that Blackgate was making its way to the main consoles in a similar manner to Assassin’s Creed: Liberation HD. Keen to fill the long gap between now and Rocksteady’s next-gen Arkham adventure I dove in with both feet -but sadly without a cape.
Blackgate takes place three months after the events of Arkham Origins, making its original simultaneous release a little odd. But now we’ve had time to finish the console game, we don’t have to worry about spoilers; although I’ll not give any away today.
Batman finds himself visiting Blackgate prison after the inmates take over, with various crime lords taking a part of the facility for themselves. So yes, it’s a pretty bland mashup of the plots from the first Rocksteady games, but at least Bruce doesn’t seem to have any parent issues during the story for a change.
He does seem to have become hardcore drinking buddies with Ratchet & Clank though as he once again turns up to the rumble with fuck-all gear to navigate around the environments. Why Batman! Why do you never pack the line gun or exploding gel? You’re always going to need it, you bellend!
Well, Bats’ forgetful nature lends itself well to the game’s design, which sees you in a semi-open environment packed with areas and secrets that are only reachable once you have the right gadgets. This does mean a distressing amount of backtracking, but the steady flow of collectibles soothes the repetition-burn.
As with the Vita game, Blackgate favours a 2.5D approach, with Batman only moving left and right, but the environment twists as you move, giving a 3D impression. Using the grapnel gun, he can move into a deeper or closer layer of your screen. It’s done well and you soon forget you’re playing a game designed for a portable platform.
Graphical detail is reasonable throughout and Batman’s animations are great to see in action, although the overall aesthetic design of Blackgate Prison feels generic with its over reliance on corridors, air vents and so on.
Armature could have opted for a basic old-school 2D fighting engine, but instead they’ve made a solid effort of replicating Rocksteady’s fluid mass brawls. The controls are the same with familiar buttons for attacking, countering and stunning. Any player of the console games will feel immediately at home with the controls and I’d even go as far to say that they’ve done a better job than Warner Bros Montreal’s combo-dropping efforts in Origins.
It does have a few grating moments though. The cape stun move is awful against electric-baton opponents as the animation takes forever to stop before you get the chance to walk over and hop over the thug’s back for a safe attack. Not being able to counter when attempting a finisher is a pain too. When I think about it, combat isn’t a big feature of the game and brawls can be rare once you start the copious amounts of backtracking in the final third. Predator moments where you attempt silent takedowns are scarce too. Boss fights are surprisingly strong though and notably difficult compared to the rest of the game. My personal favourite involved setting traps for a rampaging Solomon Grundy.
Detective mode makes a return and is another culprit for needless padding. For example, most grapnel points or breakable doors -that you can clearly see are so- can only be interacted with once you go into detective mode and scan them for a few seconds. You’ll also find yourself scanning every single part of the game trying to find hidden clues for each of the detective cases, which is actually really addictive. Exploration also pays off in the form of damage/armour upgrades or parts for bonus suits.
At only six hours for a playthrough that saw me find most of the collectibles, I’d say £15.99 might be a tad over-priced, but it’s a fiver cheaper than the best price for the old Vita version on disc. Ultimately though, this isn’t as impressive as it probably was when played on the handheld, but if you’re a big fan of the console Batman games, then you’re bound to get something out of this too.
- Freeflow combat holds up well in 2D
- Lots of hidden items reward exploration…and patience
- Visually solid
- So much backtracking
- Pointless scanning mode for obvious interactions
- Final third is incredibly lazy
The Short Version: The 2.5D gameplay is a success with the combat and exploration feeling almost as rewarding as the regular console games. However, the galling amount of backtracking and the forced detective mode scanning to highlight weak walls or Batclaw points took the edge off what was otherwise an enjoyable night with the Dark Knight.