Based on Batman’s Animated Adventures, Ubi Soft’s Batman: Vengeance is hands down the best Batman video game to date. Sure, that’s not saying much, but this game does deserve some attention.
Batman is one of the most popular costumed heroes and has appeared in many guises since his introduction well over 50 years ago. From 60’s TV show camp, to the grim Dark Knight Detective by Frank Miller, Batman has been re-worked and reinvented several times. Throughout all these incarnations, Batman has graced many formats as well: comics, TV, movies, records, toys, cartoons and… video games (of course). Batman video games have graced home consoles since the 8-bit era. Unfortunately, almost every Batman game released has sucked or lacked depth. Now thanks to Ubi Soft, the Caped Crusader has finally a video game that does justice to this legendary figure.
Being a Batman freak, I have all sorts of expectations of what Batman’s world is like… There’s Gotham City and the buildings and people who lie within its boundaries; there’s Batcave and it’s computers, gadgets and vehicles and there’s the villains, their crazy schemes and henchmen. Batman: Vengeance does a great job of capturing the essence of Gotham and incorporates many of these important elements. For Batman fans, it’s satisfyingly faithful and helps immerse players in the realm of the Dark Knight.
The story is intriguing too; it unfolds like several different episodes of the show, yet they are all connected. The plot is somewhat predictable, yet is still intriguing and plays out like a classic mystery. It’s interesting enough to make you want to keep playing, just to discover what’s really going on.
Many elements of Batman’s design seem to be an amalgamation of other game and the gameplay combines 3rd person platforming with First Person Shooter-mechanics. The platforming is reminiscent of Prince of Persia 3D. If Batman jumps near a ledge, he’ll grip the edge of it and pull himself up. While in mid-air after a jump Batman can use his cape to slow his descent and glide.
Batman has numerous gadgets at his disposal. Some are used scarcely (like in only a level or two) which cuts down on guessing what to use when, but leaves a lot of gadgets to scroll through. Fortunately, holding the R button pauses the game, allowing you to browse Batman’s utility belt at leisure. Many of these, like the Bat grapple or Batarangs, cause the game to go into FPS mode, for aiming and firing.
The Combat System is really fantastic and a highlight of the game. Batman fights just like a martial arts expert, displaying a wealth of punches and kicks at his disposal, as well as the ability to block. It is easy to execute the moves, and you can do cool moves like knock bad guys off ledges. The more Batman fights, he builds up power to do highly effective special moves. As the game gets harder and enemies tougher and more numerous, using these special attacks to quickly eliminate a foe becomes crucial. A drawback for Special Attacks is by using the L button to exxecute them can sometimes cause you to accidentally call Batgirl instead… Not the healthiest move in a combat situation. Once an enemy is unconscious, they can be subdued permanently provided Batman has handcuffs. Otherwise, they’ll wake up and will attack again, albeit weaker.
Enemies aren’t chumps; many of them are clever fighters, and some are armed and will shoot on sight. Running back and forth between shots being fired at you is just neat, and looks cool. Of course, when it happens, you had better dive for cover or disarm your assailant quick! Armed baddies can be disarmed with batarangs from a distance, which makes them a bit more manageable. Being extra sneaky, Batman can also sneak up on foes and handcuff them, but this is very tricky.
Level to level, henchmen vary both in appearance and attack style, depending on the villain they’re working for. Joker’s goons are dressed as mimes; Mr. Freeze has ice maidens that with freeze guns while Poison Ivy has grown some ruthless plant men.
A real strong point for Batman: Vengeance is its variety. There are always new things to do in each and every level. Unlike most games with a variety of gameplay modes, Batman Vengeance gels together nicely. In fact, the diversity greatly buoys the enjoyment of Batman, and prevents it from growing stale. The Batplane and Batmobile levels are aren’t as good as the rest of the game, though they’re still a very welcome inclusion.
It’s a little rough around the edges. Jumping can be difficult at times, creating frustrating situations where repeated attempts to make it through. There’s also very limited exploration, yet it’s still possible to get stuck and unable to progress at times due to uncertain objectives. There’s a very cool brain teaser puzzle where you have to hack an electronic lock, yet the same thing happens whether or not you complete it successfully… It works story-wise but is still weird.
The camera is not as well executed as in other 3D platformers, yet Batman Vengeance does provide a workable system. Tapping the C-stick re-centers the camera behind Batman at any time, and this is very useful for jumps and such. To look around a room a bit more freely, switching to FPS view usually does the trick.
Batman Vengeance is not the most impressive GameCube game available, but it certainly provides a wonderful Batman video game… Something no other previous licensed Batman game has done. It can be annoying in some parts, but it’s very solid and well designed overall. For Bat-fans, it’s a slice of heaven… Or at least proof that Batman games don’t have to suck.