The Best Batman Game Pre-Arkham
What if I told you that the people who made Assassin's Creed made a Batman game? Then what if I told you that this game came out in the early 2000s? This game may be the best Batman game of the 3D era prior to WB Games and Rocksteady's Arkham series. The game in question is Batman: Vengeance which is the fourth Batman game published by Ubisoft, but the first to be developed by Ubisoft Montreal. Batman: Vengeance much like Batman: Chaos in Gotham and Gotham City Racer is based on The New Batman Adventures, whereas Batman Beyond Return of the Joker is not. The New Batman Adventures was the follow-up series to Batman The Animated Series. Batman: Vengeance is a 3D adventure game which is a very different direction from the previous BTAS/TNBA games which were side-scrolling beat 'em up games or 2D platforming games. The game follows Batman in a 5 part episode as he faces off against Gotham's criminals including Joker, Harley Quinn, Mr. Freeze, and Poison Ivy. In order to understand what made Batman: Vengeance a great Batman game, it is important to know the story, gameplay, and overall presentation of the game.
As previously established Batman: Vengeance's story is split into 5 parts. However, the overall arc is that Joker is trying to destroy Gotham City and he tries to find ways to distract Batman from stopping his master plan. It might be helpful to summarize each episode.
A Girl To Die For
Batman rescues a mysterious woman, named Mary Flinn, from an explosion at Gotham Chemicals. Discovers that Mary and her son, Toby, are in the Joker's crosshairs and he's demanding 5 million dollars from them. It is up to Batman to stop the Joker.
In Cold Blood
Mr. Freeze receives a video promoting Promethium, an unstable cryogenic chemical, and that angers him and he storms Gotham Industrial Research to confront Dr. Isaac Evers over the video. Batman has to stop Mr. Freeze before he causes serious damage.
Batman learns that Mayor Hill is meeting with a mysterious figure. Batman soon learns that Poison Ivy is poisoning Gotham's elite and politicians with plant parasites into making them bend their knees to her will. Batman must stop Poison Ivy and cure those with Ivy's parasites.
Following the Joker's death in "A Girl To Die For" many of Joker's men have been carrying out criminal acts with a new boss. In investigating this new activity from Joker's men, Batman is framed for assaulting Commissioner Gordon. Batman must go undercover to discover who's now pulling the strings behind the Joker's gang.
Joker is alive and he plans to destroy Gotham City using Promethium he acquired from Gotham Industrial Research. It turns out Harley Quinn helped worked behind the scenes to set up the Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy distractions to keep Batman preoccupied so Joker could finish his project. Now Batman must stop the Joker before he destroys Gotham.
The story of Batman: Vengeance is an interesting one and it manages to allow four villains to enact their own unique schemes in a coherent narrative. It ties very nicely at the end. It's very different from its sequel Rise of Sin Tzu or Batman Arkham Asylum, where the villains that were the main villains served more like obstacles that were in your way to the main villain. That's one thing that made the Side Missions in Arkham City, Origins, and Knight so good is that it gave the villains the side missions their own unique schemes that were separate from the main antagonist's schemes. Granted Vengeance doesn't have an open world so there are no side quests outside of the main story. That being said some of the twists were too predictable. The first one is that Mary Flinn is actually Harley Quinn, one both characters are voiced by Arleen Sorkin and they sound way too much alike. Two their names are too similar Flinn/Quinn come on WB, DC, and Ubisoft. Secondly, the Joker not being dead was also too predictable, now that being said one could argue that this one was more of a brilliant play on dramatic irony. You the player know that Joker isn't dead, but the characters in the game believe he is dead. That being said Batman: Vengeance has a good story apart from some predictable plot twists.
Batman: Vengeance has a very interesting control scheme, it may be difficult to learn at first, but once you get the hang of it, you'll enjoy it. One of the big things you'll have to get used to is alternating between first and third-person mode. For the controls, I will be using Playstation 2 buttons since that's the version I played. The Xbox and Gamecube versions will tell what buttons do what.
