Review by BloodGod65

"A Good Batman Game? Heresy!"

Batman has a long and conflicted history and I'm not just speaking of his psychological demons. Throughout nearly seventy years of existence, the Dark Knight has become a comic book legend and suffered through many cheesy (and sometimes downright awful) movies. However, the video games that have carried his name have had a much more consistent track record. In short, they have been unfailingly bad. With Christopher Nolan's reinterpretation of this classic superhero in his movie Batman Begins, the timeless character finally received a movie that lived up to his intriguing and dark persona. It would seem that with this new reinvigoration of the franchise, Batman video games may be turning a corner as well. Batman Begins is, without a doubt, the best Batman game made thus far.

As with most other successful movie licenses, Batman Begins doesn't just ape the plot of the movie.
While this is usually a good sign, Batman Begins doesn't quite get it right. At times the narrative can feel more than a little awkward because the actual events aren't well described or are out of order, resulting in a jumbled mess. All of the levels are centered on some plot detail of the movie, be it Bruce Wayne's training in the Himalayan monastery or sneaking into Arkham asylum, but it's not always clear just what Batman is up to. Each level begins and ends with a heavily spliced cutscene of film clips, but these don't really help the narrative. In fact, they really only serve to further disjoint it.

While the narrative doesn't really come together without watching the movie, it's still easy to enjoy the gameplay. Unlike any Batman game before it, Batman Begins captures the essence of the hero and his capabilities. As fans undoubtedly know, Batman is just a regular guy. He may have lots of fancy gadgets but a bullet will kill him just as sure as any other man. It is with this piece of information that the rest of the game falls into line. Batman rarely just walks up to his enemies and picks a fight – he scares the crap out of them first, playing their fear to his advantage and then strikes when their own terror has turned them into simpering morons.

Batman Begins taps into this aspect by introducing the fear mechanic. Batman is almost always outnumbered, and in some cases outgunned as well, so it's important for him to use his intelligence and agility to get the jump on enemies. In any given level, Batman can interact with certain environmental objects for a fear-inducing effect, such as sending a pile of crates crashing to the floor. By doing this, enemies will lose their cool and become easier to defeat in hand to hand combat. Despite being a nice idea, as well as being true to the source material, the whole thing doesn't come off as well as it should. There's rarely any thought required in using fear to your advantage as all the interaction spots are marked quite clearly. Then there's the fact that there aren't as many moments or types of these interactions as I would have expected. On top of that, the game rarely gives any choice as to how to approach a situation. It's a pretty cut and dry affair of looking for interaction points, hitting them, then taking out enemies.

Combat itself is a little basic, but rarely problematic. Most of the time fighting just consists of pressing the same button, although later in the game it becomes necessary to think strategically and defend against stronger enemies. Batman does have a few gadgets at his disposal such as smoke grenades, flash-bangs and a sonic emitter, all of which serve to confuse and scare enemies. As stated previously, fear plays a big part in how tough enemies are, and this manifests itself as how many hits it takes to defeat an enemy. In some cases it is possible to so fully terrify an enemy that he breaks down completely, allowing Batman to finish him off with one strike.

As you might imagine, Batman Begins does contain a large dose of platforming. I won't deny that these could have been better, but in all fairness they could have been much worse. Overall, they fall right in the average category. Most of the time, platforming will involve Batman climbing chains and jumping from place to place typically in order to reach something that will allow him to scare enemies. Inevitably, all this does present an element of verticality into the game. Of course, that rarely poses much of a problem for Batman due to his cape that allows him to glide across treacherous gaps like they were nothing. Naturally the glide mechanic becomes a staple in the platforming.

Anyone who has seen the movie will know that the game wouldn't be complete without some Batmobile levels. Once again, these could have been better but they aren't too much trouble to deal with (especially since there are only two). These vehicle segments don't so much resemble the old Burnout titles as they completely rip them off. Players are in control of the massive tank-like Batmobile and made to take out the endless waves of enemy vehicles while careening through the streets of Gotham City. Hitting enemy cars will make them lose control and crash into the walls, complete with the requisite Burnout slow motion crash sequence. The Batmobile also has nitrous at its disposal and in certain segments can utilize its onboard weaponry.

Like the rest of the game, the graphics of Batman Begins are a surprise (in a good way). Environments look great and have lots of detail and great texture work. Fans of the movie will certainly appreciate the attention paid to the levels as areas like Arkham Asylum are represented in all their urban-gothic glory. Character models are a little less impressive, though still pretty good. One particular complaint I have is that Batman's animations don't look right, though this might be because the game has him doing stuff that doesn't seem quite right for this new, more mature Batman. Things such as spinning roundhouse kicks and acrobatic flips over the tops of fences just don't seem right.

Keeping in line with the wholly surprising nature of the game, the audio department is truly outstanding. There is plenty of original voice work by the movie cast, with Michael Cain, Liam Neeson and Christian Bale being present. There are a few missing people and their absence is apparent, but they don't really figure into the game that much so it's a minor problem. Music is simple overall, but that meshes well with the games atmosphere.

In the end, Batman Begins isn't just a good Batman game (finally!), but it's also a pretty good game by any measure. While there are a few missteps such as the incoherent way the story is presented, and a couple of missed opportunities (the under-development of the fear mechanic), the game has more good moments than bad ones. The fact that this game presents Batman in a more credible and not thoroughly ridiculous manner means that fans of the movie and character alike should check this one out.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 03/03/09, Updated 07/06/10

Game Release: Batman Begins (US, 06/14/05)

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