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Batman Vengeance

Preview - Batman is back, and he's mean

Batman Vengeance was one of the games I was most looking forward to seeing at ECTS, and it didn't disappoint. Based on the animated New Adventures show rather than any of the live action series, the game adopts a third person perspective and follows the caped crusader through the sinister alleyways and silhouetted rooftops of Gotham City. An action-adventure title with driving, flying, running, jumping and shooting, it keeps you guessing as to what you're going to be doing next - leaping from platform to platform for dear life, trying desperately not to lose your footing lest you tumble to the ground below, fighting barefist, swooping down to surprise a wily crook or taking out enemies with your Batarang.

The Dark Knight

UbiSoft's Louise Gabriel led us through a few sections, showing us the various ways Batman carries out his work. In one sequence Batman is chasing Mr. Freeze's chopper through the Gotham night in his Batplane, maintaining breakneck speed through tunnels and amongst the gargoyles of the city's skyline while dodging sheets of ice crystallizing in mid-air, hurled at him by the crooks ahead.

It's not a game for kids, we were told. If the gritty film noir style of the cartoon wasn't enough evidence of that, the difficulty our guide was having with some of the levels certainly was. UIbiSoft knows that many of the people who watched and read Batman during the 80's grew to love his darker side, and that's the aspect Vengeance is trying to illustrate. The company is targeting young adults - the core demographic of the PlayStation 2 - and despite the game's cartoon visuals, the learning curve, storyline and on-screen action will very definitely fit that objective.

The game is laid out like a TV series, with exciting cutscenes and a thoughtful story breaking up the action and adventure elements. The story itself begins with The Joker's death at the hands of Batman. But instead of giving the city back to the people, the death of Batman's arch-nemesis opens the gateway for the likes of the deceptive Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, the deranged Harley Quinn and a number of other criminal masterminds to pour like polyfiller into the gaps left by The Joker's departure. Batman's task is divided into five episodes, each dealing with one of the villains menacing the city. The episodes, which unfold rather like those of the TV series, span 22 huge levels that cover stealth, action and adventure. Meanwhile the game features more than 30 minutes of real-time cinematics to tie it all together using a combination of in-game and pre-rendered movies, with Mark Hamill providing the voice of The Joker.

Cape of Despair

Visually Batman Vengeance is a very sturdy game, meeting the criteria of a cartoon with ease. The shading technique isn't unlike that of the TV series, although the game has a distinct third dimension where the cartoon does not. The rendered sequences and cutscenes on the other hand are almost indistinguishable from those of the TV series, with characters that are beatifully drawn and animated. Batman himself has several layers of animation in the game, with his cape drawn as an entirely separate entity with its own AI that reacts to movement and environmental factors. The animators have clearly seen Activision's Spider-Man games, because a lot of the visual style is very reminiscent of the web-slinger's console exploits. The simplistic textures and character skins have allowed Ubi Soft to go to town on polycount and other areas though. For example, in the high-speed Mr. Freeze chase sequence we witnessed an entire freeway full of vehicles driving about every which way with zero slowdown. Whether this will hold up as the game reaches its conclusion is unknown, but we certainly liked what we saw at ECTS. Another visual trick we appreciated was the use of first person perspectives whenever Batman reaches for a gadget with the R2 button. As with all good cartoon heroes, Batman is no stranger to gadgets. From his Batbelt he can pluck Batarangs, smoke bombs, a Bat Scope, Bat Launcher and tons more. Say you reach for the grappling hook; you immediately move to the first person view and have to line up the hook with a surface it can latch on to. If one is in view it will glow red and you can then fire using R1. Once attached, Batman is lurched from the ground and propelled through the air on the end of his tether before landing gracefully at the other end.


From what we have seen of Batman Vengeance so far it's pretty clear that this is much more than a kids game in fancy wrapping. After Neversoft broke the tradition of lame-brained cartoon licenses with a stunning platform debut, we've watched games of its ilk closely for another success. It looks like Batman Vengeance, developed by the guys who made the superb Rayman 2 : The Great Escape, could be just what we were waiting for. Look for Batman flying off shelves across the country this November.

Eye Candy