Saturday, November 16, 2013

Batman on the Go Is Missing a Few Gadgets in the Utility Belt

Quick Fix: Though there is an interesting story for hardcore Batman fans, this attempt at bringing the fantastic series to portable consoles falls flat with shallow combat, boring level design and an overall bland aesthetic. For hardcore Dark Knight fans, wait for a price drop before you consider. 
Not long ago in 2009 Rocksteady Studios proved to the world that a great Batman game was not just feasible, but would be so good that it would launch a series that is the standard for open world superhero games today. And while it’s no surprise a new Batman hits consoles this fall for a third time, the Arkham series is finally transitioning to handhelds, though not without some caveats.
In Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate you take the reins as Batman once again as he infiltrates the prison Blackgate after a massive explosion has released the Penguin, the Joker and Black Mask. Cutscenes are done in a comic book style animation, with the voice actors reprising their roles from Arkham Origins, which is a nice touch. After saving Catwoman from some goons, you have the choice to tackle each ‘dungeon’ of the three big bads in any order.

The game is framed in the ‘Metroidvania’ style, in which Batman comes to the show with only his trusty batarang, and as the story progresses he must find more items to go forward. Each dungeon holds an item and an item upgrade, for a total of two major upgrades per dungeon. Each item feels unique and the upgrades add extra functionality to expand the repertoire for exploration, but be prepared to wait until you are on your way to the last boss before you collect everything. 
Some Perspective Changes to Lighten Up the 2D Gameplay. Image Courtesy of Game Informer
Speaking of collectibles, Batman can find pieces of armor upgrades for extra armor, gauntlet upgrades to boost attack strength, RUSH pieces to add extra strength when at full health, and pieces of extra batsuits that, once all five pieces are found, can be equipped to add extra bonus features to the Dark Knight. There are four suits total, with one suite able to pick up by simply collecting each piece in a play through and one suit per big bad beaten last. Meaning in order to obtain all three of these suites, you will have to beat the game three times, beating each big bad last once. It’s a nice way to give some extra length, but after one run through, it doesn’t seem like enough incentive to play the game again.  
Though all the parts are there, the exploration is very standard. Blackgate prison has some variety between the three separate sections, but nothing that hasn’t been done better in other games. The bland environments don’t help and the cherry on top would be the fact that there are almost no respawns for enemies, meaning in the last half of the game you literally spend time running through empty hallways for the third or fourth time. 
Kitty's Got Claws. Meow. Image Courtesy of Dualshockers.
The signature combat from the console games has been translated fairly well to the 2D plane, but far from perfect. Batman can attack and counter combatants, and can quick-fire which ever gadget you have equipped at the moment. However, the fact that enemies move back and front on the 2D plane will cause issues. For example, when two enemies are in front of you, Batman will attack only one enemy, leaving the other to punch you while in mid combo without being able to counter. Also, if the person you are countering is just a little bit behind another enemy, the counter will not work, leaving Batman open for attack. The fluidity seems to be missing as well, requiring the player to move Batman across the screen to attack an enemy a few feet away rather than tilting the joystick towards the enemy and hitting the attack button. The worse offender has to be the quick-fire gadgets, which are slow to fire off and most of the times are ineffective, which makes maintaining combos across large levels with small groups of enemies incredibly difficult and frustrating. 
Batman Soaring into Derivative Combat. Image Courtesy of Cinemablend.
Though the first or second enemy encounters are really fun, but as the game progresses forward, the novelty of combat wears off completely, with the exception of boss battles. Most bosses have a gadget they are weak against, and since each boss can be tackled in roughly any order, the difficulty of these fights may depend on how you tackle each dungeon and collect each gadget. It is nice to see how each boss can be beaten quickly, but most boss battles are fairly easy to handle without their weakness in hand, so the incentive to figure out which item they are weak to is not there. That being said, the boss battles between the final boss characters are really fun, with a lot of variety and most not feeling like rehashes of earlier boss fights. I especially enjoyed the final boss fight.
Outside of finding upgrades and progressing the story, there are case files to solve, which feel like the biggest missed opportunity of the game. Batman has his detective vision, which is toggled by tapping the screen (the bottom screen on 3DS) to activate and moving your finger across the screen to find and analyze items in the environment. This is how you find clues for case files. That is it. There are no hints and there is no real deductive work. You simply move your finger across the screen and hope you come across things. This could have been so much more, and instead turns into a tedious and frustrating process of hoping you come across the next clue.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is something of a missed opportunity. It’s a working game, with decent combat and exploration, but nothing you can’t find better in other games. The story is interesting, but very short and not earth shattering like the other three games. And though there are some small incentives to play through multiple times, they aren’t enough to want to endure the 6 – 8 hour campaign (unless you want some pretty easy trophies for your Vita). If you’re a hardcore Batman fan who can handle some underwhelming gameplay, pick it up. If not, I’d wait for a discount.
6.5 out of 10
Here are some links:
The Wikipedia Page
The IGN Review
The Metacritic Page

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