Set three months after Origins—the prequel Rocksteady are more than prepared to exclude from the saga—Blackgate follows a night which sees the Dark Knight’s most ominous foes rise up and seize control of Blackgate Penitentiary, with The Joker, Penguin and Black Mask each holing up in a ward of the prison.
The world’s greatest detective is quick on the case, as we see an expansion of his origin tale, including the first time he happens upon the seductive Selina Kyle, better known as the cunning thief Catwoman. We’re also able to see a young, hardboiled Jim Gordon as he and Bruce continue to forge a relationship that’ll define their lives, as they throw their bodies upon the gears of Gotham’s crime rings.
It’s a serviceable addition to the Arkham saga, though narrative has long been a strongpoint for the franchise.
Being a handheld port, I didn’t expect this game to look the part when scaled up for the big screen but it holds up surprisingly well. Blackgate, like most other games in the series, has a tonal darkness that beautifully suits the consistent, gritty presentation of Batman—which has been commonplace pretty much since Nolan’s film adaptation, Batman Begins, almost a decade ago. It’s almost hard these days to imagine the campy, 60s iteration of Bats ever returning. Any chance of that died a grim death at the hands of Joel Schumacher.
Blackgate Penitentiary serves its role as a battleground for Batman to overcome his great adversaries, though like most prisons it’s a bit drab and yearning for colour—which makes The Joker’s deranged scrawls littering the walls all the more striking as they burst luminously from the open canvases that are Blackgate’s walls. The setting does undergo a change once you make your way through the prison’s administration offices so it remains not only foreboding, but fresh also. The game’s cut scenes aren’t presented in the traditional Arkham fashion.
Due to the initial restrictions of being a handheld game, the major narrative plot points roll by almost as a storyboard with almost static images being complemented by the odd flourish and a stellar cast of voice actors. Considering our hero’s roots lie in the comic books, this is a logical choice in style that I’d say pays off handsomely.
Heavy hitters Roger Craig Smith and Troy Baker—who’s in pretty much anything and everything these days—reprise their roles as our favourite dysfunctional duo, Bruce Wayne and his number one nemesis, The Joker. Their rich vein of form from Origins continues as they turn in great performances, particularly Baker who is on his way to creating a Joker that he can own. Granted, he’ll never be Mark Hamill but if the torch is to be passed, he’s making an excellent case for himself.
Blackgate plays like a “Metroidvania” game, with map exploration and using upgrades to reach hard to reach places playing a huge role, making it much more like Asylum than City. That said, despite being a 2.5D title, the franchise’s focal point—being its combat—remains more or less intact. Of course, with threats only converging from the left and right, a lot of the challenge has been sapped out of it, though the fundamentals are still in place with timing being key. Counters remain the name of the game, as a well timed counter will put the attacking thug squarely on the deck.
Similar to other Arkham games, Bats gradually stockpiles an arsenal of handy gadgets that open up new avenues of exploration within the prison. That weakened wall you couldn’t penetrate at the start of play will succumb to your explosive gel, which comes later on as you progress. It’s definitely rewarding to explore and discover all of the hidden collectibles in Blackgate, though the map isn’t without its flaws.
There was a point early on in Blackgate, after I’d chosen to first pursue The Joker, where I became seemingly stuck thanks to my lack of an upgraded encryptor. The poor in-game map made finding an escape an impossibility that eventually led to my reboot, it’s an inelegant design that made Blackgate a terror to navigate.