Backlog 2015 #2: Batman: Arkham Origins: Blackgate: Deluxe Edition

Blackgate cover

I like to imagine that’s Batman looking at the people responsible for this nonsense.

I want to make this brief so I don’t waste too much more of my time on this game, but if you’re reading this I’m wasting your time with a messy article. Blame Batman. The most enjoyable moment I had was it enabling me to sincerely type B:AO:B:DE in a text to a friend. I was excited about this Metroidvania game due to a long time love of the Metroid series. Metroid + Batman; sign me up. But it’s a bad cover band. The main problem with the game is that nothing works. The character movement is sluggish and sticky. The combat is confusing, unclear, lacking rhythm and dull. The gadgets are bad. The levels all look the same and have no character. The game’s sidequest is a literal pixel scanning game. The checkpointing is dire. It has one of the absolute bottom, worst boss fights I’ve ever played (more on that below). The script is horrendous; every line of dialogue is eye roll worthy. The motion comic style of the cutscenes is amateurish to me. The map design and layout is incomprehensible and disposable at the same time. The game’s structure is cynical and padded (which is saying something since you swallow the backtracking pill on the way in to a Metroidvania game). It’s just a bad game. But the fact that it wears the skin of the sublime Batman Arkham games just makes all of that so much worse. The console Arkham games are modern day classics: a fundamental design principle, “you are Batman”, executed and expanded upon perfectly. In those games you feel powerful, the combat is fluid and genuinely one of the greatest third person combat systems ever created. The locations have personality and they’re fun to navigate. The world and everything in it has a sense of place. Batman is a terrifying force. Being Batman is FUN. Blackgate misses every single one of those marks. The only thing they managed to reproduce from the console games is the tedium of tapping A to remove vent covers.

Just look at this shit. What is this room?

Just look at this shit. What is this room?

In a Metroidvania game you need to understand how the world is connected, whether it’s in 2D or 3D. You become a master of the environment as well as the character. Blackgate goes for a very ill-fitting hybrid of 2 and 3D, where the world has no hub, so its different sections are completely divorced from one another, but when you explore the world every room has you turning right angles and going into the background for show. It makes the world impossible to follow and the map a convoluted mess. Doing anything in the game is a slog; I have to wait for Batman to finish putting away his gadget before I can move, dropping off ledges is slow, the fall speed is slow. The game tries to have predator sections against armed enemies but once you’re seen there’s nowhere to go. If someone sees you and you want to drop down a level to get out of his line of sight you’ll have to do the following.

  • Do Batman’s slow walk to the single point where you can hang off the ledge.
  • Try to edge Batman forward to it because his movement is unresponsive and jittery.
  • Overshoot it.
  • Move backwards.
  • Wait for the context prompt to come up saying “Down and B to drop”.
  • Press down and B.
  • Batman does a cape stun manoeuvre (mapped to B)
  • Repeat steps 1-6.
  • Hang off the ledge.
  • Try to remember whether it’s the stick or B to drop. (It’s B to drop, but stick rather than A to climb)
  • Drop off the ledge. Slowly.

And this is often the only thing you can do to escape, while under fire from 3 guys. You just die. The problem with this game is that you never feel like Batman.

Black Mask Boss Fight: You'll need this visual reference for the rant below.

Black Mask Boss Fight: You’ll need this visual reference for the rant below.

The nadir of the whole piece is a boss fight with Black Mask. It’s a puzzle boss. Great. I love puzzle bosses. But this puzzle boss is one that you cannot deduce. You can only brute force it with trial and error. The reason for this is that the boss reacts differently to identical stimuli so you have to test the waters. How he responds to your actions is also inconsistent. He’ll be alerted by a light smashing. He’ll be alerted by an alarm tripping. But the alarm masks the light smash? Never a system used before or after. He stands at console. It feels like it’s important, that he won’t leave it, that it will play some part. He only ever turns away from it, never walks. Nope. There are 4 lights hanging above him. Looks like you should stay out of the light. The first one can be smashed to turn it off, but it draws his fire so you need to be sensible about where you throw the batarang. Maybe you have to safely create more darkness to make your way closer? Nope: the other, identical lights cannot be interacted with. He visibly reloads after he fires. Maybe you attack him then? Nope. Ultimately you have to trip the alarm a second time after taking out the light and this time he walks away from the console to a vulnerable position. So all of that is awful, unintuitive design but the kicker is that when you test the water in this puzzle boss, as you have to, the game’s response is for Black Mask to insta-kill you and throw you back 2 rooms that you then have to tediously navigate to get back to the boss room. It’s insulting. Wiser players would have walked away at this point and refused to have any more of their time wasted. You can watch the video of the solution here. The order you play the game in is up to you (it’s what makes the world feel so disposable, like the Prince of Persia reboot). The game encourages you to play it three times. I say don’t play it once.

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