Blackgate kicks off a few months after the events of Arkham Origins and finds Batman attempting to regain control of Blackgate prison (where Gotham's slightly less criminally insane convicts usually end up). The narrative is delivered through a series of motion comic cutscenes, with an occasional high-def animated sequence that looks a little more at home in the game's established world. Although the motion comics may be a bit jarring for gamers expecting full motion animations, the artwork is impressive and they help to capture the tone of the game. The narrative isn't written by the usual franchise scribe, Paul Dini, and the story suffers a bit in his absence. The plot here sets up a reason for Batman to punch bad guys well enough, but it feels too generic compared to the the bar that the rest of the Arkham games have set.
The trite narrative wouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker on its own if the game's mechanics came together in an entertaining and natural way, but there are plenty of problems there too. It's clear from the tutorial level, chasing Catwoman around the rooftops of Gotham, that this game's combat system and Bat-gadgets function very similar to those of the previous Arkham games. The fighting feels a bit button-mashy, but it's still fun. Taking out the swarms of goons with Batman's hand-to-hand combat skills might be the best part of the game. In the sequences where Blackgate really embraces the 2D side-scroller action formula, it's at its most entertaining.
It wouldn't feel like an Arkham game without the option to switch over to detective mode and survey surroundings with Batman's keen eyes, and the developers made sure to include the trademark mechanic in Blackgate. Detective mode works perfectly well for hunting down clues or secrets throughout the game. Because the companion adventure to Origins is so much shorter, there are far less items to find and players aren't forced to switch into detective mode to hunt down possible hidden items in every single corridor. Flicking into detective mode after unlocking a new hidden room is actually a lot of fun and pretty rewarding. The problem with detective mode in Blackgate comes into play when we reach stealth combat encounters.
The limitations of the locked camera perspectives in the 2.5 dimension system make it either incredibly difficult or incredibly boring to utilize stealth combat in Blackgate. Much like in the other Arkham games, guards will walk along preset paths while Batman waits overhead, prepared to glide down and take them out before disappearing into the rafters again. The limited perspective makes it difficult to visualize where guards are on their path once they are out of the player's limited line of sight. This leads to a lot of trial and error, and stealth combat turns into more of a guessing game than anything else. The problems are intensified by the finicky environmental interaction controls. In order to duck into or out of a grate on the ground, players must stand exactly in the right spot to trigger the 'Drop Down' or 'Takedown' messages. The combat encounters do offer some fun timing puzzles to work out, but the flaws in the system hold them back from being quite as intense and entertaining as they could be.
As Batman works his way through the squads of goons standing in his way at each of the three Blackgate facilities (each one controlled by either The Joker, The Penguin, or Black Mask), players have the opportunity to locate different Wayne Tech crates and pick up new weapons or upgrades. Much like in Metroid, the new weapons or weapon alterations allow Batman to access parts of the map that were previously inaccessible. The map underwent some serious improvements since the release of the original mobile game, which makes retreading old ground much easier and enjoyable. The only real problem with the exploration aspect of the game is its potentially too ambitious attempts to play with 2.5 dimensions. In order to locate a hidden room, players are often required to climb into a wall via an air duct or grate. The camera angles become a bit confusing in these moments and it's far too easy to lose track of which direction Batman is facing. The upgraded map helps out with this problem, but the confusion is still jarring enough to take you out of the game at times.
In addition to the improved map, the console port also adds a few few minor areas to the game. All the of the major encounters and boss fights remain unaltered, so players who have already worked through the mobile game aren't really in for anything too new here. The graphics are definitely improved, but when the camera zooms way out for a big encounter, NPCs are still surprisingly pixelated. Batman also has a few new wardrobe options this time around that were not in the mobile version. These are purely aesthetic and don't actually alter the gameplay in anyway, but they do offer a nice change in scenery for players who are sinking hours into more than one playthrough.
The major downfall of Blackgate is that it fails to pull off the crucial illusion that the other Arkham games are able to achieve so naturally: making the player feel like Batman. The nature of the game's narrative structure requires Batman to run back and forth unlocking doors, fixing elevators, and hunting down cargo crates to find a new tool. The fetch repetitive fetch quest format is enjoyable enough at first, when you are learning the tricks of a new item, but the novelty fades fast. The game could benefit from a little more super heroics and a little less Bat-repairman.
Blackgate is a playthrough for die-hard Batman fans, but not necessarily for die-hard Arkham fans. The combat is definitely fun when running into a large squad of minions to take out and we wish that the game would have embraced the arcadey tradition of side-scrollers and offered more opportunities to punch, kick, and counter our way through foot soldiers. Unfortunately, all the time spent retreading through previously explored areas where we already knocked out all the guards leaves players wandering just long enough to get bored between encounters. The game offers some quality Arkham-style combat and puzzle solving, but its confusing perspectives and sub-par narrative hold it back from the greatness of the other installments in the franchise.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Deluxe Edition is available on PC, PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U. Game Rant played the Xbox 360 version for this review.
Follow Denny on Twitter @The_DFC.