Review: Batman Begins (XB)

Review: Batman Begins (XB)
Developer: Eurocom Entertainment Software
Distributor: EA Games
Genre: Action
Release Date: 6/14/05

When it comes to video games, Batman certainly isn’t a stranger. He’s made an appearance on every major console since the mid 80’s and is still going strong even though the quality of games have ranged from excellent to piss poor. Now he’s back in the newest installment of the franchise, Batman Begins. How does it compare to the previous offerings? Well, it’s not at the top of the stack, but it’s certainly not at the bottom either.

Obviously Batman Begins is based off of the movie of the same name which is currently making its rounds in the theaters… and if you haven’t gone to see it yet, I highly suggest that you do. Especially if you plan on buying or renting this game, as the storyline is pretty much identical and will spoil the movie for you if you haven’t all ready seen it. For that matter, just reading this review may offer up a few spoilers, but I’ll try to keep those to a minimum. To be on the safe side though, feel free to go see the movie and then come back.

Don’t worry. I’ll wait.

Back now? Enjoy the film? Good, I knew you would. Now let’s get down to the review…


1. STORY

As I mentioned all ready, the story is pretty much identical to what you see on the big screen. Although in this case, the game starts off with Batman interrupting the Scarecrow and his gang of thugs in the process of burning down a building to get rid of any evidence of the Scarecrow’s new fear powder. Technically this event occurs about halfway through the central storyline, so once you finish the first level, you will go back in time and cover the events leading up to it and beyond.

For all intents and purposes, the story really starts here on the second level. As Bruce Wayne, you are the newest trainee in the League of Shadows, and will have to complete a number of tasks before you can be made a full member. However, your final test involves taking the life of a thief and a murder, which is a level you are unwilling to stoop to. After fighting your way out of the League’s monastery (burning the place down in the process) you return to Gotham City where you take on the mantle of the Dark Knight.

From this point on you fight the crime that infests the city streets while attempting to uncover the plot behind a new mysterious white powder, how it ties in with the Scarecrow, and what involvement the League of Shadows has in the Gotham underworld. It’s your stereotypical “evil madman wants to destroy the city and can only be stopped by the hero” plot, but it’s told well and unfolds slowly as you continue through the game.

But since you’ve all ready gone out and seen the film, you knew that.

Story Rating: 5/10


2. GRAPHICS

Visually, Batman Begins is stunning. Every character looks almost identical to their counterpart in the film and moves in an incredibly lifelike fashion. Of course you run into the standard “every goon looks like the next one”, but even these are realistic and have enough differences between them to keep things interesting. Close ups of the characters show how much detail the graphics team went into to match the actors, and it really is impressive.

This game also has one of the best physics engines I have seen when it comes to the look of Batman’s cape. Whether you are running, climbing a ladder, crouching in a corner, hanging from a pipe, or jumping from building to building, your cape always acts like a real cape would. Even standing in one spot and turning in a circle causes it to move. Every now and then it will become a little bunched up and look strange, or cause some slight clipping, but these instances are pretty few and far between, and rarely happen while you are actively on the move.

Adding to the graphical excellence are all the interactive objects and background textures. Every item looks like its real life counterpart, whether it be a brick wall or a hanging chain. The buildings and streets of Gotham City really do come alive, and help to immerse you into the world of Batman. Only occasionally did I spot any clipping issues or pixilated textures, and these were mostly in the large outdoor areas and at a distance, and really only noticeable if you stopped long enough to look for them.

Lighting and particle effects are all top notch as well, although sometimes the shadow effects are a little off. Occasionally you’ll be standing right in front of a light, only to have your shadow cast behind it. It’s a minor thing, although one that you will likely take notice of. Everything else looks wonderful though, with steam, fog, water, and smoke adding a great ambiance and realism to the game.

This is definitely one of the best looking games on this generation of consoles, and there are only a few faults to find. Perhaps the best part is that I never once experienced any slowdown on the X-Box.

Graphics Rating: 9/10


3. SOUND

Once again, the game pulls out all the stops, this time in the sound department.

For starters, every major actor from the feature film has recorded dialogue exclusively for the game, adding a real air of credibility and excellence to the voice acting. Seeing as how the actors had all ready been playing their parts on set before recording for the game, they are spot on with their characters.

Sound effects are equally impressive, with everything from the whiz of a batarang to the roar of the Batmobile’s engines coming across crystal clear and lifelike. The games wonderful sound is a perfect compliment to its graphics. Unfortunately it won’t push your speakers to their limits most of the time, except on the Batmobile stages, but then there is a lot more emphasis on stealth in this game.

