Though The Dark Knight gets the most attention, coming three years sooner it was Batman Begins that changed the superhero film as we know it. Christopher Nolan’s original interpretation of the character was one that was rooted in reality and was, crucially, believable. It was the first time it felt that characters like this could exist in the real world.
It’s only fitting, then, that such a film’s tie-in video game would also be one that goes against the grain. Whereas games based on films have a reputation for being rough, rushed and relying on hype to move units, the game of Batman Begins is a lovingly crafted, fully realized game that has far greater longevity than would be expected of an adaptation game.
Released in June 2005 on the original Xbox, PS2, Game Boy Advance and GameCube, the game combines both action and stealth elements familiar to those who are well-versed in Metal Gear Solid and Splinter Cell, as well as sections where you get to drive the Tumbler (aka the Batmobile that isn’t the Batmobile). It may not have the depth of the games that have clearly inspired it, but Batman Begins does more than you would expect it to, and enough of those elements well, that it avoids feeling like a clone.
Anyone who picks up Batman Begins today will inevitably make comparisons to the pre-eminent Arkham series, which followed this game four years later. Some will be surprised to find some similarities between the two; being able to utilize environments to avoid detection, scan locations for clues and the emotional state of enemies affecting combat. It is surprisingly ahead of its time.
It is also a well-presented game with a cinematic feel evident from the outset, where players take control of Batman as he breaks up his first crime in his new persona as Gotham’s caped crusader. This first level acts as an introduction to the game’s fighting and stealth mechanics as well as to the villain of the piece, Dr. Jonathan Crane or, as he will come to be known, The Scarecrow.
To aid combat, Batman can make fights more straightforward by using batarangs, smoke grenades and flashbangs to disarm and distract enemies. The most innovative element, though, comes when approaching thugs that need to be taken out in order to progress.
Batman can read the mood and heart rate of foes as well as analyze the environment for things that, when disturbed, can put the scare in enemies. Frightening thugs by hitting surrounding targets lowers their defences and makes them easier to dispatch.
In stealth sections, Batman can make use of tools such as a code-breaker and an optic cable for looking under doors as well as climbing ledges and pipes to avoid detection and reach new areas. While the stealth here is in the shadow of its influences and enemies often stay rooted to one spot, these sections require some thought and expertise to pull off perfectly, which is one of the biggest thrills of the game.
The impressive opening gives way to level two, set in the Himalayas, which is the best example of the game’s capabilities. As well as having all manner of action, complimented by easy-to-learn controls, the locations are so well-detailed and the character models in particular still look great, as good as it probably was possible to be for its time.
That’s not to say Batman Begins does not peak by its second mission. The action is the same throughout the remainder of gameplay, which is all set in equally impressive locations, including Arkham Asylum, Wayne Manor and the Gotham Docks, with particularly impressive moonlighting effects.
It doesn’t get everything right, though. Character animations aren’t quite up to scratch, sometimes lacking the proper physics to feel real. There are a few pacing problems to contend with too, but as a whole these are minor, forgivable flaws.
It’s also worth noting that Batman Begins is highly faithful to the film it’s based on. It’s not scene-for-scene but it doesn’t take many liberties with the plot and makes great use of the elements drawn from the film. The developers also went to the trouble of securing most of the film’s cast; Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy and Tom Wilkinson, to reprise their roles.
Batman Begins may not be very original, but it is a much better game than it needed to be. That ambition has seen it hold up 15 years later, and while sadly it wasn’t met at the time with the reception it deserved, those who missed out can now make up for it. The game can easily be found online, your best bet being to grab a copy from Amazon.
As always with these pieces, let us know your memories of Batman Begins. Did you play it back in the day? The comments section is down below.