The origins of Batman have fascinated comic book fans and moviegoers alike for decades and for good reason: Bruce Wayne's metamorphosis from misguided billionaire to menacing crime fighter makes for an interesting and ultimately entertaining story. In 1989, director Tim Burton teamed with actors Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson and hooked audiences with a blockbuster re-imagining of the tale complete with a stylized look and some engaging action. But as compelling as the movie was, it skipped a major portion of Bruce Wayne's eventful life and as a result failed to paint the full picture of Batman's humble beginning. Three sequels, the latter two so bubble-gum shallow and disturbingly flamboyant that they made even the Adam West-helmed television show seem tame by comparison, didn't add to the lure of the comic- turn-movie series. And so Warner Bros did the only thing it really could and shelved the Batman franchise altogether, giving audiences ample time to forget the Joel Schumacher-directed disasters that left a nasty taste in the collective mouth of unsuspecting moviegoers.
The Dark Knight might still be stowed away and collecting dust today if it weren't for the tremendous success of other comic-to-movie licenses such as Spider-Man, which set box office records and proved to Hollywood that superheroes could once again draw sizeable crowds to theaters. Warner Bros. undoubtedly saw dollar signs and decided that the Caped Crusader was primed and ready for a long overdue return to the big screen. The studio contracted director Chris Nolan (Momento) and the result is Batman Begins, a realistic re-telling of the origins story. Incidentally, it's also the best Batman movie ever created and quite possibly the greatest superhero flick, period.
Videogame publisher Electronic Arts, always ready to capitalize on a good thing, contracted development house Eurocom to create videogame versions of Batman Begins based on the movie of the same name. And like the movie, Batman Begins for GameCube follows Bruce Wayne from orphaned child to angry man and eventually to changed and determined crime fighter. The game successfully captures the style and mood of the gritty movie and complements the look with a fun, if shallow adventure. Eurocom's take on the Batman universe borrows and mixes gameplay genres. There's a little bit of Splinter Cell and a little bit of Burnout -- and both offerings work. Unfortunately though, Begins falls short of the titles that inspired it due in large to a general lack of gameplay flexibility and difficulty.
- Based on the movie Batman Begins
- Features film clips and other unlockables from the movie
- Play as Bruce Wayne and Batman
- A wide variety of levels ripped directly from the movie, including the Himalayas and Gotham City
- Third-person action and stealth gameplay mechanics inspired by games such as Splinter Cell
- Batmobile-based racing stages inspired by the Burnout franchise
- Use Batman's gadgets, including the Batarang, grapple hook, smoke grenade, flash bang and Electro Hack
- Use fear to scare enemies
- Runs in progressive scan and 16x9 widescreen mode
- Supports Dolby Pro Logic II
- Requires memory blocks for saves
Batman Begins is a highly stylized, atmospheric movie and Eurocom has successfully translated the look and presentation to the game, a truth that's wholly evident from the opening menu. The title screen is actually an animated version of the official movie poster, with bats circling spookily around the Dark Knight as he stands menacingly in the foreground. It looks great, of course, but it's only -- excuse the pun -- the beginning. Publisher Electronic Arts contracted the actors from the movie, including Christian Bale and Michael Caine, to lend their likenesses and voices to the game, too, so the acting is not only top notch, but also consistent. In addition, Batman Begins boasts unlockable clips from the blockbuster that move the story along. The videos are slightly compressed on GameCube, which is only mildly disappointing, but nevertheless a valued extra. We think that Batman fans and purists will generally be pleased with the length both EA and Eurocom have gone to ensure that the title is closely tied to the feature film.
The game doesn't stray far from the movie, but oftentimes adds to it. As Bruce Wayne, players travel to the Himalayas and learn to fight like a ninja. This tutorial mode intuitively familiarizes gamers with the control configuration. Batman Begins was developed by the Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy team and as a result the controls feel largely similar, which in our opinion is a good thing. The Dark Knight is tightly manipulated through environments and can perform a variety of context-sensitive maneuvers. For instance, he can hang from and shimmy across ropes and pipes, dangle from platforms, grapple across chasms, or cause level damage and trigger scripted events with the Batarang. In addition, Batman is required to both use stealth and engage in melee combat to advance. As a result, the game oftentimes feels like a Batman-ized version of Splinter Cell and in truth it's during the more sneaky situations where Begins excels. The game manages to be both atmospheric and engaging as Batman hangs from wires and listens in on the conversations of his enemies, or drops seemingly from nowhere and takes out a bad guy.
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On the other hand, Begins usually feels like Batman For Dummies -- or, to be more precise, a dumbed down version of Splinter Cell, which is disappointing. Unlike Ubisoft's action-stealth series, known for its flexibility, Batman's options are always limited and his progression extremely linear. Context-sensitive icons appear perpetually throughout levels to let Batman know exactly when and where he can use one of his few items to trigger an event. The superhero is unable to use any of his gadgets unless an icon is being displayed. So, players can't randomly hurl a Batarang into a warehouse. Rather, an icon on a window will illustrate where the Batarang goes, and when the Dark Knight approaches, he can finally throw his weapon. The game continually holds the hands of players in this way and as a result the action is never overly challenging or the puzzles difficult. By aspiring to be like Splinter Cell, the developer has begged the comparison and -- shown side by side -- Batman just doesn't stack up. That's not to suggest that it isn't fun or enjoyable, because it is, while it lasts. But it's also comparatively shallow, a truth that announces itself when the game draws to an anticlimactic end roughly seven to eight hours after it begins.
Gamers who can look past the title's short challenge will still find a highly competent Batman adventure romp. There are even some enjoyable Burnout-style racing levels that successfully break up the mix of third-person stealth and action sequences. Plus, Begins brings a few interesting additions of its own to the stealth-action genre, including a new fear meter in which Batman can do things in the environments to scare his enemies before he attacks them; the benefit to doing this is that they will become so frightened that they drop their weapons, leaving themselves open for attack. It's a welcomed mechanic that adds a layer of strategy to the experience. We'd like to see it explored further in future Batman games.
Just as impressive is Eurocom's execution of the look of the game. It's gorgeous. Batman is modeled with impressive detail and moves fluidly through some truly stunning, stylized environments complete with shimmering light beams and advanced particle effects. Levels like the Gotham Docks are surrounded in beautiful moonbeam backgrounds and another stage takes place on a moving train. Every area in the game features scripted sequences, or animated events that transpire using the game engine, and all of them look great. Plus, it all runs at 60 frames per second, and supports progressive scan, 16x9 widescreen and Dolby Pro Logic II on GameCube. A real visual and aural treat for Batman fans and easily the best looking Dark Knight title ever. On the downside, some of the characters animate oddly in a few cut sequences and the camera can occasionally get in the way during up-close fight sequences.
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