Home consoles aren't the only place you'll be able to get your Bat-freak on this October. For the first time in the current game series, WB Games is bringing the Arkham adventures to handhelds, with Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate set to arrive at the same time as the Origins ports. The company recently invited us to its booth at San Diego Comic-Con to go hands-on with the portable wonder.
First off, the game isn't being developed by previous Arkham developers, such as Rocksteady Games or WB Montreal. Instead, Armature Studios is handling development, but they have a solid repertoire with making games, as most of its members previously worked on the Metroid Prime series. Yep, you're in good hands.
Blackgate takes place in the same time era as Origins, but works on its own level. The demo we were shown had the Dark Knight running along rooftops, chasing after his lovely adversary Catwoman. It's here that we were introduced to the gameplay system that Armature has in mind for the game, one that works on a 2D level but still manages to retain most of the magic that Batman has become known for over the years.
The game world actually twists around in full 3D, but you move from side to side when you're working your way up walls and fighting enemies. It's a neat trick, sort of like a Klonoa-ish effect where you feel like part of a deeper stage than it actually is. Armature also did a splendid job with the graphics so far, with a high level of polish that's right up there with the other Bat adventures, despite limitations in the handheld hardware. The cool "guard range" system is great as well, as you can see their viewing range and decide whether to attack them straight on (not a smart move), or sneaking up behind them with your stealth skills.
The audio sounds good as well, though it was hard to hear certain parts due to the commotion on the show floor. It sounds as if the devs are putting the same level of effort into the voice acting and atmospheric touches as the console versions, so you'll definitely want to plug in your headset for this one.
Gameplay feels great thus far. Moving Batman around feels just about right, and you'll know when to use your trusty grappling tool when icons appear on the corners of buildings you get close to, so you can zip right up with ease. Batman's mobility – and use of toys – doesn't run into any kind of shortage here, and fans should be happy about that.
Detective mode plays a huge part in Blackgate. You'll need to activate it in order to track footprints or detect objects in the area that you can set up to grapple onto. To turn it on, you simply tap on the touchscreen. It's a simple gameplay tactic, and one that works surprisingly well, considering how detective mode was used in prior games.
Finally, let's get to fighting. Rather than just limit Batman to "one thug left, one thug right" like most comic capers do, he still has the free 3D mobility that we saw in prior games. It's cool how this works. He automatically switches planes depending on the enemies that he's fighting, and he can still counter someone with ease with just a button press. The fighting system works nicely here, even though it's not in 360-degree fashion.
Though the demo was too short for its own good (probably to keep people moving through the booth without waiting too long), Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is looking like an outstanding spinoff for the series. The gameplay feels great thus far despite the 2D set-up, and the presentation should be right at home with most handheld developments.
We'll see how Blackgate fares when it arrives for PS Vita and Nintendo 3DS on October 25th.