Monday, April 14, 2003

Looking To The Stars: Dark Tomorrow, Bad Game

I’ve always kept on comic-based video games, even during the years I didn’t own a video game system. And though I may be dating myself a bit with this reference, I think the greatest Batman video game of all time was the movie tie-in made for old 8-bit NES. Everything I have seen since then was poorly made and it is with good reason that most of the gamers I know have been viewing Batman: Dark Tomorrow with a good deal of skepticism.

Before discussing Dark Tomorrow (hereafter DT), I think a little discussion of the last Batman game “Vengeance”. Released a few years ago for the Gamecube, X-Box and PS2, it was based on the Batman Animated series. The graphics were done in a style that emulated the artwork of Bruce Timm and the actors from the series returned to lend their voices to the game characters. As gorgeous as the game was though, it suffered from awkward perspective problems, a clunky control interface and the fact that you spent as much time watching movies than actually playing the game.

The first big problem that DT has is that it uses the same engine and unwieldy controls as “Vengeance”. The second big problem is that it has removed all the elements that made “Vengeance” enjoyable. The excellent voice acting has been replaced by a team that is competent but cannot replace Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. The graphics are gorgeous and as finely detailed as any Jim Lee cover but lack the flow and simple charm of the Bruce Tim style in gameplay.

In fairness, DT does improve upon two things from Vengeance. The first is the map feature, in the upper right screen corner, which does give you a slightly better idea of where you are and where you are heading. The second is the more realistic fighting system. In most of the Batman games to date, you either knocked a bad guy out once and had them fade away in the traditional video game manner or you had to fight them one-on-one, Mortal Kombat style, doing combos and such in an effort to beat up one simple thug. DT compromises with a more realistic compromise. That is, Batman can easily take down one thug with one or two focused blows and knock them out for a moment. Confront him with a whole army of gang members or mental patients at once, and he is going to get stomped.

This leads to a game that, in some respects, is the most realistic adaptation of the Batman mythos ever and the first to make the player have to simulate the mannerisms of Batman as a character while playing. Taking on the massive crowds of enemies requires planning and skilled item usage as well as stealth. On the other hand, this realism can also be somewhat aggravating. Like in Vengeance, knocked out thugs will recover and come chasing after you again once they wake up, unless restrained with a pair of handcuffs. Unlike Vengeance, the thugs are not spaced out as much and they recover much more quickly. This means that you can face two enemies, knock out one, start fighting the second and have the first one back up and fighting as you finish the second one. Thankfully, you have unlimited handcuffs as well as unlimited continues (Well, so much for the realism there…)

Still, there is the infamous awkward interface, which makes rooftop jumping difficult, movement annoying and grappling impossible. In fact, there are two different grappling hooks: one for straight up-down movement and one for swinging across roof gaps. Why you need two is beyond me.

Perhaps most annoying is that, like in Vengeance, you have to switch to a first person perspective to use all of Batman’s special weapons. Unlike Vengeance, DT does not allow you to move at all while you are in this first person perspective and getting hit by an enemy automatically knocks you back into third-person view. Yes, that’s right. No hit-and-dodge maneuvers here. Just go to first person, fire off a shot, switch back to third person and run. This means that your Batarangs are pretty much useless, unless you are knocking out an unaware enemy from a distance. And what with the timer on unconscious enemies coming to, they are likely to be awake and angry by the time you move in close enough to handcuff him. And that’s assuming the enemy is alone. If they have a buddy, he’ll be smart enough to see his companion fall down and will immediately turn upon you.

Overall, Dark Tomorrow is a big waste of time, lacking the entertainment value of the earlier game’s cinematic scenes and having even more difficult controls. Looks like the Batman game curse continues.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt Website.

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