Leave the cat in the bag.
By now we're all well aware of the Curse of the Movie License, the nearly unchallenged theory that games based on films suck. Catwoman, however, is that rare double-whammy of despair, that tragic one-two punch of tastelessness: a bad game based on a bad film.
The game does what it sets out to do, I suppose, by capturing the essence of the movie and giving its four fans something to do when they're not stalking Halle Berry. Just don't expect it to do anything else…such as, for instance, entertain you. From its bad control to its bad design, this is the real reason god kills kittens.
Comic book fans should know first and foremost that the Catwoman portrayed in the film and the game bears no resemblance to the Catwoman you had a crush on as a kid. This isn't Selena Kyle, costumed catburgler and Batman's sexy partner/foil personified by Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt and revived on the big screen by Michelle Pfeiffer.
Instead, Warner Brothers decided to come up with an entirely new one named Patience Philips, a shy worker-bee for giant cosmetics company Hedare Beauty. After accidentally discovering the truth behind some heinous anti-aging cream, you are killed off, only to be revived by an ancient Egyptian tabby and imbued with mystical cat powers. This is all summed up in about one minute of FMV, the brevity being the only good design decision you'll find in Catwoman.
The game mirrors the film by letting you play through, uh, "memorable" scenes, such as the classic "climbing around inside factory" moment and the infamous "punching guys in dark alley" scene. Don't worry about plot inconsistencies, because Catwoman is a harshly linear straight shot from painstaking start to glorious finish. You'll spend most of your time trying to figure out how to get from one end of each level to the other, which mostly involves climbing walls, swinging on poles and pressing buttons to open doors.
More often than not, completing a level is a simple case of slowly making your way from obvious jump to obvious jump. Though Catwoman has some interesting moves at her disposal like the ability to scale walls or use her whip to grab on to seemingly out-of-reach objects, the gameplay is reduced to extensive trial-and-error. You'll get through a series of climbs, jumps and swings, only to accidentally slip off a ledge, fall to the bottom, and do it all over again. It's maddening.
Just in case you get stuck, Catwoman comes equipped with Cat Sense, a first-person vision mode that points out the right path using paw prints or illuminating key objects with which to interact. It effectively dumbs down what is already a dumb game, sort of a built-in hint system that mainly points out what little effort was put into the level design.
Kill me. Please.
Or at least try to, because the enemies in Catwoman sure need some help. So long as you excel at pushing the analog stick towards the bad guys, you'll win every fight. All of your attacks are mapped to the right stick; stand and move the stick to lash out with your almost useless whip, or crouch and move the stick towards the bad guys and our hero will perform some sexy, awkward feline kicks or twist and knock them down. Do this enough times and they'll glow yellow, get scared and run away, or you'll have to toss them into a garbage can or out a window.
Despite the fact that Catwoman is dressed like a dominatrix and constantly shakes her butt in your face, the developers decided to keep the game 'kid-friendly' by ensuring that enemies do not actually die. Ever. Though you can wail on a guy for five full minutes and toss him off a three-story balcony, the game quickly goes to a cut-scene showing him rubbing his head to clear the cobwebs after he lands. THANK HEAVENS HE'S OKAY! We wouldn't want kids to think that if you kick someone in the face sixty times and shove them off a cliff, it could actually hurt. *sigh*
When you're not fighting with enemies, you'll probably be fighting with the game's moronic fixed camera. You'll enter a room and have no idea what's directly in front of you because the camera is going for style points by showing you a useless full frontal shot of Catwoman. You wind up fighting enemies standing just offscreen, jumping to platforms found just offscreen, and avoiding obstacles found just offscreen. What's wrong with the classic behind-the-back perspective? After all, you'll still get to stare at her ass.
Unsurprisingly, this is also Catwoman's best feature. The developers clearly spent most of their time on the title character herself, who is modeled to a tee and slinks around just like a sex-kitten should. The standing animation nails the point home - if you don't move her around for a bit, you'll enjoy a ridiculous in-game cut scene of Catwoman posing and posturing for the camera. Hooray for video game softcore! If only they put this much effort into the bland environments and badly animated enemies.
While the graphics are mixed, the sound is a disaster. Looped tracks presumably scooped from the film make up the soundtrack, broken up only by wimpy sound effects and lifeless non-sequiturs tossed out by a bad Halle Berry impersonator.
Considering the pedigree, was there really any question as to how this hairball was going to turn out? It's the Catwoman game, for crying out loud, and it's precisely as bad as you thought it would be. Unless you have a fetish for crummy games, leave this one in the litterbox where it belongs.