The musical score is also a perfect compliment to the game, although there are a few pieces of music that will play over and over again. As you progress through the stages, the music will die down during the more stealthy areas and pick back up again when the action is going strong. There is also an overall theme to the score, which you can hear in its entirety on the main menu, and this adds a lot to the cinematic quality.

Sound Rating: 8/10


4. CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY

This is a classic case where the control is tight, but the gameplay itself is lacking. And considering how impressive the graphics and sound are, it really is a pity that a bit more time wasn’t taken with this area.

Controlling Batman is incredibly simple. Move with the left analog stick, use the buttons to kick, punch, jump, interact with an object, or use an item, and pull the right trigger to block. You can also use the right analog stick to move the camera around, and pulling the left trigger will center the camera in the direction you are facing.

Interacting with objects is also very easy. As you move around, a little icon representing your control pad will pop up when there are nearby items you can use and hitting left or right on the pad will scroll through them. Additionally, while you have an interactive object targeted, a display will show you what actions you can perform on that object. For instance, targeting a door will allow you to either open it or use an optic cable to see the other side, while targeting a grapple point will allow you to fire your grappling hook and be pulled up to it.

Oh, and if you were curious about the tagline above? Throughout the game you’ll come across crates marked “Military Supplies”, in which you will find smoke grenades, stun grenades, and other tools of the trade. Why Batman doesn’t come equipped with these from the start, I’ll never know, but I guess he’s got to get his supplies from somewhere.

Unfortunately, this is where the gameplay starts to become too simplistic. You can only interact with some objects, and even then, you can only perform certain actions on them. Not every section of crates can be smashed apart. Not every door can be opened. Not every grate on the ceiling can be grappled to. Basically, if you can use an object, the game tells you. And in most cases, you need to use that object to progress. It’s almost like your hand is being held while you play.

Because of this, the game becomes almost too linear. In order to progress, you have to go through that door, or you have to use that section of pipes to cross the water, or you have to throw your batarang at a particular light fixture. It almost completely removes any essence of strategy or free play that the game might otherwise have had. And not being able to use the grappling hook or the batarang except when the game tells you that you should is really annoying. Give me one good reason why I can’t chuck a batarang at that bad guy?

Another glaring issue is with the camera. As with most 3D action games there are certain times when the camera just doesn’t want to behave. For the most part it’s pretty good about staying in place behind your character while still letting you move it around to look wherever you want. But when you get into a fight with four or five thugs, it seems like you can just never keep track of all of them at once. Targeting your opponents can also become an issue here since you might be facing one direction while the camera is facing the other. Fortunately you can always use the left trigger to snap the camera back behind you.

However, even with these issues, there are a number of real bright spots in the gameplay. And amazingly enough one of the best is when you get to jump behind the wheel of the Batmobile.

In most action games it’s always the driving sequences that annoy people the most. Take a look at Enter The Matrix for example. How many of you threw your hands up in disgust at the terrible driving levels? I know I did. But in Batman Begins, the driving is almost better than the main action. For starters, the controls are tight and follow the basic setup as most driving games… you accelerate and brake with the right and left triggers, use a button for weapons and another for nitro boosts, and steer with the left analog. And once you’ve got that down, you’ll be roaring down the road smashing through cars and completing various goals, none of which are incredibly difficult.

Unfortunately the same aspect that plagues the on foot levels plagues the driving levels. It’s too linear. You can only fire your weapons at certain times when the game tells you to, and you can only proceed along a certain path with a wall of giant green arrows or red x’s marking out where you are supposed to go. For that matter, running into one of these areas is the same as hitting a brick wall.

Another great aspect of the game is the focus on stealth and inducing fear in your enemies. Batman isn’t an immortal, and even for all his gadgets and armor, a few stray bullets can still kill him. As such, you will spend a lot of time employing various tricks and gadgets to encourage your opponents to drop their weapons and make them more vulnerable to your gadgets or for hand to hand combat. You will also have plenty of opportunity to sneak up behind (or above) your foes and dispatch them with a single move. It’s a great system that’s reminiscent of Metal Gear Solid, but unfortunately also falls prey to the linear aspect of the game. If you weren’t supposed to sneak up on a fellow, you’ll know it immediately because five guys with guns will come charging out of nowhere to turn you into Swiss cheese.

Last, but not least, are the little mini games inserted into the main gameplay which are a fun little addition. Every now and then you’ll have a chance to hack a camera, pick a lock, or break into a computer using one of your gadgets. Every time you perform one of these actions, you’ll have to complete a short mini game such as lining up a row of green letters or hitting a particular button increasingly quickly. Unfortunately the same game is used over and over again for each type of device, so while it was a nice touch, it could have certainly used a little more variety.

