Brighter days for a Dark Knight.
Take your right hand and ball it into a fist. Good! Now how many fingers are you holding up? You say none? Absolutely correct! That's about how many Batman games there have been that haven't resembled a mother bird's regurgitated worm food.
Thankfully, Ubi Soft has recently bought the Dark Knight license and has brought him relatively close to his true glory. He might have made it even closer if the game wasn't hampered by a terrible control scheme and extremely limited gameplay. Oh well, Batman Vengeance is still the best attempt to personify the Caped Crusaders and all his gadgetry.
The Joker has cooked up a devious delicacy of deception. As always, his hope is to see the death of a certain Gotham City bat. Many of the major Bat-villains have their hand in this new tale. You'll recognize Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and the aforementioned wild card himself. The story isn't very inspired, but is very reminiscent of the animated series after which the game is modeled. The game plays a lot like an episode of Batman - complete with Batgirl conducting surveillance via the Bat-cave.
As I'm sure you've guessed, you take on the role of Batman, moody, brooding crime-fighter extraordinare. Many of his more popular gadgets are at your disposal, including bat-a-rangs, bat-nets, bat-scopes, bat-grapples, flash grenades and more.
Unfortunately, using any of the weapons require you to be in the first-person perspective. This is very problematic. Trying to throw a bat-net or a bat-a-rang is much more difficult than I would expect and it isn't a lot of fun in first-person. This leaves little room for any impressive visuals or cinematic quality. It sucks life from the illusory feeling of being in the animated series and throws you into some pseudo-Turok or Golden Eye type experience minus the fun. Big mistake! No one wants to play Batman in first-person.
Further, the bat-a-rang is distinctively missing the -rang part. Don't expect to ever see that flat bat-shaped piece of plastic (or whatever it is) return to you once it's left your hand, hence the need to collect more bat-a-rangs that are carelessly littered throughout Gotham. It's not consistent and it doesn't look good.
Speaking of which…
The games aesthetic value is its strongest leg. Most of it looks just like the animated series. The cartoon textures are great - characters move with nice animations and the fighting is fun to watch. Gotham City overall is a little bland and some areas seem like they could use a visit from the folks at Changing Rooms, since there's just too much empty space.
The fighting is pretty simple. Punches, kicks and combos incorporating both round out the Dark Knight's repertoire of hand-to-hand punishment. You can even find new, fancier moves to dish out on menacing grunts. But be wary - a few of the enemies are pretty damn formidable which makes for some of the more interesting fight sequences. Of course, you're Batman, and if the old school fist-to-cuffs don't cut it you can always go back to those poorly implemented gadgets.
Thankfully, the enemy AI does not suffer from the same lameness. They're not brilliant, but the baddies are smart enough to keep you busy.
My biggest gripe about Batman Vengeance is the sluggish control, and subsequently, the camera angles. Moving Batman around, trying to point him in the right direction, and all the incessant platformer elements make me want to throttle any unsuspecting citizen who bears even the slight resemblance to a Ubi Soft developer. What the hell were these guys thinking? Do they know who Batman is? If any superhero requires precision and grace in his movements, it's Batman.
When jumping or falling off tall buildings, you can pull Batman's cape taut and use it as a type of parachute to safely glide to a lower location. This is great, but lining him up properly for the landing is really frustrating due to the finicky camera. These instances become more frequent the further you get in the game and wind up making you not want to play. The control is really the straw that broke the Bat's back.
Still, you get a good dose of Batman being Batman with gadgets, pseudo martial arts moves, a few brief stints with the Batmobile and the Batplane and plenty of gorgeous CGI cutscenes to keep with the animated feel. Even the voice actors are consistent with the animated series (Mark Hamill as the Joker & Kevin Conroy as Batman).
The game has some good stuff going for it, but I really wish they would have made the extra effort. How about a working, dynamic, bustling Gotham City where I could drive my Batmobile from the elusive Bat-cave around Gotham stopping crime as I see fit? Or maybe I just want to take in the night air and decide to leap from rooftop to rooftop routing out crime wherever I find it. When I heard about the Bat-grapple, I instantly thought of Tenchu, where you could do a bit of high-flying reconnaissance before you commit to a mission. None of that here. The only time you can use the Bat-grapple is when you get an onscreen signal to look for a huge, out of place Bat-insignia perched on the corner of some overhead location. Oh, I guess I'm supposed use my Bat-grapple here. Sheesh!
We're talking about a 50-year-old icon...you'd think they'd know how to personify his greatness by now. To be fair, Ubi Soft has done better than most with Batman Vengeance, and if you like the animated series, this is your game. Hardcore comic book fans will want to wait for something more substantial.