Superman might be the burliest alien around, but when it comes to superheroes who hail from Earth, you won't find 'em much tougher than Batman. The guy just won't die, despite having been maimed, crippled and even killed a few times. I think he kicked ass with a broken back for about 12 issues.
His digital counterpart has been equally hard to destroy, despite the efforts of scores of lousy Batman games. But time and again, the virtual bat-stard keeps popping up with the promise of (at last) a great game to match the great character.
Well, get used to broken promises. The latest one comes from Kemco in the form of Batman: Dark Tomorrow, a pretty serious undertaking with roots solidly planted in the classic comic book figure (as opposed to the recent Batman: Vengeance, which was based on the contemporary cartoon). But despite what seems like a ton of effort, this stinker is nothing less than a complete bat-astrophe.
Is that any surprise? Aside from the marginally decent Vengeance, no Batman game has done justice to the anti-hero. Just look at this garbage. Or this waste of space. It's almost trendy to make a crappy Batman game, and Dark Tomorrow is no exception.
The plot is actually based on an original story by a real Batman writer and has something to do with a madman trying to take over the world while gangs are fighting all over Gotham City. Plus, something has gone screwy over at Arkham Asylum, where pretty much all of Batman's enemies are cooped up. It's all tied together, but it's not really important because the game has so many other problems that only the most dedicated Bat-phile will play it long enough to soak up the story.
The gameplay in Batman: Dark Tomorrow lies somewhere between action and adventure, but no matter which genre you dump it in, you'll find it almost unplayable thanks to both the worst camera and control in the history of video gaming.
The camera is placed in fixed positions ala Resident Evil, and as you move through the world it will suddenly snap to a new shot. This happens almost randomly, presumably to give the game a cinematic feel, though all it usually does is totally ruin your ability to control Batman.
Here's the deal: you're pushing Up to run 'up' away from the screen, then the camera jolts to a new perspective, perhaps a 3/4 view from the left, at which point you're suddenly moving to the left even though you are clearly holding Up on the stick. You have to stop moving completely so that the game can figure out that Up should mean up, not left, at which point pressing Up now sends you up. Are you with me so far?
So, let's say you then press Left to head to the left (which you were previously doing by pressing Up, remember?) and exit the screen. The camera now spasms its way to yet another angle, perhaps now to a classic third-person behind view. You're pressing Left but you are now moving Up. So once again, you stop moving entirely, let the game recognize the fault, and then it settles down again.
What this all means is that you're constantly going the wrong way and bouncing back and forth between screens. Confused? Just try playing it. Or better yet, don't play it and just take my word for it. It's the most aggravating thing ever.
Wait, I take that back. The most aggravating thing ever is combat in Batman: Dark Tomorrow.
You've got a nice complement of bat gadgets, including Batarangs and smoke bombs to match your fists and kicks. But none of it really matters, because Batman is not allowed to knock anyone out. Instead, he relies on an endless supply of Batcuffs to subdue criminals...over and over and over again. If you don't cuff 'em, they'll just keep getting up to shoot you some more, even if you've smacked them with three Batarangs and 25 kicks and punches. But you won't need to do that, because once they fall down - often after one kick - you just run over to them and press the R trigger to start a brief cutscene of Batman bending down to apply the steel.
It's maddening. Here you are, a trained superhero with all kinds of reasons to be pissed off at bad guys, and you're forced into handcuffing every single enemy you face. Six thugs shooting at you with machine guns? You have to run over to each of them, knock them down and cuff them, one by one. It's not fun at all. In fact, it's downright depressing seeing the world's toughest crime fighter turned into Underdog.
POW! BIFF! KAPOW!
Boss battles are equally depressing. Though a few big names are here like The Joker, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, none of the fights are memorable and usually just amount to horribly clumsy Bataranging and melee fighting.
Even the simple task of steering the Dark Knight is made difficult because he has the turning radius of The Love Boat. Trying to line up a jump is needlessly awkward and often he fails to grab onto ledges correctly.
Getting to the bosses is a chore in itself thanks to the irritating level design. The beginning level attests to this. After a really long intro, you find yourself standing atop a building at night. You then have to use your Batcable to swing to another building, which is only clear thanks to a green glow on your small radar map. So off you go, swinging and landing and oftentimes dying just trying to hop from building to building with no fights. That goes on for about 20 minutes.
And it just gets worse. The whole game is letterboxed, so you never see enough of the screen, and the first-person view afforded by the Batarangs or night vision goggles has a painfully low ceiling. You'll sometimes have a few directions to choose from, but you never really know where you are or what direction you're facing since the control is so terrible. The designers must have known this, since they even included a little white trail in the radar representing where you were just walking. At one point I even got stuck behind a chain link fence because Batman couldn't open up the gate. Foiled again!
The only thing Batman: Dark Tomorrow even gets partial credit for is its depiction of Batman himself, who looks pretty cool. Sadly, the enemies look pretty lame and clipping problems are common, with Batman often floating a few feet above whatever he is theoretically standing on.
Batman: Dark Tomorrow is a study in poorly conceived, aggravating gameplay and marks yet another failed caper for the caped crusader. Even die-hard fans will want to tie the disc to a Batarang and hurl it out the window. Just hope it doesn't come back.