Catwoman review

The movie's rumoured to be rubbish. Can the game do any better, asks PSW

We haven't seen the Catwoman movie but judging by the game - where "Buy a girl a saucer of milk?" is considered an amusing put-down - it's not going to be the deepest or most intellectually stimulating production to fart its way out of Hollywood. Also boding badly for the film is the game's explanation of the Catwoman backstory, where a two minute cut-scene half-asses something together about anti-ageing drugs, a factory accident and a cat all combining to somehow create this sexily-dressed cat-girl.

The game does get better, but not before it gets a bit worse. The controls seem alien at first, requiring awkward combinations of analogue sticks and shoulder buttons to crawl, climb and scratch around the levels. It even uses R1 as the jump button - what lunacy! Combine the agile character with whip and hand-to-hand combat skills and there's a lot of learning to be done in a very short space of time.

Possible complaint number two is the camera system, which is fixed throughout the game, leaving you with no control over the view of the action. Again, this takes some getting used to in this age of twin-stick perspective viewing. You'll almost certainly find yourself twiddling the right stick to change the view. But, once you've got the hang of it, the fixed camera turns out to be rather helpful. Not only does it allow the game to lead you in the right direction, it also turns some of the climbing sections into something like old fashioned two-dimensional platform games, that are incredibly easy to navigate.

So instead of a fully controllable camera that gets confused when you move it about, Catwoman's standardised, non-switchable viewpoints make sense more often than not. There are moments where you'll be utterly frustrated by obscure angles that manage to almost completely mask the ledge you need or the rail you're supposed to climb upon, but overall the decision to remove control of the camera from the gamer is a good one, a throwback to a time before games were spoiled by ineffective 3D perspectives.

The game plays like a cross between Spider-Man and Enter the Matrix. Levels are big and interesting but very samey, with a whole lot of dark, industrial settings to sneak around in. All the levels are dingy factories and warehouses. Apart from the dingy nightclub. Credit is due for the manner in which the game captures the cat-like nature of its lead character, though. She crawls, she leaps, she bounds up walls and swings from street lights, flipping herself up like a gymnast and leaping gracefully to the next point. When you string together a sequence of cat whips, jumps and flips, the game looks ace.

Because of Catwoman's skills you need to think of new ways to negotiate levels. Walls can all be scaled to some degree, while hidden bars encourage random leaps of faith. Features like these force you to pay attention and think about where to go, rather than just following a big yellow arrow on your radar.

There's lots of awkward trial and error play too mind, with some extremely harsh aerial jump/whip moves that require ninja levels of gaming skill. There are also quite a few bits where you fall off and land back at the start, but luckily Catwoman's a bit hard, so falling usually leads only to you having to try again instead of dying. It's a colossal pain in places - one diagonal aerial jump and grab took us half an hour to do - but it's possible, just, if you're very good and patient.

Sadly, though, the game never really kicks into life. While the levels are big, well laid out and require thought to negotiate, there's little in the way of true excitement. All you do is work through one difficult trial and error exploration section before moving onto the next, punctuated by occasional fight scenes with puny enemies. Then you do it all again, only in a slightly harder, darker warehouse. Exploring is fun, but not when that's all you do.

The game's odd control system extends to the battle sections that punctuate the platforming bits, with players using the analogue stick to direct attacks. Some nice moves can be pulled off, but for the most part, fights turn out just the one way - you hit an enemy, he falls over. You wait for him to get back up, hit him again, he falls over, you repeat the process for quite a long time until he runs off.

At least scenery can be utilised, with point bonuses on offer for smashing enemies into tables and through doors. Catwoman can also use her whip to grab items - bottles, lumps of wood or even people - and then throw them at attackers to beat them off. Fighting never feels that satisfying though, and there's little that really challenges you.

The camera rarely gives you a close-up view of Catwoman, regardless of whether you're fighting or exploring, but when it does, you're not disappointed. She's shiny, moves well and, were we into the whole bestiality thing, could almost be described as sexy. Walls are climbed, gaps swung across by a swing of her whip, rails are leaped between - it's all very demanding, and definitely a game for people who take things slowly and don't mind reading the manual.

That said, Catwoman's not bad. The crawling, climbing, whipping character forces you to really think about how to get though its fiendish levels, making the game a long-lasting challenge for gamers who don't mind falling off ledges and trying again fifteen times in a row. The challenges quickly become predictable, but look nice in places and provide more of a test than most of the formulaic platform games out there. Catwoman is way better than it ever had to be.

More Info

PlatformGameCube, GBA, PS2, PC