Ubi Soft brings the Dark Knight to home computers with this release of Batman: Vengeance. Based on the popular animated series The New Adventures of Batman, the environments, villains, and the Caped Crusader himself take on a stylized Golden Age comic book appearance that communicates attitude and personality through deceptively Spartan artwork. This action game is fully three-dimensional, however, and the cartoon-styled characters interact in a Gotham City rendered with a realistic sense of distance and depth.
Commercial tie-ins are a huge missed opportunity. People who normally wouldn't be interested in SimCity or Quake III: Arena can often be enticed into picking up a copy of Spider-Man. In a rational world, companies would put their best foot forward on these projects, ensuring a strong influx of new game fans and hefty future revenues. Alas, we don't live in a rational world, and for every Jedi Knight or TIE Fighter, there's an E.T.: The Extraterrestrial to match. Sadly, Batman: Vengeance, the PC version of last year's console title, is unable to overcome this curse.
The game opens with a woman in distress, hogtied near a bomb in a chemical works in Gotham City. Batman soon discovers this woman is at the center of an evil plot of the Joker's ... but something doesn't seem quite right. Further investigation reveals things aren't quite what they seem, and eventually Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy are brought into the mix.
If nothing else, the art direction is terrific. Vengeance is based on the recent Batman animated series, and has the same atmospheric look and clean-line drawings. The art deco touches lend Gotham a more atmospheric presence than it's had in any of the live-action Bat-films. And, the depiction of the Batcave is an out-and-out triumph. With its waterfalls and hidden rooms, they could have set the entire game inside the sumptuous subterranean hideout of Bruce Wayne (instead of just the training level) and I would have been happy. But all's not well in Gotham...
As a console-to-PC port, Batman: Vengeance feels a bit rushed. Colors are sometimes washed-out, cutscenes are sometimes so dark as to be invisible, and the sound occasionally cuts out, particularly during the Joker's monologues. The art may be fantastic, but these problems get in the way of appreciating it.
The gameplay, however, is where the game really seems to fall apart. Many portions of Vengeance are very similar to the old Dragon's Lair, in which Dirk the Knight ran through a dungeon in a predetermined pattern, and your only job was to occasionally tap the joystick in the direction Dirk should jump. Not only was that a rather passive way to play a game, but also unforgiving; if you didn't tap at the EXACT right moment, Dirk died a miserable grisly death.
Thoughts of Dirk came back to me frequently while playing Batman: Vengeance. There are not many choices offered to the player during the game, and the crucial points of control are extremely unforgiving. This causes an endless series of reloads, as you die and die and die again while determining at exactly which point you need to press the jump button.
A perfect example is the bat grapple. A cool toy, to be sure, but the game only lets you use the grapple at certain points to reach very narrowly-defined targets. Meanwhile, tall buildings surround you, mocking you with ledges and cornices that you'd love to grab on to ... but you can't.
During the vehicle levels, you'll also notice a distinct lack of forethought and good design. While chasing the Freezecopter in the Batplane, you can spend hours hitting walls in an obstacle-filled Gotham skyline, due to the unforgiving controls. Heaven help you if you were also busy trying to hit the Freezecopter with your weapons. It turns out you don't need to fire at the copter at all until the final scene of the level, so you might as well save your energy for flying through the obstacles. The game offers you no hint that firing is useless, though, so you'll feel like a fool once you figure it out. Note: Making players feel hoodwinked is not a good game design decision.
The fighting elements leave plenty to be desired as well. As you progress through the game, you earn special moves, such as "the hammer" or "sweep clean" but I'll be darned if I could get them to work. Every once in a while, one would work fine, but for the most part, the "hold-and-release" method of using these special moves didn't work at all, leaving ol' Bats flailing away like a prizefighter with just the standard punches and kicks.
There are a few puzzles here to break the monotony, but ... are you really playing a Batman game for puzzles? I actually found the puzzles to be the most enjoyable portion of the game, which may tell you everything you need to know. As gamers, we're being blessed with more open, imaginative games these days; Batman: Vengeance is not one of those games.
People who downloaded Batman: Vengeance have also downloaded:
Batman Forever: The Arcade Game, Batman Forever, Batman: The Movie, Batman Returns, Batman: Justice Unbalanced, Batman: The Caped Crusader, Asterix & Obelix, Aladdin
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