Batman Begins (Xbox) review
"The question of the day is this: how did a company such as Electronic Arts succeed where so many others have failed? Indeed, if anything their involvement should have been a warning sign, a clear indicator that Batman Begins was destined to be little more than an above average piece of soulless entertainment. And yet as succinctly as I may have just summarized the entire game, it still feels right."
Batman Begins does not suck arse... how's that for a shock? I mean really, though Electronic Arts had promised to do the license justice, who among us honestly thought it possible? And come to think of it, hadn't we heard such things before? Kemco tried to recreate the comic books with Batman: Dark Tomorrow, instead they delivered what is arguably the worst Xbox game in existence. Then along came UBI Soft who screwed up not one, but two Batman titles in row... surely EA weren't going to fare much better. Thankfully however, the odds have finally worked in the Dark Knight's favor, and while Batman Begins certainly suffers from the usual levels of EA-itis, something tells me their involvement may have actually been a good thing. I know, I'm feeling it too...
What are you?!??
The question of the day is this: how did a company such as Electronic Arts succeed where so many others have failed? Indeed, if anything their involvement should have been a warning sign, a clear indicator that Batman Begins was destined to be little more than an above average piece of soulless entertainment. And yet as succinctly as I may have just summarized the entire game, it still feels right. Of particular note then is the way Electronic Arts have stayed true to the spirit of the Dark Knight, instilling in their game small wedges of authenticity that other developers have seemingly overlooked. Take for example Batman's mortality, a few stray bullets being all that's needed to end his crusade and hand Gotham City over to the Scarecrow. He's as vulnerable as the next guy, and if it weren't for his advanced fighting abilities and knowledge of the human psyche, he probably wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes.
So it's with such things in mind that Batman Begins feels like a stealth action game, albeit a heavily simplified one where hand-to-hand combat is the order of the day, and fear is simply a means to an end. The controls are tight, so no worries there, meanwhile the one-on-five fight action is surprisingly enjoyable. Lighting quick attacks are reeled off in turn, eventually making way for spectacular finishing moves that can only be described as ouch! Then with the last thug cowering in the corner, players are given a chance to interrogate their opponent with a series of meaty punches to the gut...
BATMAN: "Tell me what I want to know!"
TERRIFIED THUG: "I swear to God, I don't know anything..."
BATMAN: "Wrong answer! SWEAR IT TO ME!!!"
Yeah, it's a moment alright. In fact, Batman Begins feels so much like the original source material that it can't help but please fans, regardless of how repetitive the fight action eventually becomes. To be sure, it's the same combo attacks, the same half dozen finishing moves, the same gloved fist around the throat. And though there's undoubtedly a whole lot of cool to be had, one can't help but wonder what could have been...
Unfortunately as luck would have it, similar sentiments can be leveled at the stealth action where players will find an overly linear means of progress, and invariably only one right way to spook their opponents. A Metal Gear Solid-style radar sits in one corner of the screen, displaying the position of any nearby thugs as well as the direction they're currently facing. Green is your standard knife wielding goon while red is a gun totting nasty, and the only way you're going to make them drop their weapons is with a really good fright. Enter the Batarang then, Batman's most under-utilized weapon. By walking into a pre-defined hot spot, an icon appears in the top portion of the screen indicating the presence of an interactive, background element. Be it a window, some scaffolding, or a parked car, a single press of the button will throw the Batarang at its intended target, ultimately setting off a chain reaction that'll spook anyone nearby and thusly cause them to drop their weapons.
Not the most logical of things for a bad guy to do, but there you have it.
Still, the effect is often spectacular, and it's always nice to see things blow up! Likewise, the in-game graphics never fail to disappoint, a high level of detail being all it takes to please the more superficial among us. Trash blows in the wind, a low cloud cover hangs menacingly over the water, and steam vents from grates in the floors. But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, and maybe what you really want to know is how such polish drives players onwards, even when the initially impressive gameplay begins to crack. You'll dig the way each of the main characters have been rendered with near, photo realistic detail, you'll probably also appreciate how the game breaks from the movie, giving players a fresh interpretation of its many classic moments. And that my friends, is always appreciated.
The love doesn't stop there either as Electronic Arts have seemingly gone that extra mile, tapping the masters at Criterion Studios to bring the Batmobile to life with their outstanding, Burnout 3 engine. Simplistic yet fun, these stages serve as an effective break from the straight forward sneak'em up action and provide ample opportunity for a little, "takedown"-style mayhem on the streets of Gotham... complete with dramatic, slow-motion crashes. Missiles fly, nitro burns, all the while you're caught up in the moment, throwing the Batmobile at any number of enemy vehicles. Then a helicopter comes swooping in from above, it's spotlight blazing across the street in search of you, the source of all this carnage. Is it cinematic? Yes. How about exhilarating? Most definitely. Have I since replayed such stages exclusively? You'd better believe it!
At any rate, having dealt with the ups and downs of the game itself, players can always look forward to the exclusive dialogue recorded especially for their adventures. Of special note is the way Alfred and the Bat exchange witticisms, with Arkham Asylum being a particular high point from which to judge...
BATMAN: "Alfred, do you have any idea how I should proceed?"
ALFRED: "Other than donning a pair of tights and dressing up as a bat Sir? Sorry, I don't have the slightest"
OK, so it's another moment. But it's also one that'll bring a smile to your face, especially so once you've spotted the armed guards patrolling the courtyard in front of you. Oh yeah, this is going to be no problems at all! Flash-bangs, smoke bombs, and an assortment of other miscellaneous devices are sure to come in handy, though why Batman has to retrieve such things from generic looking crates could be anyone's guess.
The thing is though, Batman Begins feels like it should have been more. Electronic Arts have played so many cards right with this release, but at the end of the day, they've left themselves exposed and vulnerable to a series of blatant shortcuts. Variety in combat would have been nice, a less linear approach to each stage however would have been bloody amazing. Alas, such things were not meant to be, and judged on its final merits, Batman Begins feels exactly as one would expect: purely above average. Luckily enough though, above average is where EA live, and it's this single fact that has guaranteed us a Batman game of unparalleled quality. The fans will yum it up, and so long as someone, somewhere has been paying attention, hopefully our next visit to Gotham City will be a real winner. So thank you EA, thank you a million times over. And just this once at least, I'm glad it was you...
* Dark, brooding, sneak'em up action
* The controls perform flawlessly
* Hand-to-hand combat is always exciting
* Interactive background elements are fun to utilize
* The Batmobile sections are simply spectacular
* Christian Bale, Liam Neeson and Michael Caine have all recorded exclusive dialogue
* A handful of unlockable extras give Bat-fans something to do having finished the game
* Batman Begins has successfully captured the air of the Dark Knight
* Batman Begins is linear to a fault
* The Batarang is severely under-utilized
* Cinemas are unskippable and badly edited
* Does this mean I have to thank EA?
Staff review by Michael Scott (June 19, 2005)
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