At gamescom 2013 we got the chance to have a brief hands-on experience with the PlayStation Vita version of Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate, which will be releasing this October on both the Vita and the 3DS.
Blackgate will take place shortly after the events of the upcoming Arkham Origins, and be centred around Batman investigating a disturbance around Blackgate prison. Little was revealed in terms of plot details, except that the Penguin will feature as an antagonist and that the game will feature Batman's first meeting with Catwoman.
The most obvious change in the gameplay is the transition from a full 3D environment to a "2.5D" side-scroller. Inevitably this has a significant impact on the overall experience, yet despite such a sweeping change (driven most likely by the 3DS' lack of a second analog stick) the gameplay demo we enjoyed was still distinctly Arkham-esque in feel.
Combat in particular feels remarkably similar, despite the transition away from the 3D environments. Batman's repertoire of moves still revolves around fast-moving dodges, combos, stuns and counter-moves. The flow and intuition present in the Arkham series is still (based on our short time with the game) present in this title, and players familiar with the franchise will have no trouble in picking this up and fighting like a pro.
Batman's gadgets will also make an appearance and can be found scattered throughout the game. Our demo was, presumably, set in the early part of the game and our inventory limited; but we had the Grapnel Gun allowing us access to out-of-the-way locations and the ability to tear open hard to reach air vents.
We also enjoyed the cut scene sections, which in Blackgate are presented as in a comic board style as opposed to full-motion cinematics. While this steps away from the style of the home console series, they were well designed and injected a fresh sense of style to proceedings that made this iteration stand out from its peers.
Of course, a significant effect of the move away from the 3D environment is the loss of a fully open, explorable environment and, if the short section we played is any indication, Blackgate will play very much as a linear experience. It's a lamentable loss, as a significant part of the Arkham experience was tied into the exploration and discovery element (Riddler trophies anyone?). Blackgate attempts to alleviate this loss by introducing several hidden locations to find. It's not the same, but it's a nod in the right direction.
To assist you in finding these hidden locations, and in solving the various puzzles throughout the game, detective mode makes a welcome return; and in one of the best uses of the PlayStation Vita's touch screen technology we have experienced in our time with the system.
Detective mode is activated simply by touching your finger against the screen, and dragging it over the environment highlights points of interest in a fairly generous radius around the digit. Hovering directly over one of these points opens an on-screen text box displaying useful information about the object highlighted. It's an excellent way of incorporating detective mode directly into the experience without making it an entirely separate entity by mapping it to a button press, and is arguably a better method of integration than that found it the home console games.
We only got time with the PlayStation Vita version of Blackgate during our gamescom experience, but of course we took the opportunity to make enquiries on the differences between our demo and that on offer on the 3DS. Essentially, we were told, the game is the same on each platform with only minor control mapping changes as a result of the hardware. The 3DS's second screen will also be dedicated to a map, which was only available at a button press on the Vita.
Due to hardware differences, the Vita version features a slightly higher resolution than that its 3DS counterpart. Of course, the 3DS makes up for this with its 3D effects, so it's a tradeoff that has to be considered for those with access to both platforms.
The lack of an open world and the transition to a 2D play environment means that Blackgate cannot be accurately compared to the rest of the Arkham series in terms of overall experience. However, it is set to be an extremely accomplished side-scrolling adventure that successfully captures the feel of being the Batman, and so is likely to be a welcome addition to the gaming collection of those who are seeking to expand on their experience with the franchise.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is being developed by Armature Studio and will be released on PlayStation Vita and 3DS on October 25th 2013.