Wednesday, November 27

Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate Review (PSV): A long trail of empty promises

There is a point where I thought that Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate (herein referred to as "Blackgate") was due to end. There was a boss fight, a few puzzles and a room that was thick with finality. I thought I was knee deep in the conclusion, but I was then again tasked with playing fetch throughout Blackgate's labyrinthine wings.

My meandering, directionless agony was set to continue. Again I would wrestle with the game's nonsensical map.

The worst thing is that it shouldn't have been this way. Well, at least not on paper. If you read into it before release, Blackgate should have been one of the better games released in 2013. A Metroidvania -- for those not in the know, that means a platformer with role-playing game elements and a map that opens up with the acquisition of new equipment and abilities -- title starring Batman and developed by Armature Studio, which is partly comprised of Retro Studio alums. Retro Studios just happened to be responsible for two of the greatest Metroidvania games that I've ever played (just to clarify, I haven't played Metroid Prime 3: Corruption or much of Hunters on the DS, so that count may deserve to be bigger). If that's not enough, the Arkham series' signature combat, investigation and stealth systems would also be translated into 2.5 dimensions. Such promise!

It starts off well enough: the game looks good and the punching, kicking and stalking work just fine. There were lengths of time where I found that I was actually enjoying myself too, but these stretches are undermined by poor direction and hapless navigation. The best games in the genre subtly guide players to the next objective whilst also encouraging experimentation with new tools in previously-explored environments. Blackgate gives you new tools and a marker on an indecipherable map: good luck sorting that shit out. Suffice to say you'll be rubbing your screen (which activates Detective mode) looking for some indication of where to go next for hours at a time.

I'd wager at least a third of the 6 hours I spent playing the game involved asking aloud (on public transport, on my bed, in the park), "Where the fuck do I go now?". No short order of competent boss fights or charming comic book cutscenes could really redeem the game; no matter how badly I wanted it to. Still, if I'm being honest, I enjoyed this game as much as the 2011 mega hit, Arkham City and the less said about Arkham Origins, the better.

Wait until this shows up in the PlayStation Plus Instant Game Collection, otherwise approach only if seen in the bargain bin. Heartbreaking stuff.

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