Rise and shine Batman!
Depending on how you look at it, I’m either the worst, or most appropriate person at TouchGen to review this game. Worst, because I’m a complete Batman fanboy, and there’s no way I can give it a good going over without total bias, and most appropriate because I’m a complete Batman fanboy, and it’s only fitting that a complete Batman fanboy review a Batman game.
I’ll try my best to look at The Dark Knight Rises from Gameloft without my Bat-Blinkers on, but I’ve spent every day of the last week poring over previews and reviews of the film which I booked my tickets for over two months ago. I was at the European Premiere in Wednesday and got hold of a souvenir. I’m going to see it tonight at 7pm. I’m drooling as I type.
Watching the teaser and reading some of the features, the cynical side of me saw nothing more than a re-skinned version of the recently released Amazing Spiderman. The Batman fan in me however screamed ‘GAMELOFT ARE THE AWESOMENESS’. It turns out my cynical side was wrong. Way wrong.
Ok yeah, just like Spiderman, it’s an open world adventure which sees you negotiating through a city beating up bad guys, leveling up your character and embarking on side quests, but everything here feels slicker, better presented and just more GATA (Gameloft Are The Awesomeness.)
Take for example Gotham City. Whereas Spiderman’s New York felt like little more than a load of identikit skyscrapers bunched together, Gotham is far more intricate – full of bridges, walkways and alleys to explore. Yes, it’s underpopulated (there’s traffic on the streets, but what few pedestrians there are seem to be running randomly away from…something),and it isn’t exactly huge, but the city feels a lot more interesting simply because of it’s structure. On the note of running pedestrians, it is always nighttime in Gotham, and it’s also always raining and thundering too. Maybe they just want to get home to a mug of hot coco.
It’s a gritty and atmospheric place which looks fantastic. The lighting effects, the way rain reflects off the floor and subtly splashes the camera, it makes Spiderman seem a generation behind instead of something that was released barely three weeks ago. After the first level loaded up and I was presented with Batman posing on a rooftop like only Batman can, the first words that came out of my mouth were ‘What’s for dinner love?’ Well, the Wife was cooking and I was hungry at the time. But the second word was ‘Wow’. Batman himself looks predictably fabulous. The level of detail on is suit is lovely and as the rain falls, you can see it trickling down the fabric. Perhaps that’s why it’s always wet in Gotham.
Lending a big hand to the feel of the game is the soundtrack. If like me, you’ve watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight 362 times each (in one day), you’ll have Hans Zimmer’s score seared into your brain-head. With a game of the film, all I would’ve wanted was Mr Zimmer’s pounding opus on repeat, but licensing complexities no doubt hampered the use of the original music, so a facsimile was created in it’s place.
But you know what? It’s actually pretty good. Once again, as it drifts in the background, becoming more urgent as the tension increases and swelling to a crescendo when leading to action, it sounds more and more like something Zimmer would’ve lent a hand to, and adds a crowning layer to what gives the whole thing so much mood.
Also not bad (you might need to sit down for this one), is the voice acting. Ok, so it’s not up there with GTA, but it’s one of Gameloft’s better efforts in recent times, which I know isn’t saying much. There are a few good one-liners (Alfred tells a suspicious Batman that Selina Kyle might have been spotted around town because she has a date, to which he responds ‘Then I want to know who she’s dating’), and in one exchange, Batman cuts off Alfred mid-sentence, but it’s actually well timed with no odd pauses. There are even direct lines from the film, even if quite interestingly, they’re sometimes spoken in a slightly different order. You’ve really got to read your script before coming to shoot.
As good as it is, you’ll still find the occasional line of cheddar however. Bad guys spot Batman and approach to attack while shouting ‘Bane will reward me for this!’ Oh brother.
The plot follows that of the film, so I won’t spoil it too much and just say that Batman is a good guy, Bane is a bad guy and everyone in-between gets beaten up. As Batman, you spend your time skulking in the rooftop shadows grappling and gliding from one mission to another while picking up credits which allow to upgrade your combat and gadgets, and other collectables based on the movie.
Controls are handled by contextual action buttons. They work fine for the most part, but sometimes the button which allows you to fire the grapnel gun appears where you’d instinctively swipe to adjust the camera, inadvertently rocketing you onto the roof of a strip club. Ahem.
The gliding mechanic is cool though. Jump off the edge of a building and tap the button to stay airborne. Combine this with the grapnel gun which can latch onto almost any surface and you’ve essentially got Arkham City in your pocket. If you’re playing on the iPad, you must have pretty big pockets.
It’s not quite as fun as Spidey’s mode of transport though. Where Spiderman could perform flips and tricks in the air and can manipulate the momentum from the high and low point of his swings, Batman’s glide is functional – more about getting from A to B than performing arial gymnastics. But in truth, it fits the MO of the character, and is still very enjoyable in context. I’m not too sure why Batman sustains damage falling from height though, can’t he just spread his cape and cushion it? It makes landing somewhat fiddly unless you time it perfectly and leads to unintentional comedy where, low on energy, you glide into a group of thugs aiming to dish out rough justice, but end up killing yourself before the fight starts because you landed wrong.
But speaking of transport, Mamma Mia are you in for a treat here. One of the only things I wished for with Arkham Asylum was the ability to use the Batmobile. Alas, it wasn’t possible, but here it is. Although the Tumbler isn’t available, both the Batpod and the Bat are part of the story mode and are yours to mess around with in a free roam mode once you’ve unlocked them. The vehicles are fully upgradable and the Pod even has an ejector seat that thrusts you into the air into glide mode at full speed. Are Gameloft the awesomeness? GATA baby, GATA.
Combat is slightly less nuanced than the console version. It’s a similar setup where you have the ability to take on multiple thugs at a time, with a fixed attack button, and one for countering. But the counter button only appears the split second before someone attacks and vanishes just as quickly meaning you’ll miss it half the time. The moves and animations do look very cool, but you never feel as though the double spin kick Batman just did was truly your decision. It’s more about hitting the button as fast as you can and watching the pretty show.
At times the game also suffers from a classic case of uneven AI. You know the sort, one minute a group of baddies spot you from a mile away, while the next, a thug on a roof stands with his back to you completely still until you take him down because thugs on roofs NEVER turn around. Didn’t you know that?
So if you’re on my wavelength, this review probably reads like a 4.5, but like Skynet, I’m self aware, and I know that at least half a star is down to my rabid Batman fanboyism so I’ve adjusted accordingly. But please let me know if I’m wrong. I really want to give it that half a star fairly.*
And as for the film? It’s only a matter of hours now. 7pm can’t come fast enough.
Discover Kevin’s secret identity on Twitter @dreagleg
The Dark Knight Rises is available for £4.99 on iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
*Heck, I couldn’t resist.