sunnuntai 4. joulukuuta 2011

REVIEW - Batman Begins (2005)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: June 2005
DEVELOPER(S): Eurocom Entertainment Software, Vicarious Visions (GBA)

The original Batman movie franchise was very thankfully laid to rest after 1997's Batman & Robin, the fourth film which was all but mockery towards the first two, with the previous Batman Forever just crossing the line of watchable thanks to a good cast that saved the awkward script. Warner Bros. planned to reboot the franchise in a few years, but they just couldn't get any actual work done on the project. Around 2003, Christopher Nolan, the screenwriter and director of the unique and critically acclaimed psychological thriller Memento, took the bait and started to work on a whole new Batman film together with screenwriter and serious comic book buff David S. Goyer. The result was Batman Begins, and it came in the summer of 2005 to blow off some heads. It was immediately recognized as perhaps the greatest superhero movie ever made, and it wasn't only out to please comic book fans, but movie buffs of all ages, partly thanks to its ensemble cast of award-winning actors which included Christian Bale, Katie Holmes, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Rutger Hauer and Gary Oldman. The release of the Batman Begins video game coincided with the movie's release, and although reception to the game was surprisingly all right, it wasn't exactly deemed a winner. The Game Boy Advance version was non-surprisingly a side-scrolling, simplified version of the game, and this version at least is not one of the most essential Bat-games out there.

Watch the movie, seriously

When he was a child, multi-millionaire Bruce Wayne's parents were shot to death by a mugger before his eyes. During the next decade, the corruption of Gotham City brought him to a boiling point. Bruce left Gotham City and travelled the world, learning the ways of criminals and how they think. After years spent in exile, Bruce returns to Gotham with a whole new ambition. With the help of his ever loyal butler, a high-tech engineer at Wayne Enterprises, and perhaps the only good cop in Gotham City, Bruce begins to spread fear in the criminal underground under his new secret identity of Batman.

I was hesitant to begin to work on this game before watching Batman Begins for the first time in a few years - just to have a good excuse and base to see The Dark Knight for only the third (!) time. So many superhero films have emerged during this century, based on well-known favourites such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Superman and X-Men, as well as cult comics such as Watchmen. Although many of the films have been absolutely great - and some of them, absolute garbage - none of the films have received such unified praise as Christopher Nolan's takes on Batman. Although there's something a little off about both movies, they're works of art, notably different from all the other superhero films, totally fresh and surprising takes on the subject but at the same time, closest to Bob Kane's vision of Batman as you can possibly get by ways of live action. These two blockbusters proved, once again, that Batman is the most consistently surprising, interesting and exploitable superhero there ever was - the best there was, the best there is and the best there ever will be. A third movie's coming, and I can't wait to see it. The popularity of Nolan's movies was very likely the driving force behind the development of the Arkham video game series. Batman Begins will most likely - and hopefully - remain the only video game directly licensed off Nolan's trilogy.

The camera ain't your friend.
I never got around to try the PS2 version of the game, although I vividly remember one of my favourite critics praising the game by quite a bit back in its time. I just didn't believe in licensed games, that's why I missed Spider-Man 2, which was even more acclaimed. The PS2 version of Batman Begins is still on sale in a video store near my apartment that sells used DVD's and games, it's been there for ages, and it's priced something like two to three euros. Perhaps some day - when I'm plastered enough - I'll get the great idea of marching in and buying it, and won't regret it until morning comes. All of the home versions (for PS2, the GameCube and the Xbox) were noted for their great stealth elements and their fabulous graphics. It's not a huge surprise that none of the game's greatest qualities translated well to a 32-bit handheld game, but it's not a thoroughly awful game. I know it ain't saying much, but it might even be the best Batman game available for the Game Boy Advance. Just because the developers at least tried. Something.

The graphics are quite good and ultra-horrid at the same time. The sprites and their movement are rendered quite OK, they look realistic enough on the Advance scale. Also, I silently bow Vicarious Visions for resorting to cutscenes in the style of a comic book instead of the usual non-contextual screenshots from the movie that these licensed games on the Game Boy Advance usually have, or screenshots and subtitles which explain the whole movie like Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones had. The cutscenes do not look too good, though, and the portraits used in the in-game dialogue look absolutely horrible. Michael Caine looks like Jabba the Hutt. The music has enough atmosphere to live up to the name of the game, but it's still quite boring, and those expecting any slight references to Hans Zimmer's phenomenal work in the movie are in for a disappointment.

Neeson has a nice haircut and Bruce looks
like a ten-year old.
Batman Begins is pretty much a beat 'em up game, with slow, stiff controls that surely remind all the most cynical people of Batman Forever. It packs a little bit more, though; first of all, it's one of the only Batman games in which you play as Bruce Wayne for an extended period of time, stripped of all of Batman's gadgets. Also, although the controls don't work, you have access to quite a variety of different abilities that take advantage of the whole control scheme. The best thing about this game is the mere thought of how important stealth is in a game of such small scale. A mere thought is where the fun stops, though; first of all, the tutorials teach you abilities that you have had to figure out on your own and use numerous times already, and to my experience, the stealth tactics besides simply hiding do not help you one bit. The enemies are very easily alerted to your presence if you even try to take them down silently and undetected. Attacking from above, in particular, is a lost cause - miss by half a pixel and your trick's all for nothing.

There are only eight levels in the game and still it feels like it goes on forever. The prologue level is very short, but in turn, the second level which focuses on Bruce's past is extremely long and it lacks many essential checkpoints. It's like a test of the player's patience after a stiff, but perfectly playable start, and I'd not be surprised at all if someone would just give up after failing the last part of the level enough times; escaping from the burning monastery is extremely frustrating in itself, and upon failing that, you need to beat the previous boss over and over again until you manage to beat him and the rest of the level in perfect succession. The game has a lot of awkward moments with even more awkward checkpoints, it certainly doesn't stop there. The next true test of the player's will in a similar vein comes quite a bit later, though - everything in between is relatively playable, double that if you're a serious Batman fan.

Bruce Wayne. Also known as Patrick Bateman,
John Connor, Alfred Borden and Trevor
These serious fans go on and on about the 16 Bat symbols hidden around the game. After you've collected them all, 16 more are unlocked. After collecting all 32, you unlock... *drum roll* ...a stage select mode. That's all fine and dandy, but seriously, I can't imagine anyone being fascinated by this game enough to bear a mere second playthrough of the game. It's a one-off experience to a completist aiming to beat every beatable Batman game out there - there are practically unbeatable ones. Batman Begins is definitely not one of them; it's a very frustrating, frankly enfuriating game, but with enough patience and that alone, you'll be done with it in a jiffy.

Batman Begins is not the worst licensed game out there, especially not in the company of several Game Boy Advance titles I can't even mention by name anymore, but it's far from a satisfying game. They could've made a game just like Sunsoft's Batman was back in the day, with no huge overhauls at all; hell, the enemies could've exploded like they did in that game, whatever. Although I would've bitched about a lot of things, I would've at least enjoyed the simple gameplay. There's just too much fancy stuff in this game that all goes to waste, and Batman seriously would not have become the greatest superhero in history if he was really this damn slow.

SOUND : 6.5


GameRankings: 62.14% (GBA), 66.92% (GCN), 65.75% (PS2), 67.32% (Xbox)

Pandemic Studios was working on an open-world sequel to the game, based on the movie The Dark Knight, but the game was cancelled in an early stage of development.

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