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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Batman Begins (PS2)


By Michael Palisano

With the summer film earning surprisingly good response from critics and fans alike, EA's Batman Begins for the PS2 faces the task of recreating the more exciting sequences while not completely ignoring the movie's somber tone. They have largely succeeded, emphasizing Batman's stealthy characteristics and cool moves, aside from the usual flash. There are a few action sequences, but the game maintains the feel of the film, while still offering players a decent challenge. The excellent visuals and slick production values, with the movie cast lending their voices, makes this feel like an extension of the film. Batman Begins is a surprisingly good title that does the film justice and should please Batman fans with its solid mix of action and stealth adventure.

Based on this summer's blockbuster film, Batman Begins from EA and developers Eurocom is a solidly entertaining title that allows players to relive the origins of DC Comics' legendary Caped Crusader as he overcomes his personal tragedies to become the Dark Knight. Like the film, Batman Begins allows you to experience the training that Bruce Wayne went through early in the movie. The scenes here are elaborately rendered and surprisingly effective at creating an atmosphere. These training missions are relatively short and straightforward. Going through these missions helps you to learn the essential strategies and moves to survive later on in Gotham City. While Batman learns a number of strategies as he trains in an isolated monastery with the League of Shadows. Here, he meets his mentor who will later become his enemy, Ra's al Ghul. After he returns to Gotham, he undergoes a transformation and becomes the legendary Batman. While his human abilities are quite impressive, he also has a number of cool gadgets that increase his stealth and power. The most important of these is his suit, with its famous cape that allows you to glide downward from high altitudes. Batman also has some cool tools including a grapple hook that allows him to quickly move around the levels without attracting unwanted attention. He can also use a special optical camera, which snakes behind doors, allowing him to see what lies on the other side. During the game, you can also throw Batman logo shaped throwing stars at your opponents. They aren't entirely effective in combat, but ate more effective when you want to distract an enemy. You can also use the Batsuit's radar to locate enemies and other objectives which are added during each mission.

Your most important tool is the tactical ability to use the darkness and environments to conceal yourself, and use this to strike fear into your opponents. You can do this in a variety of ways. Batman can climb onto pipes and hang upside and drop in on enemies unexpectedly. This gives you the element of surprise, and catching these enemies off guard allows you to attack them. The combat system is fairly elaborate, with a variety of air-borne and ground based attacks to use. Batman can also enter stealth mode, which allows him to sneak up behind enemies and take them out without alerting nearby enemies. As you defeat enemies, your Reputation grows amongst the underworld with the meter growing as you take down more of them. As you gain Reputation points, your Fear or stealth attacks will become more effective. This is an interesting approach to the game, that is quite effective. It makes you perform at a higher level with each encounter and think ahead. For example, you learn early on that attacking foes with guns first is a much more effective strategy than going in and attacking them head-on. While many of the enemies in the game are relatively easy to take out when you are at close range, those armed with machine guns are fairly difficult adversaries. Their shots do significant damage to Batman, thus conflict with them should be avoided. Batman Begins' mission structure and pacing is excellent, with the action moving along quickly. During each missions, there are moments when you can listen in on their conversations, allowing you to take a breather between battles while you learn more of the back story. While the game's plot follows the events of the film closely, there are several areas which are unique and elaborate on some of the scenes. Overall, the game does an excellent job of recreating the events of the film, allowing you to interact at key points and go on side quests that flesh out the story. The narrative itself unfolds much like the film, with early levels exploring the character's origins, then building up to the final battle with the Scarecrow later on.

While the gameplay is solidly constructed, there are some elements that bear some resemblance to other popular titles. The stealth elements where Batman is climbing on pipes, sneaking behind enemies and interrogating them seems to have been borrowed from Splinter Cell. Another element, lock picking, seems taken almost wholesale from Sam Fischer. There's also a puzzle early on in the League of Shadows monastery could have been a lost level from Price of Persia. While this lack of originality is usually a bad thing, these elements work here. Despite the fact that Batman Begins borrows liberally from other big-name action titles on the marker, the game does so judiciously and believably, making these elements feel like natural extensions of Bruce Wayne's training and abilities so the stealth and puzzle elements don't feel forced. However, the controls and interface are fairly simple to learn and straightforward to use. Batman's movements are smooth throughout and using the various weapons and gadgets is fairly simple. Entering stealth attack mode only requires you to press down on the left analog stick, which makes sneaking around quite easy. Unfortunately, the combat feels a bit stilted and jerky at close range, with an awkward timing system that becomes tough to get used to. However, Batman Begins is a decent enough title that most players should be able to overlook these problems.

While the third person adventure mode is interesting and challenging in its own right, Batman Begins also allows players to take Batmobile for a spin on two levels later in the game. The chase echoes the frenetic sequence in the film, making this an adrenaline pumping break from the more cerebral pace in the rest of the game. While you're on the road, you can add more reputation by taking out police and thug cars, but your numbers will decrease when you knock off a civilian vehicle. To give yourself a speed boost, you can collect Nitrous icons, which give you a quick burst of speed. Controlling the Batmobile is fairly smooth, though the weapons and tools aren't as responsive or intuitive as you'd like during the heat of battle. The biggest problem we had with the driving sequences was the fact that this consists of only two levels later on in the game which is almost too little. However, the Batmobile didn't dominate the film the way it had previously, but we still would have liked to see it more often. However, these sequences serve to make a welcome break from the occasionally slow moving adventure portions.

From an aesthetic standpoint, the game succeeds at recreating the look and feel of the film. The game's expansive environments allow for plenty of exploration, with many hidden areas and secret paths. Character animation is excellent throughout, with Batman's flowing cape and motions impressively rendered. The levels are taken directly from many of the film locations, and each uses extensive light-sourcing and texture mapping to create a realistic looking setting throughout. Batman Begins also features the voices of the principal cast of the film, with Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman reprising their roles for the game. This gives the game an authenticity many other licensed titles lack, adding to the vibe of actually being able to interact with the film. The overall look of the game is dark and moody, with many subterranean levels that reflect Batman's shadowy crusade against the underworld. This fits in nicely with the dark mood of the film, making this a faithful recreation of the movie that effectively brings the player into the Batman universe.

Like the film, this Batman Begins title generally exceeds expectations. It's a solidly produced title that should please those gamers who want to experience the film. The game's stealth elements fit the character perfectly and are seamlessly integrated into the overall structure. This makes them feel more like natural extensions of Batman's personality, and less like the cheap me-too gimmicks they could have been. The missions and objectives are a lot more interesting than you'd expect, since you have to strategize which enemies present the greatest threat before you attack. The puzzles are also fairly interesting, with many paths less linear than you'd expect them to be. Batman Begins' production values are highly polished, giving the game a cinematic feel that effectively recreates the foreboding atmosphere of the film. Overall, this is a solidly entertaining and challenging title with surprisingly sophisticated design. The developers have done a smart job of bringing Batman's latest cinematic adventure to gaming platforms without implementing overly patronizing gameplay or pasting rudimentary elements from the film into a predictable formula.

Grade: B

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