Of all the comic book superheroes, perhaps no one holds a candle to merchandise quite like Batman. Since his debut on the printed page in the 30s, the Caped Crusader has done his fair promotional share, covering everything from television shows and movies to lunch boxes and action figures. But for every Batman or Batman Returns, there’s a Batman and Robin waiting in the wings to ruin the vigilante’s image. Recently, the latest incarnation of the Dark Knight graced the silver screen; will his latest adventure be a successful one, or will it crash into the shadows? Check your utility belt, because we’re entering the Batcave of Batman Begins.
Like most movie game tie-ins, Batman Begins loosely follows the plot of the film itself, remodeling footage of the movie into the various cutscenes of the title. Essentially, without spoiling the story for anyone who hasn’t seen it, players take up the cape and cowl of Bruce Wayne, billionaire playboy who fights crime on the streets of Gotham. As a response to his parent’s brutal murder, Wayne travels to the other side of the world to escape his privileged life. Joining up with a stealthy organization known as the League of Shadows, Wayne conditions his body to near perfection before returning to his manor to wreak havoc on the criminal underworld as Batman.
As the Caped One, you have a number of moves up your sleeves to get the upper hand on thugs. Batman is incredibly agile – for instance, he can scale walls, hang from pipes and glide with his cape. This maneuverability can transfer over to combat, where he can counter or dodge incoming attacks, unleash combos or trigger special strikes against opponents, such as breaking through an enemy’s defense. You don’t have to rely solely on your fists and feet to accomplish your goals; Batman also enters the fray with plenty of gadgets, including a grappling hook, a hacking tool and a trusty set of batarangs to break objects with.
However, perhaps the most important weapon in Batman’s arsenal is fear. Every criminal on the streets has heard rumors about the vigilante, such as him being a demon or a supernatural thing stalking the streets for prey. As you go through each level, you’ll come across enemies that are either discussing their job or spreading your legend around to pass the time. By scaring them out of their wits (like blowing up propane tanks or dropping scaffolding near them), you increase your reputation amongst the criminal element and gain the upper hand in a fight. Truly scared opponents will even drop their weapons and cower in fear from you, making them easy to incapacitate.
While the concept of scaring or intimidating opponents is a creative game concept, it’s poorly executed – one of a host of problems that restricts Batman Begins from being an exceptional title. See, instead of providing you with a number of different ways to frighten enemies, the game is extremely linear, pointing out exactly what you need to do and how to instill terror. “Look, they’re standing next to a shaky pile of heavy crates! I wonder what would happen if I knocked that over?” While this approach would be fine for a tutorial mission, it definitely shouldn’t have been extended through the entire game. The mechanic eventually breaks down into a situation of culling the weakest opponents from the herd by stealth attacks and scare tactics, or dropping into a hand to hand battle that you’re more than capable of winning (unless your opponent is packing heat, at which point you immediately die). Oh, and building up your reputation? It doesn’t carry over, so you don’t necessarily have to worry about it at all, even though successfully knocking two or three guys out is enough to max out your rep meter for a stage.
Fights are very basic, resulting in the same punch and kick combos to wipe out just about every single enemy around. Since your essentially fighting the same basic crook regardless of the level, you’re not really going to find a large challenge, even when they pull out knives or other weapons to try to even the odds. Even throwing the various incapacitation items, like smoke bombs or flash grenades, seem superfluous in a fight, and it is really easy to move through stages without even using a single item. I’m not sure what the point is of having these “weapons” if you don’t need them. Apart from that, you’ll find a few driving missions that are blatantly stolen from Burnout 3, down to the running vehicles off the road. While I appreciate the attempt to include the newly redesigned Batmobile, simplistic theft from a fellow EA franchise is just sad. What’s more, the game can be completed in about 10 hours or so, and once you’ve done that, you’ve unlocked every single secret the game has to offer. That’s right, every costume, video clip and extra packed in (and there aren’t a lot of them) are now open to you, removing what little replayability the game could offer.
The visuals of Batman Begins are extremely well produced. Character models (with the exception of the relatively generic enemies) are large and decently animated, and the included facial likenesses of Christian Bale, Liam Neeson and Morgan Freeman, among others are nicely done. The environments of each level truly stand out, bringing the gaming representation of Gotham to life with a gothic, ominous intensity. This is also supported with the various film cutscenes that are scattered throughout the game, although the rapid jumps from the spliced footage can potentially be somewhat disorienting. Similarly, the game does suffer from mild slowdown at times, primarily with a large number of enemies on the screen. Sound is similarly well done, with great voice work from Bale and Michael Caine as Alfred, Bruce Wayne’s stalwart butler. Supported by a solid musical score and plenty of well done explosions and requisite sound effects, Batman Begins reverberates through your speakers just like the movie does in the theaters.
As far as movie tie-ins, Batman Begins isn’t the worst game that’s ever been produced, but it’s definitely one that would appeal to the diehard fan only. With extremely linear gameplay, a relatively flawed fear mechanic and basic combat system, Batman really isn’t breaking a sweat in this title. Neither will gamers looking for a challenging adventure game.