Batman Begins review

NGC's really not that scared of the rubber-suited bat

Sometimes you just have to admit that you're not cut out for your career. Hate tweaking cows' nipples? Don't work on a farm. Afraid of heights? Don't be a pilot.

Similarly, if all it takes to reduce you to a blubbering wreck is some scaffolding falling over nearby, you're probably not cut out to be a criminal.

And if your natural instinct when you're really scared is to throw your away gun - the only thing that could possibly protect you from Batman - it's probably time to think about something else.

Batman's enemies are idiots. Not just normal 'what was that noise, oh never mind' idiots, either - we're talking colossal dunderheads who can't notice a man in a rubber suit creeping up on them because he's slightly outside their tiny cone of vision.

Fumbling dunces who will be all set to brain you with a crowbar one second, then inexplicably weeping on the floor the next. Real, world-class idiots.

Why? Well, it's all thanks to the Area Fear system. Basically, Batman's not very tough - one quick burst with an Uzi is enough to cash in his Bat-chips for good. Instead of just, say, wearing some Kevlar, Batman deals with this by playing pranks on his foes.

Cutting a rope so some boxes land near them, for instance, ups the Area Fear - which, according to the manual, is defined as 'the amount of fear in the area.'

When this gets high enough, the thugs drop their guns, leaving Batman to deal with them via some spectacularly jerky hand-to-hand combat. If a thug's fear hits critical mass, they drop to the floor and whimper until you dish out a Bat-boot to the spine.

Alternatively, he can pick certain enemies up and 'interrogate' them, which means sporadically pressing B to headbutt them until they spew out some useful info.

Early on, there's a hint that you need to intimidate someone by taking advantage of their claustrophobia, but Batman just does it automatically - it's a poor cousin to the plum-threatening antics of Metal Gear Solid.

Whimpering hardnuts aside, though, this is just a bargain-bucket version of Splinter Cell. Visually, it's an EA-funded eye-pleaser with blockbuster production values, kicking off with a spectacular burning building set-piece that's almost exactly the same as the recent Catwoman's opening level.

Aurally it's a treat, with the cast all roped into doing the voicework. There's something about hearing Michael 'Alfred' Caine warning you about security cameras that never gets tired.

Get under the flashy facade and it's a clunky copy of Sam Fisher's escapades, with less moves, dumber enemies, frustrating controls and tons of pointless busywork.

Case in point: the lock-picking. It's done by clicking on the tumblers as they twirl around and it's sort of OK, but it's the same puzzle every time! Exactly the same - reducing what ought to be an entertaining diversion into 10 seconds of utterly pointless busywork.

Ditto for the electro-hacking that's necessary for pressing almost any switch. And while we're on the subject of switches, who decided it would be a good idea to make Batman wait for lifts? He's Batman - it's like watching Sonic The Hedgehog sitting at a bus stop.

With none of Spider-Man 2's versatility - Batman can only swing from pre-set grapple-points, and refuses to climb any ledges that the programmers don't want you on - you're reduced to wandering through a series of bland environments, twirling the camera until it locks onto the next thing you need to press/hit/grapple.

There was one bit where we kept jumping off a ledge towards a group of villains and dying because Batman hit an invisible wall and plummeted into some water (Batman can't swim, obviously).

We then realised that it wasn't working because the villains weren't scared enough - as soon as we'd thrown a crate at them, Batman cleared the jump like a gazelle on a trampoline.

Inconsistencies like this drain any feeling of achievement out of it - almost every action is pre-scripted, so there's no coming up with inventive ways to terrify gangsters.

Toss in some dreadful level structure, insane puzzle logic and some horribly unforgiving bits, and you've got a game that's only useful as a cautionary example.

One more piece of career advice - if you have to rely on idiots dropping their guns because you've pushed over a bookshelf, you really shouldn't be thinking about becoming a superhero.

Batman Begins is out now for Gamecube, PS2, Xbox, GBA and will be released for PSP this autumn

More Info

PlatformDS, PSP, GameCube, Xbox, PS2