The Batman Arkham series has been seen as a brilliant revival of Batman games, and with Arkham Origins, the series is taking a look at the start of Batman and his interactions with the world's maniacal wrongdoers. While the game was playable at DC's booth, we focused our time with the handheld rendition of the game, Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate, a sequel counterpart to the console adventure. It was playable on 3DS at Nintendo's booth, and it while it did not impress graphically, the game shows promise for a solid Batman Arkham addition.
Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate takes place three months after Origins, but there are no spoilers involved in the storyline of the console version (other than Batman living through it, of course). In the demo, Batman is scouring the cityscape of Gotham when he spots none other than Catwoman in the middle of one of her theft jobs. There is some brief banter between the two, but soon both are encountered by armed guards and begin a chase of cat and mouse...cat and bat, more like it. The chase ends with a short duel with Catwoman, and just as the story is set in motion, the demo ends. Before and after gameplay, cutscenes were played out mostly using motion comics, animation cut back in favor of a hand-drawn comic artstyle to display more story-centric experiences. Your enjoyment of these depends purely on your preference of full animation over moving comic visuals, but I did not mind these cutscenes being used for a handheld game.
Blackgate is a 2.5D action adventure with a focus on combat and exploration throughout the Batman world. While the demo itself was wholly linear in nature, the actual game is said to be completely open, allowing villains to be taken out in whatever order the player desires. Rather than gain power ups through any level system, Batman obtains upgrades scattered throughout the game world, akin to a Metroidvania title. While that term seems to be thrown around plenty of times, one should note that Blackgate is being fully developed by Armature Studio, headed by the leads of the Metroid Prime series. So, while the demo did not display any hint of open-world exploration, the pedigree of the developers should ease concerns a bit.
Batman has plenty of moves that he shares with his previous console counterparts. There is no jumping in Blackgate, but there is still plenty of ascension through the use of a grappling hook. Either way, descent is a much more important element for Batman; players can slow down their descent using the bat cape, and when spying on assailants from above, they can choose whom to attack first. It is imperative to choose wisely when descending into harm's way, especially when some thugs are armed and not afraid to shoot you down. In one particular scenario, I had to dive down and takeout enemies one at a time, ascending to the beams above to prevent being seen and shot. Thankfully, the game has a Detective Mode which highlights grapple spots, enemy positions and their line of sight; with this data, I was able to coordinate my attack and make it out unscathed. Seeing this, Blackgate promises to keep elements of stealth action in play, even in a 2.5D landscape.
While stealth is all part of Batman's itinerary, combat is still a heavy element in Blackgate, for better or for worse. In the demo, I encountered a number of setpieces in which I was expected to face-off against a crowd of thugs, and much of the series' combat elements were still present. There were buttons for a hard punch or quick, successive jabs, and given the right moment, players can dodge and counter attacks to put their combatants in their place. I did less than stellar in these segments, but I suspect it was more me than the game that was messing things up. I did notice that taking down certain enemies seemed longer in these segments compared to others, and it does leave me with some concern that the game could be overwrought with combat segments over the like of exploration and stealth. That does not mean the game has bad combat, no. In fact, the sequences were animated well and had a good level of fluidity about them, but it will take a balance of these combat segments with the rest of the game to create a truly solid experience.
Graphics do not appear to be the game's strong suit, at least from certain standpoints. The characters are made with lower-polygon models, and the textures across these models are not high resolution. Unfortunately, in the demo, the game would pull close to these models in certain cutscenes or when battle sequences ended, showcasing the game's limitations on the 3DS. On the other hand, the game did not suffer much with framerate, and when the 3D display was set on, the depth was strong and effective in showing the dark and intense world of Gotham City's rooftops. Animations flowed well, making for more competent battle segments and in-game cutscenes. As for the environment, it was fine, even though the game lacked AA something fierce. I found the draw distance to be quite good, especially in at least one scene where I crossed a wire across a long expanse of the city, a number of guards in the distance but still visible in Detective Mode. I suspect there was a trade-off of polygon count with draw distance, and if there are more scenic views like that in the full game, I am welcome to take such a trade-off.
Overall, the demo left me with a much better understanding of what Blackgate is going to be like. The game takes elements from the console games and places them into a handheld 2.5D world, and while the demo did not particularly impress me on a visual level, there are elements that I feel will edge it up to an overall enjoyable adventure through Gotham. Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate is set to release late October for Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita.