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Batman Begins

Games based on Batman, one of the most famous comic book caped crusaders, have a reputation for being stinkier than a pile of freshly laid bat mess, which is absolutely criminal considering the wealth of creative potential that's loaded into the source material.

Hoping to buck this depressing trend is Derby-based developer Eurocom and publishing powerhouse Electronic Arts, who have been charged with the task of producing the eponymous game of the upcoming Batman Begins movie.

Focusing intensely on the self-made superhero's well-honed, hunter instinct, and his ability to instil fear into his enemies, Batman Begins seems to offer a refreshingly original, mature and altogether more realistic approach to how the Dark Knight should be handled as a gaming avatar.

After all, without the inadvertent, transmogrifying effects of a freak accident, like a bite from an irradiated arachnid or lethal exposure to gamma particles, Batman has to rely on a uniquely DIY approach to kicking criminal cojones.

Rather than bundling into the fray with feet and fists flying, players will have to employ a far more thoughtful, cautionary strategy in order to triumph over the nefarious inhabitants of Gotham City, as Ben O'Donnell, assistant producer on Batman Begins, explains.

"Every room is built like a big puzzle," reveals O'Donnell, "and while there are multiple ways of overcoming enemies, it's all about finding the optimum way of doing it."

Solving these puzzles is achieved by surveying environments for objects that Batman can interact with, such as grapple points or weak structures. Once identified, these action points can be utilised with a context-sensitive move or one of DK's trademark gadgets.

Whether this will provide players with any real semblance of a challenge remains to be seen, but certainly the action points in the level demoed to us, which admittedly was fairly early in the game, were more blatant signposts than discreet pieces of intricate puzzle.

As well as casting his surprisingly hawk-like bat eyes over surroundings, Batman can scan enemies to reveal what weapons they are holding and what their current state of vulnerability is - an addition that should provide an extra tactical depth to decision making.

Certainly, EA was keen to highlight what they are touting as the 'fear mechanic', which, as O'Donnell explains, is a system that "plays on Batman's reputation of being a dark, mythical character that is a ghost story among his enemies".

By using the fear mechanic, players will have the opportunity to put the Dark Knight's rarely explored dark side to good use by putting the willies up undesirables and frightening the living bejeepers out of them.

As enemies become increasingly terrified their heart rate and vulnerability rises, making them far easier to take down with a little bat-shaped whup-ass. And if a crim is a real pant wetter he can even drop his weapon or simply collapse on the floor in a pathetic, blubbering excuse for a tough guy.

Another nod to Batman's more shadowy side is his ability to interrogate certain enemies. If a goon has some important information, Batman can put the hurt and fear on them so bad that the beans just come spilling out.

According to O'Donnell, "pretty much everything in the game has been designed with the fear mechanic in mind," which, in our opinion, is a good thing, as scaring the squitters out of the henchmen in the sections we saw was a whole heap of fun - we can't wait to sample it some more.

As a movie tie-in, EA and Warner seem to have a working synergy that should ensure the game is as consistent with the film as possible.

Besides featuring the voices and likenesses of the movie's all-star cast, which includes Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, EA has had access to 3D scans of all the sets, as well as the newly designed Batmobile (apparently there will be three driving levels set around the streets of Gotham).

In addition, fight and stunt coordinators from the movie have been used to ensure the close-quarters style of combat in the game is as authentic and refined as possible.

As a game, well, we'd need to spend far more time with it before we could say, without hesitation, that it will delight gamers regardless of their level of infatuation with the Dark Knight.

What we can say with more than just a modicum of confidence, though, is that Batman Begins will probably be the best Batman game ever.

Batman Begins is out for PS2, Xbox, Gamecube and GBA in June, and will also be released for PSP

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