XBOX REVIEW: BATMAN BEGINS

Batman...we hardly knew ye. In videogame form, that is. Tis true that most Batman games have been awful drek, save for Batman on the Genesis and allowing a little leeway for Batman Returns on the SNES. That's a very short list and I bet you're wondering if Batman Begins makes the cut. Yes and No.

Perhaps the best way to approach Batman Begins is as a little movie primer, something you can use inconjunction with the summer blockbuster to wring some extra enjoyment out of everything Dark Knight.

Eurocom's product isn't nearly as ambitious as Treyarch's Spider-Man 2, which although repetitive, allowed the player complete freedom in a virtual New York. Batman Begins relies far more on the usual videogame conventions and doesn't elevate itself from being anything more than an interactive interpretation of the movie. The levels are extremely linear, rarely (if ever) allowing the player a second alternative route and rely simply on getting Batman from point A to point B. The storyline flows almost haphazardly and the cutscenes while from the movie, appear to be there simply because EA secured the rights to use them. I found they neither enhance or detract from the game. They're just there.

The theme running throughout the movie is fear; how to conquer it and use it to your advantage. Eurocom was wise to capitalize on that element in the game, but the execution is less than perfect. Since Batman's presence in the comics and the movies (the movies that didn't suck) often elicits fear in the criminal underground, it's definitely a kick to be able to play on the nerves of thugs within the game. Before Batman can take on a room full of thugs, it's best to startle and rattle them as much as you. This is done usually by pressing a button at a context sensitive area which sets off a chain reaction such as a falling crate or exploding pipe. This will spook the thugs and allow Batman to swoop in for the kill. Terrifying the badguys before you show up will effect their aim - which is a good thing. The negative aspect to this mechanic is that it's far too canned; meaning that you won't be able to use your imagination. You will always be lead by the hand to the context sensitive area and after awhile it just seems forced and extremely linear. One other aspect of the game, which doesn't even make any sense, involves using various weapons on the enemies. Batman will be able to pick up flash grenades, gas canisters etc. but these items can't be used on thugs unless you've already scared them. Huh? That's just absolutely stupid and whoever came up with that idea over at Eurocom needs to be sent back to videogame design school.

But hold on there. The news is going to get a little worse before it gets better. "Where does he get those wonderful toys?" Jack Nicholson's Joker asked rhetorically in the first Batman movie. Yes, Batman has some cool toys, like Batarangs and the Grappling hook which he can use in the game, but Eurocom has neutered these items as well. You'd think that batarangs could be used to take out enemies from afar, or at the very least, knock the guns out of their hands. No. Batarangs can only be used to destroy debris (which you can usually punch and kick out of the way yourself) or to activate ladders and other context sensitive areas. That's like allowing Spider-Man to use his webs for activating buttons but not tieing up enemies or webswinging. Needless to say, I'm not extremely impressed with the designers lack of vision in this area either. Seriously Eurocom, if it's the same guy, get his ass on bus to Digipen, the videogame college. Actually just save your cash and send him to my house and I'll tune him in. The grappling hook doesn't fare much better as you can only use it in certain context sensitive areas and you'll be told exactly where that is courtesy of your onscreen display.

Since this Batman is more along the lines of "World's Whitest Ninja" rather than "World's Greatest Detective" you'll be using your braun and not your brain for the entire game. Hand to hand combat is functional but it will never feel second nature, mostly the cause of a camera that likes to just do whatever it wants when you're fighting. Batman can punch, kick, block and pull off context sensitive combos, none of which means anything if you don't remove the thug(s) with the gun(s) out of the mix first. Locating the enemies with fireams is a little hit and miss as they'll show up as red icons on your radar. Sometimes you'll have to position Bats just right so that you'll be able to target them; unfrotunately you might call attention to yourself in the process. Generally the scenario goes something like this: Enter a room with enemies. Look for the area that Bats can target with a Batarang to set off an event which will spook them. Target the one with the gun. Toss a smoke bomb or other offensive weapon (the coolest being the High Frequency Responder aka Bat Swarm), jump down and open a can of Bat-Whoop-Ass on him first. Then deal with the rest.

