Now that Warner Bros. Interactive has successfully launched their highly anticipated Mortal Kombat-inspired brawler Injustice: Gods Among Us, from NetherRealm Studios, the publisher is gearing-up to promote their Arkham City follow-up, Batman: Arkham Origins. Of course, savvy gamers already know that Arkham Origins isn’t a full-on origin story and, instead, follows an already-established Caped Crusader, in earlier days of his crime-fighting career, as he attempts to survive attacks from eight of the world’s best assassins. In addition to a different time period, and non-Arkham story focus, development duties on the project have also shifted from fan-favorite Rocksteady Studios to Warner Bros. Games Montreal.
Despite all the changes, and somewhat misleading title, some gamers remain optimistic about Arkham Origins while others remain skeptical of the companion project, Arkham Origins Blackgate, a 2.5 dimension handheld tie-in developed by Armature.
Certain gamers were quick to criticize Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, which was announced right alongside Arkham Origins, as a shallow cash grab unfitting of the Batman: Arkham (Insert Subtitle Here) brand. Nevertheless, unlike most handheld tie-ins, Armature will not be porting-down 3D gameplay into a 2D experience – as Blackgate is an entirely separate story experience featuring gameplay specifically designed for the Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita. Additionally, Armature isn’t just a random tie-in IP factory, the studio has a strong batch of executive developers – many of who worked on Retro Studios’ Metroid Prime games. In fact, the Metroid pedigree helped the studio secure the Blackgate contract from Warner Bros and serves as an indication of what gamers can expect from the title – specifically an Arkham-style story blended with “Metroidvania” gameplay.
According to game director Mark Pacini (in an interview with Game Informer):
[Warner Bros.] had come to us with this opportunity that they were looking to make a 2.5D-style Arkham game that was in the Metroidvania flavor and they thought we’d be a good pairing to it, since we were really familiar with that style of game. We made three of them, so it was a great fit and we were huge fans. I’m personally a huge fan of the Arkham franchise, so it just seemed like a really good fit.
Pacini claims that Armature has been working on Blackgate since last spring (about a year from the time of this writing) – spending a significant amount of time deciding which elements of the console-based Arkham franchise could be applied to their handheld title – especially considering the side-scrolling “Metroidvania” foundation:
We wanted to give the player enough tools to unlock and progress in a world just like in a normal Metroidvania game. What we did is we went through the back log of the past two Arkham games and looked at the things that we thought would work well in our game. Climbing the grapple is our jump, so there’s no jumping in the game, you use the grapple to get up higher. We have glide – you know the glide allows you to go down over longer lateral spaces. Crouching and climbing and things like that are all from the console game so taking that small kernel of abilities, we are actually able to do quite a bit, and then we just supplement it with the gadgets that we thought would work well in a more 2.5D perspective. Things like the batarang and the gel launcher. The gel launcher is a slight adjustment to the explosive gel that’s in the console version, where Batman sprays it against the surface. We’re using it more like the movie version, where you can shoot it over more of a distance, so you can utilize the space on the screen a little bit more. Along with that there’s a bunch of gadgets that he has that we will reveal at another time.
The 3D Arkham games already require Metroidvania-style backtracking – where a new item or ability allows Batman to enter an area that was not previously accessible. However, Pacini claims that the item-progression is still just as rewarding – even if the game does not take place in an open-world 3D environment:
It’s a very good blend of the two – of Metroid and Arkham. The one change that we did end up making it that there’s no XP in the game, so everything is item-based. The reason we did it that way is to give the player more of a sense of collection in this game. That was a design decision.[...] What we wanted to do is put everything into an item-based system that you place into the environment, that gives you the motivation to explore the areas of the building. So that it gives you that flavor of: “Oh, I want that ability I can get up there,” rather than “I need to beat up some more guys to get the XP to unlock this thing.” I think it fits well for our style of game.
In the interview Pacini also touches on the Blackgate setting as well as other fundamental changes to the Arkham gameplay – altering free flow combat and the invisible predator mechanic to a 2D plane. For more, you can read the entire Q&A at Game Informer.
Given that it’s a departure from the established 3D franchise format, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate may not be a must-play title for every Batman: Arkham series buyers; however, that doesn’t mean that it won’t provide Metroidvania-style game fans as well as handheld owners with a worthwhile side-scroller set in one of gaming’s most immersive comic book worlds. Decades later, Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are still great gameplay experiences – and they’ve inspired plenty of critically-acclaimed 2.5D successors, most notably Epic Games’ 2009 title, Shadow Complex.
As a result, while the initial Blackgate announcement might have been over-shadowed by Arkham Origins, it’s easy imagine that, should Armature deliver a captivating story, solid controls, and fun applications of key Arkham mechanics in 2.5D, pairing Metroidvania gameplay and the rich Batman mythos could be a winning combination.
Batman: Arkham Origins will be available on Wii U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC October 25, 2013.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate will be available on Vita and 3DS October 25, 2013.
Source: Game Informer
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick.