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Batman: Vengeance

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal | Publisher: Ubisoft
Players: 1 Player Game | Release Date: 12/18/01 | Genre: Action

It has been far too long since a game that had the pretension to adorn the infamous name of 'Batman' was true to the franchise's legacy. I find it hard to believe that any iteration of the game, short of the original N.E.S. version is worth its weight in bat-feed. Nevertheless, we must keep an open mind my fellow bat-friends, what with the introduction of such radically improved videogame hardware and all. So does Batman: Vengeance live up to the legendary legacy? To paraphrase: no. Batman: Vengeance does however show considerable improvement over its countless inferior predecessors, with any luck this game will mark the outset of high quality Batman videogames for the future.

Batman: Vengeance is based on Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's critically acclaimed cartoon, and as such, this game has a lot to live up to. Ubi Soft did a terrific job of recreating the mood and overall feel of the series, had they put as much time and effort in the gameplay department this game could have been great. As it sits Vengeance is little more then a mildly entertaining platform/FPS game that will undoubtedly sell through the roof due to its monolithic fan-base potential and the fact that this game is being ported to every last NextGEN system, GBA included.

The fist-a-cuffs combat system in the game is so sluggish it's practically turn based. Punching, kicking, and blocking make up the majority of your offensive options. Most fights amount to nothing more then punching -- blocking -- punching -- blocking, you get the idea, not exactly the Dark Knight's most memorable moments. Ubi Soft was kind enough to include the obligatory Bat-devices: the Bat-Grapple, Batarangs, and Bat-Communicator are all accounted for. Surprisingly the Utility Belt devices do little to add to the enjoyment of the game, navigating gadgets is performed by stopping the action around you, selecting the desired bat-gadget, and then using said device through means of a FPS perspective.

Thankfully you are not confined to third person perspective/FPS mode that the game has you controlling Batman with. A couple levels in particular allow you to pilot the Bat-wing and drive the infamous Batmobile. While these gameplay additions do serve as being a nice distraction, they are far too sparse, and linear. Gameplay in these modes are viewed from a third person perspective, pushing left or right on the directional pad accounts for the majority of the vehicle's controllability. Occasionally you are asked to execute simple tasks like pushing the R-trigger to activate the Bat-grapple to make a short turn at high speed, resulting in a Dragon Lair's-esque experience.

The gameplay as a whole is lethargic and inaccurate, at times you will come across parts where the game has the audacity to present you with acrobatic platforming demands that would be better suited for a Mario game. This inevitably leads to taking unnecessary damage or having to re-do parts of the game over countless times. Let this be a message to all game developers: bad gameplay costs lives!

The prerendered cut-scenes are splendidly executed. They are aesthetically true to the animated series while being rendered in 3D. The visuals and audibles integrate seamlessly, leaving you anxious to progress just so you can watch the next cut-scene. But alas, artistically impressive prerendered cinemas do not a good game make.

The controllable character animations are ludicrously impressive. You'd swear your watching an episode of the animated series, that is, if the person playing the game is skilled enough to overcome the nagging gameplay issues. Your not going to find 4-pass bump mapping, or NVIDIA-charged pixel shaders in Batman:Vengeance, but thats not what Batman: Vengeance is about. What it sets out to accomplish is to recreate the visual feel of the animated series, and it has accomplished this task with polygons to spare.

One nice thing about the Xbox version of the game is that thanks to the NV20's graphical processing power the visuals look noticeably cleaned up from its PS2 and GameCube counterparts, aliasing is hardly visible. Load times are also far less time consuming thanks to the built in hard drive.

A significant portion of the sound has a distinctive, organic-gritty-ambience about it, which goes nice with its dark semi-serious visuals. The music is true to the animated series with dramatic, sweeping scores. Overall WBIE did an excellent job of reproducing the animated series in the audio department. Voice-overs are equally impressive with Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill onboard to reprise their roles as Batman and The Joker, respectively.

Towards the last quarter of the game the difficulty gets ramped up to the stature of 'frustratingly-annoyingly-difficult'. It would have been one thing if it was entertainingly challenging, but when your having to restart entire levels over again because of unresponsive play control, or shoddy level design, then you start to second guess why your even playing the game to begin with. Expect to clock in a substantial amount of time to complete this game, mainly due to the aforementioned issues.

The bonuses that the game offers are hardly worth the effort involved in obtaining them. Throughout the game you will be awarded 'points' based on different actions you take in the game, the more points you accumulate the more special power-moves you'll learn. The other bonus features come in the form of 'cheats'. Obtaining 'cheats' is a matter of finding hidden envelopes scattered throughout the game's levels. Cheats allow you to do double-damage to enemies or make Batman invisible to enemies, among an assortment of equally unimpressive abilities. Perhaps they had a contest to see who could come up with the least creative bonuses. If that is the case then I fervently applaud them.

To Ubi Soft's credit though, you can adjust the brightness through in-game controls, which makes it nice because you do not have to displace your TV's settings in order to view the game at optimal contrast.

Despite the games many inherent annoyances, there is a good game buried deep within the digital information stamped onto this DVD. If you can look past its denounceable play control then you will find a smart, stylish, Batman experience that is, at its foundation, true to its namesake.

By Carlos Mcelfish - 03/05/02
ESRB Details: Violence
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Screenshots for Batman: Vengeance

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