The first level teaches you basic motion controls. It’s pretty standard game controls. A nice feature in the game is Batman’s glide because it allows you to travel long distances where you could potentially fall to your death. There are some areas in the game where it requires you to learn glide breaking and how to master it. The Gasworks level stands out like a sore thumb in this regard. There is a section where you have to glide from platform to platform and time your breaks just right while going through a circular sewer tunnel downward. That was the most tedious part of that level, excluding the cheat envelope location. The gliding sections in the SWAT Chase and Rooftop Rumble level are actually fun and remind me of gliding in Batman Arkham. Now, of course, the gliding mechanic was much more advanced in Batman Arkham than it is in Batman: Vengeance, especially with dive-bombing and grapnel gliding added in City onward. That being said Vengeance does deserve credit for introducing mechanics that later games would use and improve on.
Now the controls do slightly change when you enter combat. The only real change is the jump button is the kick button in combat. The block animation changes from Batman goes from wrapping himself in his cape to using his arms to block attacks. Honestly, that never made sense to me because I was able to play through the game without wrapping myself in my cape. The mechanic is designed to make it so Batman doesn't take damage when he's shot at, and the cape takes the damage for Batman. I found it easier to just disarm guards and take them out than to cover behind my cape. I only used that mechanic once, and it was during the Joker boss fight to protect myself from his acid flower. Other than that I found it to be useless. Once you defeat guards you will need to handcuff them, that way they can't get back up and be a nuisance. Triangle is how you handcuff them.
You can sneak up on guards and handcuff them, that way you won't have to deal with the guards in a fight. It's very similar to performing an assassination in Assassin's Creed or a silent takedown in Batman Arkham. You carefully walk up to a guard and press the select button and you have successfully arrested a guard. You have to be very careful when approaching a guard because if you're not they'll hear you approaching them all they'll attack you. Much like Splinter Cell. Now if you're caught by a guard and you have smoke bombs on you, you can drop a smoke bomb to disorient a guard and get behind it and handcuff the guard. Another similarity Batman: Vengeance has with Batman Arkham and Assassin's Creed. Batman: Vengeance's smoke bomb mechanic mirrors Assassin's Creed more than Batman Arkham's because it only works if you have smoke bombs on you. Meanwhile, in Batman Arkham, you have unlimited smoke bombs, but you have to wait for the smoke bomb to recharge after you use it unless you're doing predator maps in challenge mode then you have one and you're done. Batman: Vengeance requires you to have handcuffs on you in order to perform stealth takedowns, Batman Arkham and Assassin’s Creed your character uses his/her hands and/or hidden blades. Luckily, levels, where handcuffs come in handy, have handcuff boxes everywhere, and smoke bomb boxes can be found in many of those same levels. The first section of the pause menu shows you how much of each gadget you have on you. Batman: Vengeance's stealth, in general, resembles Assassin's Creed more than it does Batman Arkham, hence why I brought up Assassin's Creed in the beginning.
Now the final part of the combat section is the power moves. The pause menu had five square icons on the left-hand side, the middle Icon that's a white Batman head silhouette will show you the power move combos. Power moves can be performed after the yellow bar on the power meter reaches a certain point. The power meter appears after you strike a guard and engage in a fight, the more you hit a guards the power meter increase. Once the yellow bar starts blinking you can perform a power move. I waited for the meter to fill up so I can use more than one power move on a guard and make quick work of the guard. Power moves are especially helpful against bosses that are fistfights like Joker and the hulking plant monster that the mayor was meeting with because of how much damage they do to your enemies. Power moves are unlocked based on how many points you acquire in the game.
Gadgets and First-Person mode
One feature that is divisive about Batman: Vengeance is the first-person mode which is used whenever Batman uses a gadget. The gadgets you have are binoculars, grappling hook, Batarangs (obviously), Electric Batarangs, and the Batlauncher, which shoots nets, stun rounds, and remote charges. The binoculars are basically useless, I was able to play through most of the game without using them. In fact, I only used them for fun to zoom in on enemies to look at their faces. The other gadgets are actually useful. Batman’s grapnel gun is the gadget that is used the most in the game because every level (after the Batcave) has at least one area where you need to use it. A flashing icon next to your health appears that looks like the grappling hook hitting something appear indicating that you need to grapple somewhere. A green arrow will appear next to your crosshair that will point to where you need to grapple, once you point to your destination your crosshair will turn red and that’s when you can use the grappling hook. The grappling hook is the only gadget that has a green arrow to point where you need to angle your gadget to, the rest just have green crosshairs that turn red when you point the gadget to your target.
