Review by Reokun

"Mix one part Splinter Cell, one part Burnout 3, and wrap it in a Batman cloak, and you have yourselves a pretty decent game."

The original Batman movie, starring Michael Keaton as the man-about-town Bruce Wayne, who, by night dons a cape and cowl as the Dark Knight, was fantastic. The sequel, probably more so, showing off an even more creative world, true to the Tim Burton style that remains ever vigilant in his films. While they were light on the action, the movies were fantastic in the story and execution, bringing this iconic comic hero to the screen in a bold new way that was previously unimagined.

Then Joel Schumacher came along and messed it all up. But let's let bygones be bygones for just a moment, shall we?

Batman Begins, the latest film in the long list of movies starring the Caped Crusader, is a movie directed by Christopher Nolan [Memento], going back to the origin of the Batman. Taking notes from Batman: Year One, the villain this time about is The Scarecrow, a man whose skill is none other than fear: controlling it, inducing it, what have you. Christian Bale [Equilibrium, American Psycho] jumps into the latex suit this time around, and battles various minions of the likes of Carmine Falcone and Jonathan Crane, as well as Scarecrow.

Of course, with any huge summer blockbuster film, a game is sure to follow. However, unlike some games in the past based on movies [like the abhorred Catwoman], this one actually manages to do a few things right for once. Granted, like many other movie-to-game titles, it borrows heavily from other fantastic games in hopes of achieving that same level of fame.

The graphics in the game are indeed fantastic. The likenesses are spot-on, and they all are animated pretty well. In the XBox version, the graphics are very clean and crisp, with very little stutter [there were two instances of slowdown in my runthrough, neither of which made too much sense, but didn't hang up the action any]. The only gripe is that the actual animations for the Batman are a little... monkey-like. When he climbs up a pole or ladder, he looks more like a gorilla than a ninja. The combat's animations are also a little rough, having the same amount of smoothness between moves as in games like Enter The Matrix, which weren't put together all too well. Overall, however, the game looks great.

One aspect of super hero games that very few developers have gotten right is the fact that controlling your super hero is VERY IMPORTANT. Those who've played the Spider-Man games made by Activision know how well it can be done. Unfortunately, Batman is controlled like you would expect any other great hero in a video game. He does have his signature Bat-Grapple, but it doesn't allow him to swing. Instead, he simply grapples onto a pre-selected point, gets shot up, and hangs up in the air, not allowed to lower himself or anything. He has a nice array of combative moves, including a Flamingo stance which, aside from an extra kick or two, doesn't really do much more than look nice. Targetting is automatic, simply by pushing the analog stick in the direction of your enemy and pressing either the Punch or Kick button to begin a combo. Punches are quick and can make long strings of combos, while kicks are good for one or two simple hits, knocking your enemy down. You can block, counter, and dodge your enemy's attacks just by holding down the R trigger, pressing X to counter when your enemy is about to strike. The B button is used as a context sensitive button, changing function as the situation deems fitting. You can pull off a finisher when your enemy's health is down low, or you can hit multiple enemies at a time. It's mostly button mashing, however, as far as the full combat, even with the bosses.

The game takes heavily from Splinter Cell in its huge Stealth aspect, which, unfortunately, isn't handled nearly to the depth of Ubisoft's Tom Clancy title. Walking around causes noise, but pressing the left thumbstick in puts Batman into "Stealth mode," which is just a crouch. He can run as fast as he wants in this mode, and never alert a single enemy, even if he's right behind him. Batman also makes use of an Optic Cable, much like Sam Fisher's, only can be used with a bit more range. When you're hanging in the air from a pole or wire, you can pull enemies up and beat them into submission without any notice from other thugs in the area, which is handy, but too convenient. A large amount of the game is Stealth-based, which would be great and all, if nearly all of the game weren't scripted. There are literally NO random factors encountered in the stealth portions of the game, so if you play it once, you've seen it all, pretty much.

However, one possible saving grace is the Fear system. With the right preparation, an overwhelming battle can be diminished to a minor scuttle by throwing your batarang at, say, an explosive barrel, a loose scaffold, or what have you. This will put enemies in a state of paranoia, dropping their guns and looking everywhere for you so they know which way they shouldn't be running. Unfortunately, since every event practically REQUIRES you to make use of this [Batman can only take a few shots from a gun-wielder before he's dead], it doesn't really become all that exciting, as each encounter is just another batarang thrown, and another few enemies wiped out with the greatest of ease. One cool aspect, though, is that when the fear level is high enough in a given area, your enemies will start to hallucinate, seeing not Batman, but a gross demonization of him. It's a nice effect, but it doesn't save the game.

The driving portions are a poor-man's Burnout, essentially, ripping the engine almost DIRECTLY from EA's newly acquired racing series and putting the Batman cover on it. It's dumbed down, however, to just you and everyone else. You never crash, and your Batmobile can take a serious beating. You can gather nitros from various pick-ups littered throughout the streets. Sometimes, you have a time to complete a certain area of road, but rarely are you needed to use nitro for that. The events are fun, and a good break from the tense situations of the main game, but considering you only get TWO Batmobile sequences, they're short lived and forgotten pretty quickly.

Probably the most unfortunate part about this game is that it's incredibly easy. Since most everything's scripted, there's always just ONE path through an area, and rarely is it not seen immediately. Considering the average run-through for this game is about six or seven hours, and considering you unlock EVERYTHING after one playthrough, there's really not much to go back to once you beat it. Every enemy fights in just the same way. Some have weapons, but they still drop them after a few solid hits to the noggin. The game does have some difficult moments, but just a simple matter of trying again is all it takes to overcome even the most harrowing events in the game.

One place where the game does succeed with little flaw is the sound department. The soundtrack is ripped straight from the movie, tensing as you near an enemy, pulsing as you fight your way through a myriad of enemies, and silently tapping away as you sneak down the hallways. A nice techno-orchestral theme pumps away as you barrel down the streets in the Batmobile, not letting up for an instant. The voice acting is done by all the stars of the movies, delivered surprisingly well, although Christian Bale's voice acting could have used just a bit more "oomph."

The game is pretty good. Very good, considering the amount of abysmal super hero games there are, and great by the standards of other Batman games in the past. However, it IS just another super hero game based on a movie, and, while isn't worth the full price of purchase, it's a great rental, as there's very little tedium, very few cutscenes from the movie [they're all cut up so you don't actually see most of the movie before you go to theaters to see it], and an overall good amount of fun. It doesn't give you much for beating it other than a few unlockables and a small gallery of 16 criminals called the Gallery of Fear. It's a good game, just not worth a full $50, and, unfortunately, that's exactly what was expected.

Also, Joel Schumacher still sucks.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 06/17/05

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