Unless you've been living under a rock, you know that Batman Begins is a re-invention of the movie franchise. Gone are the cartoon-like performances of Mr. Freeze and The Riddler; the movie is darker, and closer to Tim Burton's take on the Dark Knight. With the most recent Batman games being a bit lackluster, the movie franchise's re-tooling gave many hope that the game would be similarly unique. Batman Begins, the game, has high production values and some fine voice-acting, but its unfocused, unoriginal gameplay hold it back.
Batman Begins follows the plot of the movie currently in theaters. Bruce Wayne's parents are murdered, and he blames himself. A lost soul, he wanders the Earth, ending up in prison. He's then set free, and given the opportunity to join a group who want to destroy Gotham. Convinced that Gotham is worth saving, Wayne returns to the city, embraces his fear of bats, and becomes Batman. Unless you have seen the film, the way the game presents the story feels slightly disjointed. Most of the information is there, but short five second video clips can't tell a story. Like the recent James Bond games, you're thrown right into the action, and after completing the opening sequence, which isn't in the movie, you're taken back seven years to see what made Bruce decide to head back to Gotham City.
If you were going to guess what kind of gameplay you'd find in a Batman game, third-person stealth would probably not be your first guess. Surprisingly, Batman Begins has a lot of stealth elements involved; none of which are original, and none which are very enjoyable. After locating your enemies (via a radar ripped straight from Metal Gear), you can enter stealth mode by pressing L3. This makes Batman walk quietly, so he can sneak up on enemies. If it's a single bad guy that needs taking out, you can sneak up behind him, press circle and take him out. You can also shimmy along pipes, hang down, and surprise your enemy that way. If this reminds you of Splinter Cell, it should; it's just not as enjoyable.
If there are multiple foes, sneaking up and attacking doesn't work, because as soon as you kill one guy, the rest of them attack, no matter how sneaky you are. Instead of sneaking up on them right away, you'll want to scare them by blowing up things near them or dropping crates from above – it's not as cool as it sounds. You can't improvise these maneuvers, you simply hit the digital pad and the game highlights the one thing you can hit, and then you push a button. Sneaking up on people and spooking them increases your reputation, which basically shows how much the people in the levels fear you. If they're truly frightened, they'll see a horrible vision of you as you finish them off. It's a neat idea, but not very interesting, and rather pointless. You can interrogate an opponent before finishing them off, but this feels forced and adds nothing to the game.
Most of your time will be spent avoiding confrontation, but when you do have to fight, it is done via simple controls, in basic beat'em up fashion. You can punch, kick, block, counter, and finish off an opponent with the press of a button. The game even tells you when to hit certain buttons, which is nice for beginners, but since the game is rated "T" how many first-timers are really playing the game? The controls are quite loose and the camera makes it difficult to track multiple enemies. Guns are particularly dangerous, so if possible, you'll want to take out armed foes first. They are displayed in red on your radar, while the others are green – it's a neat idea and works well.
There's nothing horribly wrong with the gameplay, it just gets boring quickly. The game holds your hand too much; highlighting what door to open, telling you what buttons to press – it makes it hard to suspend disbelief. The driving sequences (think takedown mode in Burnout 3) are fun, but even they coddle you with huge neon signs warning you of upcoming turns. It is never explained why a high-speed chase is helped by large neon arrows telling you which way to turn. Batman's one tough dude, so it's frustrating, not to mention boring, tip-toeing around sewers, docks, and rooftops. The game forces you to go through things in such a linear fashion, that it's maddening at times. You can't pick up dropped weapons, you can't improvise weapons, there are no alternative routes… you have to do things exactly as the game dictates. Perhaps picking one style and going with it would be the way to go next time. Sure, you're trying to deliver all the thrills of the movie, but three lackluster styles of play aren't better than one engaging style. You can unlock a few new costumes for Batman, as well as some video extras if you beat the game, which takes about 6-8 hours.
Batman Begins exhibits all of the high production values you'd expect from an EA game based on a Hollywood blockbuster. The character likenesses are great for the main characters, though the attention paid to them makes the cookie-cutter goons look rather bland. There are tons of explosions, with plenty of smoke, fire, and fog to go around. The game's locations are faithful to the movie, and capture the mood nicely, but for every good level like Arkham Asylum, you have to suffer through a warehouse or dock. The game supports 16×9, which really helps make it feel like you're "playing a movie." The framerate is generally consistent, but it does falter from time to time. Textures and animation are hit and miss; sometimes they are impressive, while other times they are so bad you'll take note.
Other than the occasional stiff that voices one of the lesser characters, Batman Begins has wonderful audio. All of the main characters are voiced by their movie counterparts, meaning you get: Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred Pennyworth), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Cillian Murphy (Dr. Jonathan Crane), Tom Wilkinson (Carmine Falcone), and Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox) – not a bad roster. The music fits the mood of the game perfectly, ramping up when the action gets intense, and dropping back when it's calm.
EA certainly goes to great lengths to show you that this is not just another way to cash-in on a movie license by including several interviews and making-of features. It's obvious that more resources were put into this game than the normal game based on a movie, but that doesn't change the fact that it's an unsatisfying experience overall. If you were a fan of the movie and want to re-live the experience, this isn't a bad way to do it, but if you're looking for a game that expands upon the movie, or one that stands on its own, it doesn't get the job done.