Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate - Deluxe Edition

If you're making a game, it's important to remember the limitations brought on by the type of game you're looking to make, the perspective you're using, and, if you're making an entry in a franchise, what sorts of things are expected from that. Making a game as an adaptation of a well-known IP also brings its own problems. You always want to make sure that you're doing something that makes sense for the character, and generally you'll want to capture the essence of exactly what the character is. Using comic book examples, Spider-Man is lithe and agile, the Hulk is strong and nigh indestructible, and Batman is a brooding badass.

At some point, though, I found myself playing a memory matching game against The Joker. Like the one you'd play as a kid, where you have to flip two things to find the matching images on a board. I mean, look, Batman's certainly had his low points, but despite the Batusi, rubber nipples and Arnold Schwarzeneggar, nobody has ever expected an audience to be enthralled at the idea of Batman standing by cards, turning each in turn and biting his nails as it's revealed whether he recalled correctly or not what was under it.

Especially previous games in the Arkham series. These have always been games that maintained a certain level of seriousness and control over the character, turning even the most cartoonish of villains into a real threat. 'Real threat' tends to not include 'minigame you played when you were five.' In essence, the previous Arkham games made you feel like you WERE Batman, in a world where everyone wanted you dead.

But this is another problem in itself: since this is part of that Arkham series, the developers were clearly focused on keeping the feel of big console games, with the focus on free-wheeling combat, exploration and backtracking through areas, and being extremely cinematic. The transition from 3D to 2D and viewed from the side, though, severely hamstrings many of those elements.

The Arkham games have always partly been around exploring old areas with new equipment to find secrets, and ideally, this is the part that should translate the best to 2D. After all, there are several franchises that deal with this exact thing to look at for exploration, such as Metroid and Castlevania. But in trying to balance the previous games in the series with a new perspective, the game runs into a lot of problems and, more unfortunately, exploration is hardly encouraged.

A lot of this is because the map is basically the least useful thing I've ever seen in a game. Since the game has such a weird '2D-but-3D' feel to it, the camera has a bad habit of zooming all around you, and what seemed like a straight path or usable doorway is anything but because either the game doesn't let you advance or the camera suddenly swings to a completely different path. The map does and doesn't reflect this, so going from point A to point B can look like a simple straight forward path, but winds up being meandering and locked off. Bizarrely, the map will invert directions, so you'll be facing left and the map is showing right. A bunch of things like that make navigation much more difficult.

Blackgate Prison has hidden areas, but they're too annoying to discover and access. A game like Metroid works because most discoveries are accidental. Setting off a super bomb or missing an enemy with a missile will almost always cause a new path to open. For some reason, though, Blackgate overuses its detective mode so that unless you're actively scanning everything (and I do mean actively, since you have to hold a button and move a scanning window around), you won't be able to find things that you can use your explosive gel on, or pull with your grappling thing. Exploration becomes less telegraphed because of this, and also less fun to do because you have to discover the ability to open  new path instead of have it open up organically.

Sometimes you will find a small locked WayneTech crates comprised of health items or armor upgrades, but unlocking them has much to do with the odd detective case system, wherein you have to hunt for a clue hidden in the background that does nothing other than lightly fill in backstory. You are then rewarded for finding the clearly obvious solutions that Miss Congeniality of video game unlockables, concept art. Whoo?

If you're not exploring for that nonsense, though, you're really not doing much more except adding in combat, which is its own trying experience. Fighting in Arkham Asylum was a revelatory experience in many ways because, even though Batman was able to slide  really far between enemies and it looked kind of goofy, the way it allowed you to control huge groups of enemies was something never seen before. But that's a system that works best if you have 3D controls, and the appropriate depth to move around, dodge enemies and point your control stick in. Keeping combat on a 2D plane muddies up the whole experience. It's more difficult to choose the exact person you're trying to hit, so when enemies arrive with more advanced weapons, it is nearly impossible to single them out. It doesn't help that the game will sometimes completely ignore the direction you're pressing anyways and launch you at some random enemy, throwing off your combo (which doesn't really matter as there is no Arkham-style leveling system) and potentially opening you up for attack.

All Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is (aside from a terrible name that feels super stitched together) is a boring game in a great franchise that reminds you how to not translate a game from 3D to 2D. An exploration-based game that discourages exploration, part of a franchise that focuses on group combat that poorly adapts it to a 2D plane. Basically, they failed at capturing several important parts of the experience that these games have always sold themselves on. That's not to say that a 2D Batman game couldn't have worked, but certainly not like this. It doesn't work as a fan service experience because it's basically only characters who've appeared before. It also doesn't work as an entry in the franchise because the story is so ridiculously inconsequential, especially on consoles with full Arkham games to their name. It exists as nothing but a pointless exercise to get money from the people who love the series, and your time is worth more than that.