Formats: PS Vita (tested) | 3DS
Developer: Armature Studio
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive
Past industry form indicates that you'd be forgiven for dismissing the presence of a handheld game when it has a bigger and shinier counterpart on your main console. So often we’ve seen them stumble into our hands as shabby ports or overly simplistic, barely related tie-in fodder. Armature Studio is here to change things with their new Vita game. From what I've played, it truly deserves a place on your shopping list if you've enjoyed the last two Rocksteady games and are planning on picking up Origins on October 25th.
This game will follow on from the events of the console game Arkham Origins, rather than rehash the same story. The Blackgate in the title refers to the prison where the majority of the game will be set. Home to the non-insane criminals of Gotham -although a few are clearly borderline- various well-known villains ‘run’ different parts of the prison. So expect to take on some infamous faces to get the jail back in order. The story is delivered via motion comics, which I suppose is reasonable given the source material, but there’s no getting around they’ll always feel and look like the cheap option.
But there the grumbling ends, let’s talk gameplay. The action unfolds in 2.5D. The environments are designed to appear 3D, but your movements are essentially locked to a 2D plane, so left and right along with a bit of vertical exploration too. Occasional use of the grappling hook also propels you into the foreground or pulls you deeper into the screen. Sometimes you may appear to be on a 3D surface whilst being attacked by thugs from all angles, but you only have to aim your attacks to the left and the right.
Armature has done a great job of replicating that trademark Arkham fighting style in 2D. Fans of Rocksteady’s rucks will be pulling off lengthy combos in no time. It's almost identical, you look out for counter-signals, the fluid transition between opponents flows effortlessly and that desire to string together one large combo for a fight is as compelling as ever. I’ve rarely seen a handheld game do such a good job of maintaining a core feature of a console game.
The combat isn’t quite as eager to please as you may remember. For example, in the console releases, once you've built up a large(ish) combo, Batman will cover great distances automatically to string another blow into the chain. Here, the distance he's willing to leap and roll to keep things going isn't as far, but due to the 2D nature of things, it feels fair. You are able to strategically bunch enemies together though, like a very punchy sheepdog. I wouldn’t bet against upgrades later in the game allowing Bats to close in from further away.
Using the grappling hook is once-again essential for getting through stages. Many of which appear quite linear thanks to the semi-flat design. However, there will be opportunities to stalk your prey as you please in a reassuringly familiar way.
Taking on a trio of armed guards isn't best handled with the usual enthusiastic mass brawl, as you'll be shot down in seconds. One section involved swinging between multiple vantage points in what looked like a regular 3D environment. Glide kicks are in, but they're not very quiet. So, I waited until the guards had wandered apart enough before diving down and delivering a knockout blow and then returning to my perch. From there it was business as usual, as I cleared up the remaining increasingly panicky guards. I can’t wait to see what other predatory opportunities await around Blackgate penitentiary.
Detective mode returns (they really should of called it BatNav) with the tap of a shoulder button. You can then use the touchscreen to scan the surroundings. No crime scenes for this demo today, but considering all the other boxes Armature have ticked, I’d put money down on them being in the final game. I was able to scan for enemies or parts of the scenery for grappling opportunities, some of the latter are only useable after being scanned, which is a bit annoying if you can clearly make them out for yourself anyway.
I didn’t get to try many gadgets in the game, none in combat in fact, but this was clearly an early stage. Apparently, defeating bosses will unlock new items for your utility belt. What is it without this guy leaving the Batcave without packing his tools first? I’ve also heard reports that the vast majority of the prison will be ‘open’ from the start but key areas won’t be reachable until you unlock certain gadgets and tools, presumably ones like exploding gel, grappling hooks and motorised winch hooks for pulling down walls. I didn’t see any signs of this openness during my playthrough of what seemed like a linear (but still fun) stage, but this was a demo build after all. Fingers crossed Armature are going to sprinkle a few hidden items around the stages too as hunting trinkets down was one of the key pastimes of Rocksteady’s Arkham games.
There was a brief boss fight I got to play against Catwoman. This zoomed into the action to give the game a fighting game vibe. Not much skill was needed, dodge Miss. Kyle’s claw attacks and then counter her with an almost apologetic combo before she eventually gives up. You know the score when these two fight; it’s just the foreplay to the sex they’re never going to have.
First Impressions: When I heard the game would play in 2D, I was expecting a side-scrolling platformer with basic button-bashing attacks. Instead, I've been blown away by how much the game has managed to stick with so much of what makes the Arkham games great. Do not let this one pass you by. There’s plenty of action here to differentiate this from the console game and justify owning both. Who would have thought so much promise would adorn two Batman games without Rocksteady being at the helm of either?