I personally was indifferent about the first-person mode. When it came to disarming enemies it varied on how far or close they were to me. If enemies were close up I found easier to just walk up to them and punch them to disarm them then to go to first-person mode select Batarangs and throw one or two at them. If guards were far away I could throw a Batarang or two at them to disarm them and then proceed to fight them. The only guards you have to disarm before fighting are the Joker guards that use flamethrower because if you run up to them they’ll shoot you and Batman will block there flames with his cape and that prevents him from doing anything. Poison Ivy’s creatures can be fought in hand to hand combat, they just can’t be handcuffed because none of the “Animal Food” levels have handcuffs for you to get. They will get back up unless you kill them. The only problem I have is going back and forth between the two modes in levels that feel like they can be done entirely in one mode. The best example is the SWAT chase level where you can use nets and stun ammunition to take out SWAT officers, but then you're forced to go back to third-person mode after you you use your grappling hook. SWAT officers can be taken down with one punch, unlike other guards that have health meters across from yours that show up when you fight them. If anything I found the feature amusing because Batman is the last character you’d expect to have an FPS mechanic incorporated into a game of his. I do prefer how Batman Arkham handled gadgets with having them selected via the D-pad and you remain in 3rd person to use them. I’m surprised Ubisoft didn’t do that for Batman Vengeance, that’s how they handled using weapons in Splinter Cell which was made around the same time. It’s not that bad of a mechanic, but it can be tedious at points.
In the game, there are two levels where you use Batman’s vehicles. The first you pilot the Batplane (it’s now called the Batwing), and the second you drive the Batmobile. The controls are basically the same. Both vehicles are fun to use and drive/pilot, the problem I had was the level design. The Batplane level puts you between buildings, in the beginning, making you dodge buildings, and then it makes you fly above the road and dodge road signs. The Batmobile level has you dodging cars, which should be easy if the game didn’t place you into oncoming traffic after every turn that was plain annoying. In the sections of the vehicles levels where you’re not dodging obstacles, it’s actually fun to use the vehicles, and I would’ve preferred it if they just kept the levels like that, instead of making you dodge a bunch of obstacles in addition to what Poison Ivy’s enforcer and Mr. Freeze throw at you. On a personal note, I would’ve preferred the vehicle sections take place in the episodes that pertained to Joker and Batman chasing down Joker in a Joker vehicle. Mr. Freeze flew a generic helicopter and Poison Ivy’s enforcer drove a plain old car. Why not have Batman in the Batplane chasing Joker down in the Joker copter, or the Batmobile chasing the Jokermobile that would’ve been cooler.
In the game, there are four sections where you’ll have to perform a free fall rescue. The first is in the Batcave to introduce you to the mechanic, Batman catches a box. The second Batman saves Toby Flinn (who’s really just a bomb), the third Batman saves Harley Quinn, and the fourth is the final boss Joker. These sections aren’t horrible, just be sure to remember which button slows Batman down and which speeds him up and you’re good to go. I will say there’s a pretty big gap between saving Harley and saving Joker so just keep those controls in the back of your head. When you save Harley and Toby you’ll have to dodge steel beams. When you save Joker you’ll have to dodge the balloons he throws at you and bullets from the gun he shoots at you. The first three times you catch Joker it does a mid-air battle that knocks Joker’s health down, the fourth time you catch him is when you actually capture him. Again this is something I’m indifferent about.
