Superhero games have had a bad rap. But it's not like the criticism has been unjustified. Countless comic book cash-ins have been released over the years, with only a smattering of quality releases to speak of. The most recent Spider-Man games based on the movies and Ubi Soft's Batman games from last year are a step in the right direction, and Kemco's upcoming Batman: Dark Tomorrow looks to build on this momentum by delivering a dark, gritty game that will do the comic book incarnation of the Dark Knight justice.
Gotham has fallen on hard, chaotic times. With gang wars raging across the city and delinquents battling for control, Batman has never been needed as much as he is now. Just when the caped crusader has jumped into the fray to clean up the mess, Commissioner Gordon disappears. As luck would have it, the infamous lockup for Gotham's worst degenerates, Arkham Asylum, has been locked down with no way in. It's up to Batman to decipher the clues and find out how these seemingly unrelated events are connected to each other, which will lead him to uncover a much larger issue that threatens humanity as a whole.
Batman: Dark Tomorrow's gameplay is interesting in that it's unlike that of any previous games featuring the caped crusader. Batman takes up his usual role of crime-fighting detective, but to solve the mystery he'll have to use hand-to-hand combat, stealth maneuvers, and a wealth of gadgetry from the confines of his utility belt. Moving Batman is accomplished with the analog stick, and the control scheme mirrors that of Resident Evil. In other words, pushing up always makes Batman walk forward, holding left or right on the stick makes him pivot in the appropriate direction, and holding down will cause him to walk backward. But unlike in the Resident Evil games, Batman can jump up to higher areas using the B button. In the latest version of the game we played, control was still a bit loose, and it sometimes seemed to have a mind of its own. But with so much time left in development, this will undoubtedly be cleared up.
The melee combat is easy to grasp, but you'll have to master some of Batman's gadgets to be effective. One of the best tactics to use involves the batcuffs. To beat up thugs you simply tap the A button. Batman will then perform a series of punches and kicks that will knock the baddies to the ground. Once they're on the ground, you can switch to Batman's batcuffs with the directional pad and subdue the enemies for good by pressing the X button. At the top right corner of the screen is a map that looks and functions very similarly to the map in the Metal Gear series. Enemies are depicted as dots. Red dots represent enemies that are still freely walking around, while yellow dots are enemies that have been incapacitated with the batcuffs. Normally, the best tactic is to cuff enemies right away, regardless of how many other thugs are surrounding Batman. Of course, if you'd like some breathing room, you can always drop a smoke capsule that will leave the enemies dazed and confused. If the smoke capsule isn't enough or enemies are firing guns at Batman, you can hold the R button to bring up Batman's cape for protection and watch as the bullets bounce off of it. Holding the R button and moving the analog stick in the appropriate direction will cause Batman to sidestep or perform backflips to get out of sticky situations.
As you might expect from a game bearing the Batman name, being stealthy is an important part of the detective work. While exploring, Batman has a wealth of control options at his disposal to help him go undetected. When approaching a wall a simple tap of the L button will cause him to place his back against the wall. You can then move Batman to the edge of the wall and peek around the corner for enemies. When Batman is out in the open, pressing the Z button will cause him to tiptoe. Then it's up to you to guide him behind enemies where you'll tap the A button to subdue them. You can also make Batman get down on his hands and knees and crawl through tight spaces such as air ducts by pressing the Z button twice. While in the crouched position, tapping the B button will cause him to perform a roll.
The gadgetry in Batman: Dark Tomorrow is extensive, and you'll be able to try out just about every gizmo he's wielded in the comics. In addition to the batcuffs and smoke capsules mentioned earlier, you'll be able to use the batgrapple to swing from one rooftop to another, the batcable to scale large structures, night-vision lenses to spot enemies in the pitch black, the batarang as a projectile weapon, a medical kit for when Batman is in need of some health, a universal tool for a variety of applications, and a finger light to see into small, dark areas. You'll eventually be able to use some of Batman's special vehicles like the batglider as well.
The first thing most people will notice about Batman: Dark Tomorrow's graphics is that the game is played from a variety of different camera angles that will dynamically switch on the fly to better show off the action. When Batman uses his projectile gadgets like the batgrapple or the batcable, the camera will quickly switch to show them making contact with their intended target, and a puff of smoke will emanate from the target. The camera angles used in the game seem to work predominantly well at showing off the action, and the enemy placement is catered to the amount of area you can see at any given time. For instance, if there are a lot of enemies to fight, you'll end up seeing much more of the given area.
Batman's character model is pulled directly from the comic books instead of the animated series that the character model in Batman: Vengeance was based on. His suit is darkly colored save for his gold utility belt and the logo on his chest. His eyes glow white and are cleverly animated to give away his emotions at any given time. The list of enemies to be included in the game runs the gamut of bad guys from the comic books. Black Mask, Scarface, the Ventriloquist, Killer Croc, and more popular villains like Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, and the Joker all make an appearance in the game, and their representative character models are more realistic looking than you'd expect, though they match the visual style of the rest of the game quite well. Batman's cape is probably the game's most striking visual image. It flows realistically in the wind and reacts to every bump and jolt the Dark Knight takes. However, Batman's animations look a bit stilted so far, but this is due, in part, to the tanklike control scheme that makes it difficult to move with any sort of realistic fluidity. However, there are a few nice animations in the game, such as when Batman slips and falls when running too quickly over slick surfaces. Enemy animation is pretty basic so far with just a few different punches and kicks included.
The environments in the game set the tone quite well, and Batman's quest will take him to a number of seedy spots. According to Kemco, you'll be able to check out Batman's bat cave with all his gadgetry and vehicles as well as skim across the top of buildings in downtown Gotham. Other locales to visit in the game include the docks, the square, the dingy Arkham Asylum, and an abandoned steel factory. The factory is the primary playable level in the latest build on display, and it was permeated with steel piping, catwalks, and other industrial objects. The common theme among all the areas in the game is darkness. Each room has plenty of shadows for Batman to hide in, and the environments in general have a dingy, worn look.
From a technical perspective, Batman: Dark Tomorrow is solid. All the environments are rendered in polygons, which allows you to go into a first-person view and look around the environments using the C stick. The texturing for the game is understandably bland from an artistic perspective, but the textures themselves are of a high resolution and give the game a crisp, clean look. Fog is used to startling effect throughout the game to provide atmosphere or to show the recoil from weapons. Real-time shadows and lighting abound, adding to the gritty atmosphere. The game also includes a wealth of prerendered FMV sequences to move the plot forward, and the voice work during these scenes is excellent.
Batman: Dark Tomorrow is staying true to the comic's roots and already delivers an experience unlike any game featuring the Dark Knight before it. While the Resident Evil-styled controls still need some tweaking and are a bit disappointing, the surprising gameplay variety and the stark, realistic visuals make for a powerful combination. The game is currently scheduled for release in November, but look for much more on this anticipated project in the near future.