When it comes to movie tie-in games, the Dark Knight has a pretty great track record. Discounting Acclaim’s work on Batman Forever and Batman and Robin (though admittedly I have yet to get my hands on the pricey Batman Forever the arcade game) both Batman: The Video Game from Sunsoft and Batman Returns from Konami are really solid, fun to play games. Batman Begins marked the first and last Batman game from EA, but you can’t say they didn’t give the license its due. Batman Beings is a hidden gem of a game for fans of Batman and stealth action games.
Movie games tend to do one of two things, they either let you “go beyond the movie!” or “play the movie at home!” with Batman Begins falling squarely into the latter territory. The game is a complete retelling of the film, intelligently using clips from the genre-defining film to communicate the rise of Batman from his training in the mountains with the League of Shadows through to the final confrontation with Ra’s al Ghul on the train containing the microwave emitter. Helping the authenticity of the project is about 98% of the films cast, the only standout being Gary Oldman as Jim Gordan who’s voiced by a sound alike, who are doing anything but phoning in their lines. Playing the game unlocks several behind the scenes videos about the making of the title and you can tell that a lot of the actors, especially Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy, had a lot of fun with the roles.
Sounding like their counterparts is one thing, but the developers at Eurocom did a tremendous job in all of the character models featured in this game, putting early software on the not-yet-released-at-the-time Xbox 360 to shame. The only one that stands out is the cowl-less Christian Bale, whose hair is a little weird, but everyone else looks uncannily similar to their real-life counterparts. Eurocom also did excellent work on the environments in Begins, mimicking the decayed, run down, and over run with criminals Gotham City showcased in the film.
Previous Batman movie games were simple beat-em-up affairs, but Begins is a stealth action game that plays very close to the Splinter Cell series (down to having an optic cable to check un-open doors), and surprisingly it works well with the franchise and the theme of fear in the film. You do engage in brawls, but rushing in fists and feet a blazing will get you killed. Success is found by stalking the shadows and “minding your surroundings” to scare your enemies into vulnerability. One example might be loosening some construction equipment to knock the footing out from under some unsuspecting thugs, or disarming them by turning on some gas stoves and igniting them with the spark from a well placed batarang throw.
Whatever you do, it’s incredibly satisfying to perform all the steps in a well executed plan, the controller rumbling in step to the heartbeat of a terrified opponent who has no idea what he’s faced with. As this is an origin story for Batman, something that would be touched on again in Batman: Arkham Origins last year, it’s neat to hear the dialogue of the bad guys as you stalk around or above them as they talk about the new urban legend that is “The Batman.” One amusing example is a henchman who’s afraid of Batman consuming his soul, with the title character remarking that’s a new one for him.
The issue that you’ll come to notice fairly early on with the gameplay is that each of these instances are scripted, they’re WELL scripted, but scripted nonetheless. This means that you can’t really get creative with each of the situations and are more or less fumbling about looking for that one interactive item that collapses the Jenga tower, or that one pipe to climb on and that one vent to sneak into that will get you around the vision cone pointing in your general direction on the Metal Gear Solid-eqsue radar.
The same can be unfortunately said of Batman’s arsenal of gadgets. Throughout the adventure you’ll have staples like the batarang and grappling hook, but they can only be used when you’re told it’s okay to use them. You also collect items from military crates like smoke and flash grenades, and a high frequency transmitter that summons a swarm of bats, but they’re reserved for the fights when your attacker is scared enough to be affected by them.
The best thing that can be said about the fighting in Batman Begins is that it’s serviceable. Batman can punch, kick, block and dodge roll as well as use a context sensitive action when an enemy is blocking or about to die. It feels a little like Batman: Vengeance, though Batman can fight enemies from all sides as opposed to one-on-one. The hits feel a little week, and a lot of time your waiting for the prompt to come up so you can defense break a perpetually blocking opponent. It doesn’t break the game as a whole, but if it allowed you to sneak by or take down all the enemies without being seen, I’d go that route. Begins is a bit anemic on boss encounters, it doesn’t pad the experience with additional Batman enemies like other movie games such as the Spider-Man series do, just the Scarecrow and Ra’s al Ghul, but they play out like just another fight. That being said though, given that the Nolan Batman series is a more grounded take on Batman, I could imagine rolling my eyes in the back of my head fighting the Scarecrow in a robot for example.
Something that’s criminally underused in this game is the Batmobile, as it’s easily the best playing version of the vehicle in any Batman game even now. It has an excellent balance between speed, weight and power, and more or less plays like Burnout 3, complete with slow motion take downs when you ram an enemy into the side of a building or tunnel. You only get to play with it for two missions which is a shame, however upon completion you can replay the missions over in time and score attack modes in the bonus menu. Needless to say if the people responsible for this made a game called Gotham City Racer, I would’ve picked it up day one.
Batman Begins is a terrific game with exceptional production value and the emphasis on stealth is a great fit for the character, as well as a progenitor of things to come with the “Arkham” franchise. The scripted nature of the levels do take away a sense of freedom and make the player feel like they’re having their handheld through the experience, but the scenarios crafted by Eurocom are good enough that you won’t mind. Fans of the Nolan film universe, Batman, and especially the Batmobile should check this out on either the GameCube, the PS2 or Xbox, you won’t be sorry.