There are nine boss fights in the game and four of them are Joker. The other five are Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy’s enforcer, Poison Ivy’s plant monster, Police helicopter, and Joker’s rocket clown. The first boss is Joker on a wrecking ball, you throw Batarangs at him and it will bump down his health. Then you fight Joker in a fistfight. The difficulty jump is massive between these two Joker fights. This is where I learned about the super moves, after failing many times, which made Joker a quick piece of work. Mr. Freeze is probably my favorite boss fight because it’s just the appropriate level of difficulty and fun at the same time. This fight introduces the remote charger and you use it on the Promethium tanks above Batman and Freeze. Like in Arkham City, Freeze will learn your strategies and try dropping Promethium tanks on you or Freezing you in your tracks. The Poison Ivy enforcer is just a fistfight like Joker. Poison Ivy’s monster requires you to use Electric Batarangs. It’s a bit of a trick to figure out where on the pipe you need to throw the electric Batarangs after successfully knocking the tentacles of the pipes using E. Batarangs. The next is the Police Helicopter which requires you to blow up the lights on the chopper with remote chargers, it’s not terrible. The next boss fight is the one I absolutely hate, it’s the Rocket Clown. This one requires you to throw Batarangs at the rocket launchers attached to the Joker Clown when they light up (red-colored lights). If you don’t the rockets will fire. This was just plain annoying and took me the most time to complete because I’m trying to time my throws right while dodging rockets. Then the final Joker fights come. The first is another fistfight, but you have to disarm Joker first. This is a bit tedious because you have to get a good aim, and then get to him before he picks up his Tommy gun. If you get there quick enough you won’t have to worry about being shot to death. Power moves, once the bar charges up, will make quick work of him. The final is just a free fail. I will say it was way too easy for a final boss, but I do like the creativity. Dodging bullets and balloons is the only real challenge in the level. The combat is automatic when you catch up to Joker. The bosses are creative aside from one tedious fight and one simple one.
Batman: Vengeance is one of the nicest looking games from its time. Having based itself on The New Batman Adventures, Batman: Vengeance put itself at an advantage when it came to aging because character models didn’t have to look like real people. Take a look at Batman Dark Tomorrow and how horribly it aged. The character models look almost as good as the Batman The Animated Series character skin models in Batman Arkham City, which came out a full 10 years later. That isn’t to say that the graphics are ahead of its time. Characters still have hands where the middle finger, ring finger, and pinky are molded together, other than that the graphics quality is pretty good as far as the in-game graphics go. The cutscene graphics are amazing, they look like they could be from a good Pixar movie from that time. It’s unfortunate that there were so few of them. The Cinematics look better than those in the game's sequel Batman Rise of Sin Tzu. The game’s story is mainly told through in-game cutscenes. Cinematic cutscenes only play to showcase a major event I.E. Joker’s death. Gotham City looks beautiful in the game even retaining the red sky from BTAS and TBNA. It truly feels like you're in Bruce Timm's Gotham City.
The voice cast of the New Batman Adventures returns to reprise their roles. Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tara Strong as Batgirl, Arleen Sorkin is Harley, Diane Pershing as Ivy, Michael Ansara as Freeze, Efrem Zimbalist Jr. as Alfred, Bob Hastings as Gordon, and Mark Hamill as the Joker. Yes, Ubisoft got Luke Skywalker to voice Joker their video game long before Rocksteady & WB did. The thing I found odd was seeing how little characters spoke in the actual cinematic cutscenes. Batman appears in the most cutscenes, but speaks the least. Also, Batgirl and Gordon are only in the in-game cutscenes. Alfred never makes a physical appearance in the game instead he teaches you how to play the game. Batman: Vengeance has a collectible challenge similar to the Riddler trophies. It’s collecting cheat envelopes. There are 5 in the game, 2 of them are really tedious (they involve gliding). If you complete the game and collect all the envelopes you unlock the cheats. If you don’t collect all of them before completing the game don’t worry, you unlock still unlock cheats. You can go back and collect the missing envelopes and then the game automatically unlocks the next cheat. The fact that the game allows you to replay your favorite levels and boss fights is always a huge plus.
In conclusion, while Batman: Vengeance isn’t Batman Arkham Asylum or Batman Arkham City (which came out 10 years after Vengeance), it’s still a great game for fans of the Dark Knight. The game has a good story and fun gameplay. Combine that with the DCAU voice cast and graphics that have aged well and you have a great addition to the Dark Knight’s gaming catalog. Though it may have had a few predictable plotwist and some gameplay elements that you will need to adjust to, those don't take away from the game's enjoyment. If you’re a retro gamer (one that's particularly fond of comic book games on top of that) or a fan of Batman or DC with a PS2, Xbox, or GameCube you should definitely pick this gem up.