Some people have been comparing this take on Batman to Splinter Cell simply due to the stealth elements. While I can appreciate the comparison and it's certainly not without merit, don't mistake Batman for Max Fisher with a cape. The stealth aspects of BB involve walking quietly so that people won't hear you. You can't hide in shadows. In fact, for a Dark Knight, Batman spends a lot of time running around in lit areas which I have to admit, seems a little odd. Had Bats been able to knock out lights during his adventure, that certainly could have ramped up the fear factor for thugs and hey, if you were Batman, that's exactly what you'd be doing. Considering the good folks at Ubi Soft Montreal created that little videogame perk for Sam a few years back, it's absolutely inexcusable that Eurocom wouldn't have offered it. Sure people would have said "It's a total rip off of Splinter Cell" but you know what? Ripping off a game that kicks ass and succeeds would have been a good idea.

Speaking of ripoff, how about those Burnout-lite levels disguised as Batmobile sequences? The Batmobile levels are done well and are by far the best Batmobile levels ever featured in a game. That being said they're far from perfect. Batman has to ram enemy cars off the road which results in a "Take down" while picking up Nitro boosts along the way that float on the road in holographic bubbles....just like in real life. There are two themed Batmobile levels with a few checkpoints each and once you beat them you'll be able to replay them via the Bonus menu. You'll also unlock the prototype Batmobile from the movie. Unfortunately even though you can unlock three different Batsuits you won't be able to drive the classic Batmobiles. That would have been a nice perk.

Certainly the game will go along way with movie fans thanks to the generous amount of voiceover work provided by the acting talent from the bigscreen. Christian Bale's throaty delivery sounds a little too much like a Wolverine wannabe but I'll chalk that up to having no choice. Options are definitely limited when voicing a character that's supposed to be tough and scary. Michael Caine (Alfred) is a kick to hear, simply because he's Michael Caine and he's in a videogame and he''s one of my favorites actors. Of course, I completely understand that he's no Ashton Kutcher but he manages just fine. What a world we live in today huh? We have actors who can't act, musicians who can't play, artists who can't draw, singers who can't sing...hopefully this doesn't trickle down to doctors who can't operate and pilots who can't fly or we're all ****ed.

Last and certainly not least we come to the visuals of the game which are fantastic. All of the character models in the game resemble their onscreen counterparts to a proverbial tee. Katie Holmes character Rachel actually looks prettier in the game than she does in real life. I'd dare say she's one of the most attractive videogame characters I've ever seen. None of the characters in the game suffer from that hollow "Silent Hill" look we've come to tolerate in this generation and Eurocom really came through in terms of overall presentation.

I find it vexxing (love that word) when I play a game and I can't stop thinking about all of the things that are missing, rather than what is present. As a game journalist we are trained to focus on what is in front of us. You can't fault a Nascar game because it doesn't have machine guns on the vehicles for blowing away the competition, right? However, Batman Begins is rife with missed opportunities and it's a much lesser game because of it. Fans will enjoy the game especially due to the lower price point, but the game isn't all that long nor does it allow a level select once the game has been completed (cheat codes have yet to be discovered) so you'll have to play the Story mode over again to get to that favorite level. Extras such as classic Batman costumes, interviews and other goodies are decent but certainly don't provide any extra play value. Batman Begins is definitely a step in the right direction and it's one of the better Batman games released, but when you look at the past track record, that's more of a backhanded compliment. A 3 day rental would certainly satiate those looking for a temporary Bat-Fix as you should be able to plow through the game within 6-8 hours depending on your skill level and the difficulty mode you select, which resulted in the game losing a half point.

Preview by StewXX

Hands On E3: What will strike fear in the hearts of gamers? Batman Begins, the videogame! In case you think I got that all wrong, just hear me out. I spent a good twenty minutes with EA and Eurocom's Batman Begins and I am giving it to you straight. It's a tough, tough game.

