I really liked the Arkham Batman games – they are probably some of my most enjoyed games from the last generation. So I was enthusiastic about playing the new Batman game for PSVita and 3DS.
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate is a metroidvania, and it’s impressive how it keeps many of the features from the full-fat series, including all of the gadgets and the combat system. However it has many annoying usability issues which made finishing the game a chore. Here are the worst of them:
In the original Metroid, the player moved in two dimensions (left/right, up/down). This was easy to display in a 2D space, and hence the typical Metroid map is a side-on 2D map. However in Batman, the player moves in 3 dimensions, using the depth of the screen as well as doing left/right, up/down.
The map in Batman is not suitable for this task. It is a 2D top down view, attempting to portray a 3D space. The consequence of this is that the map doesn’t show height, and I found it incredibly difficult to traverse the level using the map – I knew where I wanted to end up, but not how to get there, because many dead ends, caused by being at the wrong height, were invisible on the map.
This issue was made more annoying by the maps implementation. There is no mini-map, which means that the player has to actively open the map screen. However there was an inconsistent delay with opening the map, which became incredibly frustrating. The delay of up to 5 seconds seemed to appear at random times – I could have just closed the map, and on an immediate re-open, it’d spend a long time loading. This inconsistency in the map’s response made it incredibly annoying, and I’d often give up on the map altogether!
One of the features this game has taken from the ‘full’ console games is detective vision. However this game adds an extra step to the process – after turning on detective vision, the player is required to hold their finger over interactive objects (which are not highlighted) before they can interact with them.
As they hold their fingers over the object, an ‘analysing’ progress bar appears, which takes roughly 3 seconds before it’ll reveal what the object is, as in this picture:
When playing, this restriction of having to analyse objects began to seem like an artificial and unnecessary barrier. For example when encountering a ledge to be pulled down with the hook, or a button which needs to be hit with the batarang – even though it’s obvious what needs to be done, these actions will fail if they haven’t been scanned first. The consequence of requiring everything in the game to be scanned is that I felt I was wasting a lot of time as playing, and the game’s length was being artificially padded!
By default, Batman walks in this game. However the player will never want to walk, as it’s incredibly slow. There is also no auto-run option – so the player will be holding X to run throughout the entire game.
This becomes an issue because the X button is also used to activate things in the game, such as pressing buttons or opening doors. Sometimes this can cause long, inescapable, unintentional actions. For example, I found when running past lift buttons, I could accidentally activate the lift (because I was holding X), which would cause batman to wait for the lift, get in the lift, ride it to another level, and then get out – pretty annoying when I was just trying to run past the lift.
Checkpoints for cut-scenes
Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate makes the classic mistake of putting the checkpoints for the boss fights before the cut-scenes – causing the player to have to re-watch the cut-scenes whenever they die (which can be many times, due to the trial and error, instant-kill designs of many of the bosses). Even worse, although the animated cut-scenes are skippable, the in-game ones are not, causing the player to have to re-watch them many times.
A possible design reason behind this is that it allows players to leave the boss fights, and attempt them again later. However I didn’t see that this was ever appropriate when I was playing – none of the bosses required additional abilities the player doesn’t possess by the time they reach the boss. Defeating the bosses is required for progression, so it’s very unlikely that the player will want to leave the battle and come back later.
The game does a great job of making loading (almost) invisible as the player explores an area, and the player will often not see any loading at all. However there is one particular implementation which caused a significant usability issue as I played.
In some areas, loading is hidden by locked doors – when the area is loading the door is locked, and when it’s done loading the door will open. However these doors appear no different to other locked doors, which are unlocked by finding alternate routes.
There was one security door in particular which I approached, and analysed. The analysis said that this was a locked door, and so I backtracked and spent >30 mins trying to find an alternate route to get round the door. Having failed at that, I returned to the door and just happened to spend >10 seconds in front of it, by which time it loaded and opened. Despite having scanned the door, it gave no indication that the door was locked for loading, and as a consequence mislead me to wasting a lot of time.
Overall, Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate impressed me with how it had fit many aspects of the full Arkham series onto a handheld console. However my enjoyment was curtailed by the many usability issues, which could have been uncovered and fixed through user research.