After some successful adventures in the two-dimensional realm, Batman had a rough period, or what some may see as growing pains, before players received the wonders of the Arkham series. In that timeframe there may have been one or two salvageable titles, but Batman: Vengeance isn’t one of them. I can’t say that I was too terribly disappointed, as I had been warned, but it is hard to see my favorite DC Comics hero suffer. I almost didn’t review this one, but there are some things worth talking about, and there being a lot of bad means I get to rag on Ubisoft, so let’s get through this.
Immediately, I’m thrown off by this opening title screen. It looks horrible, even for 2001, especially when I know there is better art in most of the game’s cutscenes. The title cards that break up episodes are a little better and call back to the cartoon, which is cool, but nothing spectacular. Vengeance seemingly takes place after Batman: The Animated Series and right before The New Batman Adventures, while it took artistic cues from the latter. The backgrounds and other aesthetic touches are wonderful with the color and tone, even if a touch bland in some spots, but I’m not a fan of the character models and they have this weird blurring effect in some cutscenes.
“Less wench,’ he says,’ more hench,’ he says.” –Harley Quinn, Hench-wench
The CGI cinematic story bits are the best part of the game, as the script is intriguing with some expected twists and turns. While predictability isn’t bad, the tale flows at an interesting enough pace where players won’t consider the plot holes until after the game is done, and the stagnation is minimal. The voice action was a major boon too, as so many of the main cast from the animated series lent their voices, with Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin stealing the show, but also notable for Michael Ansara, as this was one of his last performances as Mr. Freeze. It was even nominated for an award due to its music, which is genuinely motivating in moments. This all comes together in a suitable presentation because it was imitating the show, striking a cord with fans and showing it cared about the source material. Too bad the rest of what I have to say is all against it—no award nominations from me.
The controls are simply god awful. There is this insufferable first person mode that is in no way intuitive and requires a medium level of accuracy, but is the easiest thing to mess up. Movement is clunky at best, while some inputs don’t seem to register, and the camera will remain a constant issue. It fails at special awareness and doesn’t fully use the scope of the 3D environment, but especially in boss fights, creating visual shortcomings.
All of that stacks on top of a sad excuse for a combat system, where fighting a single person can be tedious and taking on multiple people is a lesson in frustration. Thankfully, some of the AI enemies just stand and wait their turn, or are satisfied after contributing one or two hits. Henchmen get quite tough later on, ignoring certain types of attacks and taking much more to beat down, but the worst part is when they get back up. The Caped Crusader has a limited amount of batcuffs, and anyone not restrained will simply recover after a brief nap with less health, needing to be put down again, making the overall fisticuffs tedious. The limited applications of stealth are forgettable, and in some cases it is easier to just run away from enemies, which is incredibly un-Batman. I also want to know who decided that the jump button should also be kick, when I was never sure which action it would actually perform, causing me to get hit or jump away from a target, leaving myself open. Fighting in a game like this should be fun.
There are several other annoying parts. Most boss fights require specific gadget use, which is basic trial and error, but it almost always involves working around the 3D environments and limitations of the engine. I like that they let the hero have so many gadgets to use, but they are heavily relied upon, almost like a crutch in certain stages, as well as extremely annoying to cycle through. Batman has his vehicles also, and those sections may handle much better on the controls, but they are vexing in their own right and took me several attempts. There are freefalling sections also that I hated, especially when most of the hits are cheap and focus more on memorization and having one chance to hit a target. At least they are brief after some practice runs. Puzzles in the game fit well and try to show some of Bruce Wayne’s detective skills, but a few of them are ridiculously easy and feel like busy work, with the hardest puzzle in a couple of placing being: “where do I go?” Dying is a pain due to a poor checkpoint system, with most stages seeming to only have one. The game isn’t too hard until later on, but I seriously considered using some cheats here. The developers knew all of this though, as one cheat let’s you enjoy the game in its purest form, by just watching all of the cutscenes.
The box is appealing at least, a cool logo, with Batman and a foreboding tone. There isn’t much to the manual, but it was neat to look through, and at least my copy came with a lovely product catalog for some Ubisoft games I hadn’t heard of, circa 2001. The back of the box boasts something about the cape having its own AI, and I feel like that should have been more of a sign as to what I had signed up for. Really though, the game is just average; a great presentation, working off of solid material, with a bad engine, some cut corners, and mechanics that needed some serious work. I still see this as a stepping stone though to some more fantastic games later on. There is a Game Boy version that I hear is better, and lets players control more characters, but still follows the same plot. Maybe that is the true version of Vengeance, but for now, Batman will skulk back to the shadows, lacking in true satisfaction.