While the mechanics are not stealth based exactly, you'll have to create shock and awe as Batman before you take on even a room with a small handful of enemies. If you think you can just waltz in and start eradicating enemies, you'll die and die often. Fear is your biggest weapon and after playing the game I can tell you that is 100% correct. If you don't succeed in raising the BPM of the criminals hearts before you attack, they will kick your ass all over the place. After the kindly developer on hand explained how to do this, I fared much better. Please note that I was dropped into a level that I was told exists deep within the game, without any prior gameplay experiernce. I imagine once you get to this level after having the game in your possession, you won't be as "deer in the headlights" as I was.

What I played of the game I very much enjoyed, but I unfortunately didn't get any hands on time with the Tumbler levels (AKA Batmobile). I did watch someone else play them and I have to say, it's a good thing EA already owns the rights to the Burnout franchise or there would definitely be some lawsuits. In fact, I was told that Criterion actually had a hand in developing the vehicle chase levels in Batman Begins.

As it stands, Batman looks very good from a visual standpoint. The fighting game engine is decent, but more moves would have been preferred. I'm thinking if there are the same stock beatdown animations going on, that it could get a tad repetitive.

The short time I spent with the game whet my appetite for more and luckily we'll only have to wait less than a month to see a final version.

Previous Preview by Vaughn: Ask any Batman fan and he'll tell you what it takes to make a great Batman game. Unfortunately though, these fans never seem to get anywhere near the development teams responsible for creating games based on their favorite characters.That could be the very reason that 99.9% of all Batman games appear to have been created in the depths of Arkham Asylum.

That intro begs the question - Will Eurocom and EA be able to break the evil spell and deliver a Batman game that will finally do the caped crusador and Dark Knight of evil, justice? Who the hell knows? I'm not even going to pretend that this game will be decent. Once bitten, Twice Shy....you know the drill.

It does appear to have potential and that's as positive a compliment as you're going to get from me until I have the final product in my hands. The game is based on the upcoming movie which is going to great lengths to distance itself from the once great series which became bogged down by ridiculous over the top villains and poor choices for the role of absolutely everyone, save Alfred. The only way to erase images of Batman's nipples, Robin and Batgirl is to start at the beginning, before Gotham City went to hell in a bathandbasket.

Batman Begins gives us a fleshed out origin of Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale - American Psycho) and how he trains to become the world's greatest detective and crimefighter. Batman the product has always strived to be a dark foreboding character and his comic debut in the late 30's kept Bob Kane's tone and ran with it. It wasn't until the 60's and the high camp nonsense of Adam West's Batman began to change the character from Dark Knight to clown. Toss in regular appearances in the early 70's on Super Friends and you've got a watered down superhero who shouldn't appear during the day, but frequently does. Frank Miller's The Dark Knight graphic novel returned Bats to his dark beginnings and the late 80's movies starring Michael Keaton paid homage to the series in tone and setting, thanks to the incredible vision of Tim Burton.

The game Eurocom is developing is attempting to make Batman the epicenter of fear in the game, rather than the other way around. Generally in gaming, the hero / player is the one afraid of what is lurking around the corner, even though they have the power to stop whatever it is that is waiting to confront them. In Batman Begins, Batman is the number one source of fear and it will be that mechanic which will make fighting much more to your advantage. Get the drop on a scared thug, who has only heard rumors of this gigantic winged creature and he won't be able to shoot properly and certainly won't have the guts to attack you head on. As I said this definitely has potential.

We haven't seen any screens of the completely revamped Batmobile, but we trust that it will make an appearance in the game. Currently we are also unsure of whether the game will take a "sandbox" approach (go anywhere, do anything) that the previous Spider-Man 2 game put to good use and that the Hulk 2 game will incorporate as well.

As soon as we have more info, screens and movies you'll be the first to know.

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System: Xbox, PS2, GC, GBA
Dev: Eurocom
Pub: EA
Release: June 2005
Players: 1
Review By Vaughn
RATING (OUT OF 5)
OVERALL
3.0
GRAPHICS
5.0
CONTROL
4.0
MUSIC/FX
5.0
VALUE
2.5