The Dark Knight is back in Ocean's second Batman game, this time based on the over-hyped film. It's already advancing up the charts on other formats, and now the wait is over for ST batfans: the definitive review has arrived...
Batman The Movie
Forget those beat-'em-ups and car games: they're for wimps. If you're a real man (er, person?) then play a superhero's game. After the hype for the film (which failed miserably, by the way, to live up to inflated expectations), the repeat of the wonderfully camp 60's Batman TV series and even the dusting off of the cartoon strip, you'd be hard pressed to find a superhero more famous than Batman. But superheroes have super enemies to defeat, and now's your chance to pit your skills against the greatest arch-villain of them all.
The objective is broadly the same as the film: wipe the smile off that nasty Joker's chops and thereby make the world a safe place to live, etc. With Gotham City currently under the Joker's thumb everyone is susceptible to attack from lethal Smilex gas, which he's maliciously injecting into everything from balloons to food.
Accomplishing this mammoth feat is a challenge of both joystick skill and brain power. You do battle against the infamous villain across five levels so distinct that Batman is really five games rolled into one - indeed, three different programmers have been involved in programming separate levels. As a result you end up with a platform game, a car-racing game and even a strategy level tossed in for good measure. If you can overcome this lot you fully deserve to defeat the Joker. Nonetheless it still boils down to a nailbiting, on-going life-or-death type situation at the end.
The five scenes are tied in commendably closely to the film, with the game beginning in the Axis chemical factory. This is under attack by Jack Napier and his evil gun-toting henchmen. As Batman, you must work your way through the plant and find Napier, then drop him into the acid vat. This will disfigure him so badly that he becomes the Joker and the challenge is really on.
Scene one is a platform level and finding your way through the maze of corridors is an enormous problem. This is one of the hardest levels because, if you're going to make an impact on the rest of the game, you need to get through this scene without losing any of your three lives.
The factory is a multi-directional scrolling hive of rooms, crawling with two types of enemy. You have to progress constantly to the right but with lots of dead-ends scattered all over the place, this isn't always as easy as it sounds.
And of course there are the obligatory bad guys: one of these is a forward-firing mob man while the other is one of Napier's special henchmen who can aim his bullets straight at you even if you're on the level below him. Fortunately you have your Batarang at hand and you can aim this at the enemies - one hit and they drop to the ground. The whole thing is made harder by the need to dodge drops of lethal oil which drip from the pipes. Reach Napier at the end of the level and he falls into a vat of toxic chemicals and emerges so melted that he's known henceforth as The Joker.
To move around the platforms you either take the slow route of climbing ladders and running along, or you can take the much speedier option of using your bat rope. You can shoot this up to the ceiling and fly or climb to the top. One of the game's strengths is that all these options are controlled using a very logical set of joystick movements and this is common for other levels.
In the second level the game abruptly switches to racing simulator mode. Race through the streets, dodging all the otehr cars in front of you: hit 'em and you lose valuable energy, drifting ever closer to the big sleep. The speed of the Batmobile makes it easier to avoid other vehicles, but drive too slow too long and you're going to run out of time before you reach the end of the level.
Because finding your Batcave isn't the easiest thing in the world, the direction you need to pursue is indicated by a red arrow at the top of the screen. Sounds easy enough, but the prob is, you're supposedly going so fast you can't steer. So what do you do? Ah, hell, you're Batman, you figure it out... Aha! By pressing the fire button you can toss out a rope and grapnel at a nearby lamp post. This wraps itself around the post and you sail round the corner. If you're whizzing along it's very easy to miss the lamp post and sail straight by without a care. Miss three turns in a row and you fall foul of a police roadblock. (So much for the People's hero!)
Level three, set inside the Batcave, brings you in contact with the Joker's Smilex - a brew so wicked it kills anyone it gets in contact with (bit like privatised water, really, bit of politics). Its victims drop down dead in agony with a big grin on their face - cue interesting horrible sprite.
Strategy comes in at this level, and it runs something like Mastermind without Magnusson. Certain food items have been contaminated with the Smilex and it's down to you to choose which three are thus infected. You choose three objects at a time and the computer tells you how many of these are deadly. Using a process of elimination, you work out the right ones within a time limit. It's not hard if you're as incredibly intelligent as what I am.
For the fourth level you end up back in the middle of Gotham City undercover of the night. The Joker has promised lots of money to everyone who turns up, so not surprisingly there's a massive carnival taking place on the streets. But The Joker isn't all laughs. Inside the carnival balloons there's more of the nasty Smilex gas: and the balloons are about to burst. You're at the helm of the Batwing and you've got to slice through the mooring ropes of the balloons with its wings. This is trickier than you'd imagine, because you have to chop through every rope or the gas escapes into the air. Let too much gas loose and you kiss goodbye to yet another precious life. Things are looking bad for Batman. And of course there's a time limit - take too long and the balloons go up anyway.
Last of all comes the Cathedral scene - the tedious, protracted final conflict in the film. Here, you need to dodge the floors as they crumble beneath your feet, and at the same time avoid rabit rats. As in the first level you need to use your Batrope to avoid meeting your death during a tumble through the floor, and also use your Batarang again to kill the rats.
Make it as far as the roof and you get to participate in the final act of conflict where you must kill the Joker or he'll escape to Gotham City. This is where the crucial battle is won or lost.
Although sound effects are no more than competent, graphically Batman is one of the mst exciting games for a very long time. In the platform level the sprites of the enemies and Batman have all been carefully animated so that they run, shoot and die most convincingly. Unfortunately, Batman can only walk through the levels, which is frustrating until you get used to making the most of the Batrope.
Get off the first level and things get absolutely incredible, the Batcar in the second level features some state-of-the-art programming. The cars in front and the roadside sprites come at you very quickly, but it's the 90 degree turns around corners which look out of this world!
This ultra-fast movement is brought up again in the fourth level where you take the controls of the Batwing.
Apart from the rather jolly New Zealand Story, Ocean's achievements in the 16-bit field have hardly been earth-shattering. Robocop may have hit the top of the charts and got stuck there, but it was one of the worst film conversions of all time, and a truly appalling ST game. Red Heat was little better.
Batman, however, appears to mark the start of a new direction for Ocean. With Chase HQ and The Untouchables to follow soon, the signs are certainly promising.
It seems Batman may well make that "all important" number one slot in the ST charts, and it fully deserves to. Until recently, it's been commonplace for film licences to be underwhelming, with the cost of acquiring the title so enormous that approximately £4.85 is left over to try and program the thing. If Batman is anything to go by, things are changing for the better.
It can be frustrating when you find yourself returning to the start of a level every time you lose a life. On the other hand, this does teach you how to solve the problems ahead: and that's just as well, for there's never any short-cuts to later levels. If anything puts you off it's likely to be the sheer difficulty involved in getting through some scenes without losing a life.
Principally because of the massive variation between levels, there's a strong incitement to progress further and further into the game, ably assisted by some superb graphics. The game has remained faithful to the film and dedicated Batfans won't be disappointed. As Batman curls up into a dead and lonely ball, there's only one question left unanswered: "Where's Kim?"