Friday, 16 March 2007

Batman Begins PS2 video-game review ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

Batman Begins video-game logo

★★★★★ ★★☆☆☆
Atmospheric and fun movie tie-in video game. While the extreme linearity tends to be criticised by contemporary critics, it ensures that you always know what you are doing and you will not be getting stuck in this game. This gives Batman Begins a fluid, consistently enjoyable and atmospheric gaming experience. When the bad guys ask "Who are you?" you'll be saying back to the screen: "I'm Batman."
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◦ Christian Bale: Batman / Bruce Wayne
◦ Michael Caine: Alfred Pennyworth
◦ Morgan Freeman: Lucius Fox
• Writer: J.T. Petty
• Consultant: Denny O'Neil

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Impressively, almost the entire cast is present in the game in voice and likeness. Most of the likenesses are good with Christian Bale and Cillian Murphy really well done. Only Gary Oldman is missing even though his character is used. Additionally, the music and environmental sound effects are highly useful.

The graphics are very nice. Batman himself looks brilliant and the immediate environments are convincing and atmospheric. The lighting effects are frequently eye-catching. The fire and smoke effects are superb. The background environments are superb with animation even occuring in the background with car lights and monorails and more. The driving sections are also nicely done. The second one took me over eight minutes to drive through first time around and you go through Gotham, some tunnels, the dock area and finally some countryside and convincingly delivers a feeling of travelling somewhere at high speed. The graphics help the game feel very much part of the same Gotham City as the movie. On the minus side, I was playing the PS2 version which had some slowdown when the picture-in-picture technique was being used.

The big gameplay element trumpeted by the developers is that of fear: terrorising your opponents before you even arrive. The game uses it to disarm stronger opponents before you tackle them as Batman almost certainly gets killed if he takes on one or more baddies with guns. The only minor drawback is that the designers do not give you any choice in the matter. Nearly every battle takes place in a pre-determined trigger-the-fear-event then bash-the-baddies cycle. However, as I said before with regard to the game's extreme linearity, this does educate you so that if you see a baddie with a gun, you look for the fear-event or stealth-takedown. And these fear-events are pretty cool anyway. This is more a mechanic I would like to see be taken further in another game.

Generally, the gameplay falls into two areas: travelling and fighting. The travelling mechanics are largely brilliant. Batman is fast, nimble and able to use certain parts of the environment smoothly and to great effect. For instance, you can jump, double-jump and do this proper-cool glide with your Batsuit. You can also grapple to various areas, traverse narrow ledges and sneak through small areas. The control for this is simple and becomes second nature almost instantly. You also travel twice in your Batmobile and these are very very easy and break up the game nicely. You just blast through the streets for about six or seven minutes turbo boosting around and driving through any opposing vehicles. Oddly, no matter how many vehicles you trash the game takes significant pains to tell you that there were no casualties.

The other main gameplay element is fighting and in this the control makes Batman sort-of stick to his opponents so that you rarely end up hitting the air. You can move freely around the environment but it is always in relation to the nearest opponent. It sounds awkward but it's not. You then have five buttons you can use during fighting. Square is punch, Triangle kick, R2 defend, L1 is a context-sensitive and inventory-dependent gadget attack (like a smoke grenade or bat-attracting HT transponder) and Circle is a context-sensitive special attack which allows you to finish off opponents or attack them when have been knocked to the ground and other things. This is a simple (even though I've made it sound like you need three hands to control it) but generally fun fighting system and they are fast and furious. If you are low on health you will get frustrated with some of the fights against three manic inmates of Arkham Asylum but, largely, the pros outweight the cons.

Naturally, there are some little things that could be improved. Mostly little things, and none of them add up to a major gameplay problem. This is a game that plays smoothly from beginning to end.

Batman walks funny, it's a power walk (you know, like President Bush with his arms squared out and legs bowed) but, nonetheless, a funny I've-wet-myself walk. However, that's nothing compared to how he climbs ladders. Bizarrely, he climbs ladders like Spider-Man. Hmm. It's a bit of a shame as the game features largely terrific animation and the Bat himself looks fab. Until he climbs a ladder.

Another little gameplay tweak I would have prefered is the stealth mechanic. By pressing the left thumbstick in (L3) Batman enters a stealth mode where he moves quietly. It would have been more intuitive and more tense to make Batman make less noise the slower he walks. The speed Batman walks is controlled by the analogue thumbstick already and so integrating the stealth mechanic into the standard movement control would not have been difficult. The other use of the stealth mode (L3) is to crouch to go under certain objects. Batman crouches automatically when going through pipes and air-conditioning ducts, etc., and goes into a ledge mode to squeeze through narrow spaces or along narrow ledges so it could have been implemented that he automatically crouches for the one or two other objects he needs to sneak under.

Another gameplay irrittant comes during the fight sequences which are largely straightforward and cool but on some of the Batman vs. three opponents battles that occur during the Arkham Asylum stages. Sometimes it is impossible to extricate yourself from the fight and the three just pummel, kick and stab you to death without you being able to press a key to successfully block, jump out, run away or hit back. While this is annoying it forces you to be rather more careful than in most of the other fights. However, the real annoyance comes when you have to sit through the level reload screen and then run through all the unskippable dialogue before you can attempt the battle again.

Back to the good.

Gameplay rewards come in the form of unlockable bonuses and are entirely agreeable. The short interviews are as they should be: short. Though they are 4:3 they also play in the correct aspect ratio even if you are on a widescreen setup (providing you told the game you want it running in widescreen). This is a nice, often overlooked, detail.

You can unlock vintage batsuits, alternative Batmobiles and bonus Batmobile levels.

There is a Gallery of Fear containing characters you've intimidated and their back-story.

The game supports 16:9 and surround sound. The game has all dialogue subtitled and everything you need to know is presented on-screen via a context-sensitive radar and large crosses on anything you can interact with, along with full vibration support, so this is fine for deaf people also.

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