Overall, Batman Begins has a great set of controls, but the gameplay is stifled due to its overly linear nature. If only you were able to play a bit more freely and explore instead of having your hand held throughout every stage.

Control and Gameplay Score: 5/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

When I first started playing Batman Begins I noticed that there were a number of extras to be unlocked… Movie clips, developer interviews, extra Batmobile stages, multiple costumes… It’s things like this that lend greatly to a games replayability.

Unfortunately, I’ve got some bad news for you…

If you beat the game once, you’ll have unlocked everything that the game has to unlock, regardless of what difficulty level you complete. At that point, the only thing that will keep you playing are the few added Batmobile levels and the chance to replay the game using a different costume. And while the driving levels are fun, they aren’t something that you will keep playing over and over again. And while getting the chance to play the game in the blue and gray tights of the comic is a nice novelty, it isn’t anything to keep you coming back for more either.

There is also a Gallery of Fear that you can roam around in, which is basically two rooms in Arkham filled with cells containing adversaries that you have beaten during the course of the game. Again, a nice addition, but only really worth one visit.

Replayability Score: 3/10


6. BALANCE

And the games linearity strikes back…

This is where being held by the hand really hurts the game. The only difference at higher difficulty levels or later stages is how much effort it takes to knock down the bad guys or how many there are. Otherwise, everything else is identical. Additionally, medical kits are few and far between, but unless you have a real problem with the combat controls, this isn’t much of a big deal. And since a good portion of the game is moving around stealthily and interacting with objects, which you are basically told to do, you’ll find that there really isn’t much in the way of a challenge.

On the other hand, this helps to make the game easily accessible to a younger audience, and is actually a decent introduction to the stealth/action genre for those who have never tried it before. But those of you looking for something to test you mettle will need to look elsewhere.

Balance Score: 3/10


7. ORIGINALITY

There is certainly nothing new about a Batman game, and there is certainly nothing new about the stealth/action genre. But merging the two is something that up until now hasn’t been done. And it really does work perfectly. After all, this is the Dark Knight we’re talking about, and he does spend most of his time in the shadows.

However, the combat, driving, and stealth have all been done before in other games. Fortunately Batman Begins manages to take the best aspects of these genres and blend them together successfully. Using fear as a weapon is also a really nice touch, and one that I don’t recall having been used before.

Now if only it wasn’t so damn linear and restrictive on what you could do and when you could do it.

Originality Score: 4/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

Batman Begins really is a lot of fun to play. Even for all its handholding and linear nature, you’ll easily find plenty to enjoy here.

Using the environment against your opponents and causing them to become scared is incredibly enjoyable, as is sneaking up on your opponents, hiding in the shadows, gliding through the air with your cape, and using your grappling hook to quickly access high up areas.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this game is the feeling that you are really playing through a movie, and not in the way that you are watching most of the proceedings. The graphics and voiceovers are so well done that you can’t help but get absorbed into the action, and the few cut scenes or snippets of film are short but effectively move the story along and quickly let you get back to sneaking around and beating up bad guys.

And getting to drive the Batmobile around, even if it’s on a specific path, is a real blast.

If anything is going to turn you off from this game, it’s once again going to be its linear nature. But if you don’t mind being led around, you’ll easily get hooked and stick around for the games ending. Especially if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

In which case, why are you still here? I thought I told you to go see it!

Addictiveness: 7/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Batman is a household name, and any time there is a game released with Batman in the title, you can be sure that it is going to catch the interest of a pretty large number of people. Add to that all the hype surrounding the newest film, and I’m guessing plenty of you will want to give the game a try.

Historically speaking, Batman has also been a pretty family friendly series. And this continues to hold true. While this is an action game, and there is a good bit of violence, there is no killing, no fountains of blood, and no foul language. This is definitely one of the more tame games I have seen carrying the “T for Teen” rating around. I suppose it is because of how realistic everything looks.

Appeal Factor Score: 8/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS

The developer interviews, added Batmobile stages, movie clips, extra costumes, and Gallery of Fear are all really nice touches and help to add to the game’s overall value. Unfortunately there is very little replay involved since everything is unlocked on the first pass through. Still, it’s nice to get a good amount of extra material, and the interviews are actually pretty informative and entertaining.

Overall, this is a Batman game that is definitely worth checking out, but its linear gameplay and lack of any real replay value makes it more of a rental than a purchase. Video games based on movies rarely seem to be worth playing, but this is one time when the reverse is true.

Miscellaneous Score: 6/10


THE SCORES:

Story: 5
Graphics: 9
Sound: 8
Gameplay/Control: 5
Replayability: 3
Balance: 3
Originality: 4
Addictiveness: 7
Appeal Factor: 8
Miscellaneous: 6
Overall: 58
Final Score: 6.0 (Fair)