Simplifying the Batman: Arkham series to its core exploration and combat mechanics, Blackgate is a logical spin-off for the formula that Rocksteady perfected, but unfortunately not a wholly successful one. While a metroidvania Batman game in the Arkham mould makes sense, it will require an execution far more confident and competent in this genre than this one to really entertain. As it is, Blackgate is a proof of concept, but a faltering experiment at best.
The missing element appears to be whole-hearted commitment, much like it was with Arkham Origins. There’s an unwillingness to tinker or change too much. While there’s much to admire about Blackgate, the core game experience lacks the polish and variety that has made its bigger console outings so enjoyable. This type of exploration-based game works best when its environments are detailed and varied. You should be able to tell where you are just by looking at your background. By the end of the game, you should hardly need to look at your map. Blackgate doesn’t have that. Most areas look more or less the same as any other. The notable exception is perhaps The Joker-controlled Administration complex as it’s covered in his trademark graffiti, but even then room to room there’s just too much repetition.
The 2.5D styling works relatively well though. As you duck in and out of air-ducts (and you will, a lot) you’ll be spun around the maze of Blackgate prison in a refreshingly open design. Ditching the traditional 2D view of this type of game is one area where things seemed to have worked quite well. It can make reading the map a challenge, however, since it’s stuck in an isometric view. Having one we could spin around might have been more useful.
The best of what the Arkham games have done is also a little muddled by Blackgate, namely combat and stealth. Without that solid base the experience takes another few knocks along the way. Combat in particular is a disappointment. When encounters are kept simple you get the same quality of combat as ever, working the parry system to great effect. However, sluggishness in the button inputs and a lack of accuracy means dealing with armed inmates becomes more infuriating than ever.
There are no new combat mechanics here either and no use of the Dark Knight’s utility belt of tricks to help you out. Simply transferring the Arkham model in this case perhaps wasn’t the best move. Stealth is also mismatched in this environment as the freedom of a fully 3D world that allows for a lot more movement and variety is missing here. In 2.5D and confined to smaller spaces with a limited move set, stealth sequences are dull and ponderous. They don’t change up the pace of Blackgate like they did in Arkham games so much as bring everything to a grinding halt.
In fact, the overall structure of the game lacks that sharpness and pace that would keep you moving fast enough not to notice the imperfections. By sticking with the overall look of the Arkham games and its Unreal engine models you get a rather plodding Batman fighting familiar-looking enemies. The animated cutscenes are actually rather refreshing, if not particularly interesting, for their change of style. It only made us wonder if we would have enjoyed this game more if Armature Studios had embraced an illustrative style or created something of its own.
There are multiple endings to Blackgate depending on what order you chose to take out each of the bosses, although it doesn’t ultimately change the outcome of the story so much as which cutscene you watch and how the penultimate challenge plays out. A challenge we should mention that sees you scouring the entire prison again looking for newly placed items (that vary depending on who you defeated last). It’s one final cape-dragging jaunt around the map, but it did get us looking for a few more secrets so it wasn’t all bad.
And ‘wasn’t all bad’ rather sums up Blackgate on the whole. The transfer to the metroidvania genre hasn’t been handled with any great finesse or tons of imagination in many areas, but the formula works often enough that it can hold attention for its six to eight hours of running time. You’ll find it frustrating, dull and even confusing at times, but every few moments there will be a flash of Arkham magic to bring you back and lure you in. It’s nowhere near consistent enough though and could really have done with some of its own dedicated ideas.