previews\ Sep 2, 2013 at 6:00 pm

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Hands-On: Bringing the console experience to handhelds

Having already found success on consoles, Warner Bros. is bringing its Batman: Arkham franchise to handhelds with Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, a handheld spin-off that takes place approximately three weeks after its console cousin Arkham Origins. Despite the perception caused by a handheld game launching alongside a console counterpart, there’s nothing second-rate about Origins Blackgate.

While at PAX Prime, I had the chance to go hands on with the game, trying out an early level of the game which saw Batman chasing down Catwoman after catching her stealing some valuable information. Since the game takes place three weeks after the console game, Batman is a little wiser because of this and while the game will contain references, it will hardly spoil the console game for players – or so I was told. The stage in my demo was setup with a comic-style cutscene that was dark in both nature and tone, staying true to the grit of the already established game franchise.

Arkham Origins Blackgate plays like a console game. Developed by Armature Studios, Blackgate clearly draws inspiration from Metroidvania. Gameplay is mostly comprised of two-dimensional segments as Batman traverses the sides and roofs of buildings in chase of Catwoman, with the illusion of a third dimension made apparent through use of the Grapnel Gun.

As an early level in the game, this particular demo was mostly guided. The Grapnel gun did most of the work, with me only pressing a button to access the next platform. In between the platforming segments, Batman must defeat groups of henchmen. Combat is crisp, fast-paced and fluid, just as you’d expect from a Batman: Arkham game. Helping simplify things for the handheld device, Batman’s attacks are mapped to one single button while his counters are assigned to another.

Arkham Origins Blackgate

While combat on the Vita almost perfectly replicates the console experience, the tight space in which combat takes place makes certain moves – particularly takedowns – hard to perform. For that reason, you’ll be button mashing a bit longer than you’d like.

In addition to the action-centric beatdowns, Origins Blackgate also sees the inclusion of the series’ signature stealth gameplay. Despite the 2D constraints, it actually works very well. By entering Batman’s stealth mode, you can sneak up on enemies by grappling to ledges and waiting patiently for the right moment to glidekick and perform a takedown. The keyword is “patient,” as one misstep will result in Batman easily being gunned down. Bullets beat bats, I was warned.

Although my playthrough was extremely linear, I was told that gameplay opens up more when you actually enter the Blackgate Prison. It won’t be an entirely open-world sandbox experience, but there’s enough leeway to allow you to explore the different areas of the prison to your liking. And apparently the order in which you unlock areas will affect how the game plays out.

It should be noted that the demo I played was for the PlayStation Vita. I say this because I found the graphics of Origins Blackgate to be absolutely stunning, rivaling that of the console games. Although I was promised that gameplay between the 3DS and Vita versions will be nearly identical, the representative guiding my playthrough was a little more hesitant when it came to the comparing graphics of the two different versions. I assume it’ll be hard for the 3DS to compete with the gorgeous screen or raw power of the Vita, but without having seen or played the 3DS version it’s hard for me to say for certain.

What I can say, though, is that the Vita version of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is damn impressive and I can’t wait to see more of it when it releases this October 25th for Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita.

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