A night like many others.
Most superheroes have a special talent. Take Aquaman, for example. His ability to breathe underwater makes him a hit at yacht socials. Or the Hulk, whose rage-fueled strength probably helps out his low-post game. Superman is almost an exception to the rule, having not just one special power, but all of them. Of course, having all that power makes Superman a dick.
On the other end of the spectrum is Batman, whose lack of any special powers besides his daddy’s trust fund makes him the most human of the altruistic circus freaks. The keys to Batman’s success are ingenuity, cunning, and deception, the same features that characterize the most recent movie franchise videogame, Batman Begins. While inventive in its combination of other games and cunning in its stylish look, it can also feel deceptive, like you’ve been duped into buying a watered-down version of better, more super games.
The plot is lifted directly from the movie. A young Bruce Wayne adopts the flying rodent persona to battle crime in Gotham. Meanwhile, the bad guys attempt to dose the entire city with “weapons-grade hallucinogens,” hoping to turn it into a very evil Woodstock. Between levels, movie clips awkwardly situate the narrative, serving to remind you how good Katie Holmes looks in real life and how Tom Cruise must be stopped.
But first things first. Batman Begins is mostly spent in third-person, creeping around and kicking ass. When Batman first enters an area, he usually cannot take down the gun-toting enemies. By triggering some scripted environmental action like blowing up gas canisters or bringing down some scaffolding, Batman can scare the guards into dropping their guns. Once their guns are safely discarded, Batman can swoop in and perform some pretty neat martial arts. It’s a little weird that scaring people makes them drop their guns as opposed to firing them indiscriminately, but hey, this is fiction after all.
In its stealth and action sequences, Batman Begins significantly dumbs down its most notable influences. Although there is a Metal Gear Solid-style radar, you never need to memorize any thug’s pacing routine. And although you have a Splinter Cell-style “optic cable” for seeing under doors, it rarely does much besides trigger scripted sequences.
Speaking of which, the entire game suffers from being overly scripted and linear. Most puzzles only have a single solution, and although the environments are large, the game ushers you through a prescribed route. Many times you cannot backtrack at all as doors lock behind you to urge you onward. Guess they didn’t teach lock-picking at ninja school.
Still, linearity isn’t entirely bad. You can’t explore Gotham, but at least you don’t get stuck trying to figure out where to go next. Then again, there’s a big difference between a game that subtly ushers you along and one that tells you exactly where to go and what to do.
Batman can seemingly scan a giant warehouse as soon as he walks in, knowing which vent doors are weak and which convenient hooks will serve as grapple points. This takes a lot of guesswork out of the game, making it idiotically easy.
The fighting is pretty easy as well. Batman is equipped with a punch, a kick, and a catch-all defend button. Button-mashing will get you through almost all but the toughest bad guys. Again, it’s fodder for developmentally-challenged gamers, but at least it looks pretty cool thanks to some nifty, context-sensitive animations.
And while Batman Begin‘s controls are far from deep, they can still be satisfying. When you grapple up the side of a building, unhook yourself and then swoop menacingly down onto opponents, you can see the draw of vigilante justice. Controlling Batman just feels good, especially when connecting a haymaker punch to an unfortunate jaw.
It’s too bad that this sense of visceral power doesn’t apply to Batman’s stealth moves. If Batman hangs from a beam over a bad guy, he can zip down a cable, grab the guy, and dispatch him quietly. This looks appropriately brutal, except that it’s basically a scripted movie. Stealth kills and other special moves are similar, the camera panning around Batman as he pulls off the complicated move you triggered with a single button press. If we just wanted to watch Batman kick ass, we’d go see the movie.
In an unabashedly obvious repackaging job, the game includes Batmobile sequences that use the Burnout 3 engine. While that game’s sense of speed and reckless crash sequences were awesome, the Batmobile scenes are a poor imitation. Gone are the blurring effects in the environment, the spectacular crashes and the turbo accumulation. There are no drift effects and it is unsurprisingly easy to “take down” enemy cars. At least the driving levels are short. Next time, Batman should take the bat-municipal bus and save some bat-money.
And since what’s good for the bat is good for the gamer, you should definitely consider renting this game before you buy. If you have fingers, you should finish in under seven hours. None of the fights, puzzles or driving present much of a challenge.
While Batman Begins doesn’t look picture-perfect (the environments are a little generic), the background of Gotham is sufficiently dark and the characters are all sufficiently human-looking. The game looks nearly identical on all three console systems, though it’s perhaps a tad smoother in its Xbox manifestation.
Thankfully, the game retains all of the major actors from the movie to voice the script. This isn’t just lip-service, either – the game has loads of dialogue. In almost every area, a small picture-in-picture shows in-game movies of the bad guys goofing off and spreading rumors about Batman. This is a sweet touch, allowing the writers to add bits of narrative and character to sequences that would otherwise be pretty boring. The writing is decent, filled with touches of the dry humor that kept the movie itself from getting overly serious. Unlockables include interviews with the cast about making the game; it’s pretty funny to hear Michael Caine talk about how he hasn’t been able to get e-mail on his TV.
Still, this is little more than a weekend rental. Although its blend of stealth and action is clever, it’s also derivative and boring. Like Batman’s own troubled psyche, Batman Begins doesn’t know if there is anybody real under its slick-looking mask.