Tucked away in a small corner of Nintendo’s Pokémon gaming lounge were two Black 3DS XLs, each with a Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate demo fired up and ready to play. For a time, I couldn’t decide whether or not the small demo-station wasn’t getting a lot of attention because it stood in the shadow of Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, if people were pleasantly surprised by the Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse demo on the way over, or if PAX goers just plain weren’t interested in the game.
The best way to test the theory was, of course, to try the game out.
The demo featured just about everything you’d expect from a Batman video game: hopping across buildings, fighting thugs, playful banter with flirtatious cat burglars—the works. The animated cutscenes that serve to preface your missions are reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker in that they are hand-drawn, comic-book style intermissions from the primary gameplay. If you’ve seen the teaser trailer for the game, you’ll know what to expect from the demo.
What that same trailer probably failed to deliver, though, was that the game fits into an awkward niche somewhere between on-rails exploration augmented by quick-time events and stealthy, strategic combat. For the most part, you advance through a level by moving right. You’ll occasionally come to places where you need to use the grappling hook to move upward, or glide across buildings, but all in all, Blackgate seems to forgo exploration in favor of reproducing its predecessor’s focus on stealthy combat.
The demo took breaks from scaling buildings and chasing cat burglars by beating a wide assortment of threats, from villainous henchmen to private security teams. Combat functions pretty much the same as it did in previous iterations—you hit X to attack and Y to counterattack or block. You chain these together to create combos. If they have guns, you’ll have to pick them off one by one with silent takedowns (activated by pressing L and A behind an enemy) or just sneak past them all together.
At your disposal is your typical Batman arsenal. Batarangs, grappling hooks, and… oh—my favorite part of the entire demo!—detective mode.
On the bottom screen, there is an icon that lets you enter detective mode. This will turn the entire screen a different color, and allow you to investigate objects by moving a highlighted circle using, well, the Circle Pad. I know it doesn’t sound that exciting, but in execution, it’s really fun, and the stereoscopic effect of the 3DS works wonders here. It reminded me of Metroid Prime’s scanning system, although that’s where the comparisons to Metroid end.
The demo ended in a showdown with Catwoman, who I was apprehending due to her involvement in stealing highly sensitive data from a large corporation. The height of the battle was a series of quick-time event blocks and counter attacks you had to perform in order to pacify her. The only thing the caped crusader seems to be content in hurting is the city budget (ripping every vent off of every duct in every building in Gotham is probably pretty expensive).
The Nintendo 3DS and PlayStation Vita, both of which are getting this game, are an odd home for Batman. It’s entirely possible that there’s much more to Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate than what was shown at PAX, but for now, it feels a lot like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’ll leave to you.