Saturday, March 22, 2008

review of batman begins

It seems like every other game I review has a movie tie-in. It's the new fad, creating another facet for viewers to get involved in. It is now common to see voice acting deals tied in with movie contracts to get the movie stars affiliated with the games. Batman Begins is such a game, featuring the same storyline as the movie as well as the voice talents of Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone) and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox). W hile the game is flashy and keeps the dark, gritty feel of the film, it's ultimately another shallow video game based off a movie.

The basis of the game is to use fear against the enemy, similar to Bruce's training under Ra's Al Ghul in the movie. Since he is only one man, he must use the environment to his advantage to subdue dozens of enemies at once. The video game accomplishes this with a targeting system that lets the player see what can be manipulated in the immediate area, for example a weak support that will send a few drums crashing down with a well-placed Batarang. While Batman is skilled in disposing enemies in hand-to-hand combat, it will only take a few bullets to deplete him of all of his health. A handy radar will distinguish what thugs have guns from those that don't, allowing Batman to sneak up on the firearm-carrying men first. In situations where Batman can't use stealth, the player must find a way to scare his targets. Once he finds the right object to destroy, a cinematic will play showing the ensuing carnage - luckily, each cinematic also shows the thugs dropping their weapons in fear. An "Area Fear" gauge will then appear - the higher it is, the more damage the Caped Crusader will do. This will also increase the chance some enemies will just surrender and curl up in the fetal position.

While the concept of using fear against enemies is creative, it becomes a repetitive chore throughout the game. The player will move from room to room and once he sees a group of enemies, he will look for the closest object that can scare them. Assuming he is successful, he can proceed to beat up on the hapless criminals using punches, kicks, and situation-dependant moves, such as a spinning kick that can take out multiple enemies or a powerful punch that can break through a low-life's blocking attempt. That isn't to say that getting to these rooms is easy at all. Rather, some levels have Batman using grapple points to swing from building to building, or balancing himself on a beam a few stories off the ground - on a side note, falling from these heights isn't instant death. Batman just reappears back on the beam with lower health.

In addition to the on-foot portions of the game, there are two Batmobile levels included, just as there were two Batmobile sequences in the movie. It obviously uses the Burnout 3 engine, also produced by Electronic Arts. The dead giveaways are the stylistic "Takedown" shots when the Batmobile sends a car careening into a wall. Other than that, they are just straightforward vehicle levels - destroy as many cars as possible before the end of the track, perhaps take down a "boss car" at the end.

Okay, so the gameplay isn't that great. However, the graphics and sound are the exact opposite. The game features the best superhero model in a videogame along with faithful backdrops. Arkham Asylum looks exactly like it did in the film, as do the docks where Batman finally confronts Carmine Falcone. The voice acting is superb - none of it is phoned-in, and it all has the emotion and attention it deserves from the actors. The game uses the same score from the film as well and adds some background music that changes depending on the situation - fast-paced for combat, slow and brooding when Batman is slinking in the shadows.

Unfortunately, that's where the good points end. The game won't last past a week, and while it offers some interviews with the actors as well as some scenes taken directly from the movie, there isn't much to do once one completes the game, other than play it again on a more difficult level. Hopefully for their next title, Electronic Arts will take a look at Spiderman 2 the game and create a more freeform adventure for Gotham's hero as well as add a two-player mode including Robin. Batman Begins the game is a start but it's just not the best superhero game out there. It is, however, the next-best Batman video game out there other than the original title on the NES.

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