Ubisoft had a lot to make up for with their debut Batman game on the 6th generation of consoles: Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a game they picked up the tab from Kemco didn’t do the publisher any favors, nor did their PSOne Batmobile game Gotham City Racer. The new generation brought with it a fresh start for Ubisoft and the Batman license with Batman: Vengeance, a second year game on Sony’s PS2 hardware but a debut title on Nintendo’s GameCube and Microsoft’s Xbox original. While the end results are much better than the two above mentioned games combined, Vengeance is a game, at least for me, that I remember being better than what it actually is.
Batman: Vengeance is a continuation of The New Batman Adventures animated series and features the entire voice cast of returning actors from the series, including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker, and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn. What starts off as an investigation into why the Joker is threatening a seemingly unspectacular Gothamite turns the world of Batman upside down after the Joker appears to fall to his death during battle. With the Joker though, nothing is as it seems and soon clues start to show up that maybe the clown prince of crime is alive, and up to something even more dangerous than before.
The story in Vengeance was penned internally at Ubisoft without any creative input from the regular writing team of Batman: The Animated series, but it feels authentic to the source material. There are other rogues in the game, namely Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze, and though the entire game has one over arching narrative, the individual section around those characters come with their own title cards and episodes, like the show. Back when it was released in 2001, and even today, it’s always great to hear Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker.
What immediately brought this game into my radar when it was first debuted in the video game magazines was how great a job did capturing the look of the show in 3-D. The character models, environments and vehicles look spot on to their television counterparts down to the red tinted skyline. The caveat, though, is that the aesthetic works in stills, but not in motion.
Vengeance is an early era GameCube game, so it’s hard to be tough on the game for not being technically sound, but the characters have awkward facial muscles that when they talk, their mouths collapse in on themselves. Batman’s character model also lacks that extra layer of polish and he looks a little like he’s made of silly putty. Speaking of the Batman character model, in-game he’s missing a mouth slit and it makes his head look incredibly weird. The cape, my favorite part of any super hero costume, doesn’t flow naturally and even when standing still it looks like it’s sentient and it’s quite distracting. It does look spectacular though when you jump in the air and hold down the “A” button to glide.
When it came to settling on how Batman: Vengeance would play, I don’t think Ubisoft could settle on one theme. Primarily it’s an action-platformer, but it also has a first-person perspective engine as well as two different vehicles that have their own unique gameplay experiences. The jumping is serviceable, but the game is littered with invisible walls so you never know what you can and cannot grab onto to pull yourself up. You can’t actively adjust the camera despite having a camera stick, only set it behind or in front of you, creating some awkward angles where you can’t quite see where you’re going.
Fighting feels like a less terrible version of Spawn: The Eternal; The perspective moves into that of a fighting game where you can both punch, kick and execute a power move by holding down the “L” trigger when you fill up a meter. Attacking feels loose and unsatisfying, and I found it much easier to try to run away from enemies than to fight them. Enemies also get up unless you handcuff them when they’re on the ground, and you’ll constantly find yourself with not enough cuffs for the amount of enemies in a level. In the mandatory tutorial section towards the start, you’re taught how to sneak behind enemies to avoid confrontation, but I never got to use this skill once.
Batman has access to a plethora of gadgets, including batarangs, a net launcher, a remote detonator and his trusty bat grapnel. You can’t use any of these gadgets in third-person, you have to do so by tapping the “R” trigger to go into first-person mode. I actually wish that Ubisoft had kept the game like this, with a few minor tweaks, as the controls feel a lot more comfortable. You move faster, you get a better look at your surroundings as you can adjust the camera, and you can disarm opponents with guns with a batarang.
Something that should have been addressed right at the start is the placement of the attack button when in first-person in relation to looking. You use all tools in this mode by pressing “A” which is right next to the “C” stick for camera control. It’s fine in situations where you say, need to line up your cursor to attach to a grapnel point, but not when you need to move quickly and attack. Every boss, with the exception of the last one, requires you to be in first-person using a tool and dodging attacks. It’s unintuitive trying to avoid ice bullets from Mr. Freezer for example, while trying to hit a target above him to fall on his head to inflict damage.
As mentioned above, you pilot two vehicles through the course of the adventure: the Batplane and the Batmobile. I enjoyed piloting the plane a bit more than the car as the game turns into a Star Fox-esque rail-shooter. The playing fields are a bit too cluttered though, and the plane always finds itself being pushed into a sign or a building that forces a restart from the last checkpoint. Thankfully the checkpoints appear frequently, but the constant start and stop kills the momentum. The Batmobile section is a short closed off driving course that feels a bit like Mario Kart (how GCR should have played) where the goal is to shoot out a car. It’s one of the better uses of the vehicle in a video game, and I like that you have to tap on the triggers to launch a cable to make tight turns.
As a package, Batman: Vengeance is a bit too schizophrenic and you’ll really wish they stuck with one perspective over the other instead of trying to develop a first and third person engine. As an early 3-D Batman game, it’s easier to look over the short-comings if you’re a fan of the character, more specifically fans of the show as the story is engaging and it’s great to be reunited with the cast of the show. Anyone else should probably avoid Vengeance, as time has not been kind to this title at all.