Saturday, 6 November 2010

Batman Begins - the Playstation 2 review

Batman Begins - 2005
Action Adventure
Electronic Arts
Developed by Eurocom
Also for Gamecube, Xbox, Gameboy Advance and Playstation Portable.

Fifteen minutes into Batman Begins: The video game, Liam Neesons Ducard character is leading me around his mountaintop ninja refuge in an effort to teach me the basics of the game during a fairly standard but well thought out 'tutorial' level. Things are going well. He has subtly and tactfully shown me that I am able to sneak up to a foe to dispose of them silently from behind, that I am to 'mind' my 'surroundings', encouraging me to examine the environment closely if a path is not immediately obvious (playing the game on 'easy' simplifies this for the player, putting a target reticule onscreen where an item can be interacted with). I can swing on ropes, interrogate enemies, punch, kick and generally 'be' Batman/ Bruce around really quite lovely environments using intuitive controls that rarely feel loose or clumsy. The character has a good weight and every punch that lands feels solid and damaging.

Then it happened.

 "Well done, Wayne," intones Liam Neeson (all voices in the game are original movie cast voices), "You have mastered the art of the 'double jump'"

I'm sorry, Liam. The what, now?

"The 'double jump'", he continues talking in my head while the PS2 controller hangs flaccidly between my legs, "It's a video game mechanic that allows the character to execute a second jump while midair from the first jump"

Yeah, thanks, Liam or Rhas Al or whatever your name isn't. I know what a double jump is. I have been playing video games for over 25 years you know. I'm just wondering why you felt the need to tell me about it.

"I didn't write the script. I'm just reading the blasted thing," I think I pissed him off. But, hey, he pissed me off first, "I mean, Jesus," he continues, "It's only a video game!"

"Now, Master Wayne, You can collect all 100 gold stars and save the Princess."
 And, so, the spell was broken. Instead of being so immersed in an entertainment experience that I forget where I am, I'm sat on a couch, in a room as far removed from the Batcave as is possible, having an imaginary argument with an actor.
Imagine you're in a cinema watching The Matrix. Agents are firing a volley of bullets at Neo, who is dodging them in some inexplicable but completely believable way. Then the house lights go up and a Wachowski brother stands in front of the screen with a megaphone telling you about this awesome thing called 'bullet time', how it was done. Then he walks off telling us to enjoy the rest of the movie. Fat chance.

Video game mechanics, the constants, the nuts and bolts that make them games with challenge and progression are never going to go away. They are required. The tutorial level, for example. However you dress it up, the player needs to know how to play the game without resorting to the manual, so the need for a hand-holding excercise will always exist in some way. In that regard Batman Begins was doing just fine. It didn't take place in Wayne mansion or the streets of Gotham, but a functional environment (in the film as much as the game) that I had no desire to explore beyond its linear, tutorial boundaries.

Don't get me wrong. As the months go on I will be playing a whole host of very 'gamey' batman titles, with power-ups and endless platforms. But those games were merely products of their environment and time. Using camp, visceral subject matter to make a similarly camp, visceral game. But Batman Begins was supposed to be a credible reboot for the series. No more Neon, no more camp, no more Bat-nipples: everything had a reason and purpose and wasn't beyond the boundaries of possibility. So why that ethos couldn't have extended to the game is beyond me.

The real shame here is that Batman Begins is a good game, although very linear, and through much of the experience I felt I was being ushered from A to B without actually having to figure anything out for myself (leave your detective abilities at the door), it's short enough to make a decent rental and the varied levels make for good eye candy. There are easter egg style secrets like new suits and upgrades (that bizarrely are all handed to you after your first playthrough, making repeated play a bit redundant), and it's a real blast driving through Gotham against the clock, Burnout style in the Tumbler. Woefully underused and in a way it made me wish the game was just a driving game, or that the game only existed in the form of download content for Burnout.

As a real fan of what Christopher Nolan did with the franchise for Batman Begins, it's a real shame not to see that innovation and ignorance of constraints applied to something just as dear to me as the Caped Crusader. The Video game.


No comments:

Post a Comment