Batman: Vengeance is a port of a console game that was released a full year ago, but the game's general appearance and sound hold up surprisingly well. Unfortunately, if you actually sit down and play the game, you'll find that the game also has horrible problems with its camera perspective and controls, so much so that playing Batman: Vengeance is an exercise in frustration. Unless you happen to like frustration, or you love Batman fanatically, or both, you're better off leaving Batman: Vengeance alone.
Batman: Vengeance is based on the TV cartoon that ran in the 1990s. Though the show drew inspiration from both Tim Burton's blockbuster motion picture and the official DC comic series, the Batman cartoon distinguished itself with its outstanding voice acting (featuring the likes of Mark Hamill, Roddy McDowall, and David Warner) and its distinctive look. All of the cartoon's scenery and characters looked extremely simple--Batman himself had a literally square jaw and a pair of triangles for eyes, but he always looked great leaping into action against his enemies, thanks to the cartoon's extremely fluid animation. Batman: Vengeance tries to capture the look of the cartoon series, and in some ways, it succeeds. Its characters, especially Batman, look much as they did in the later years of the cartoon show, and many of them, especially Batman, are animated extremely well.
True to the nature of the cartoon series, Batman: Vengeance's character models are simplistic and are also textured simply. So are the game's various background areas; some of these do a good job reproducing the dark, gothic look of the cartoon, but most of them are simply too plain and in many cases too gray or too brown. Take even a brief look at the flat, unadorned walls of Batman: Vengeance's warehouses, train stations, and docks, and you'll probably feel that the game would have looked a lot better if it had featured cartoon-style flat-shaded graphics, like Sega's colorful and innovative console game Jet Grind Radio, which was released two years ago. Fortunately, Batman and his enemies are animated well enough, and Batman himself has a limited but decent-looking arsenal of punches and kicks that he can use to dispatch his enemies at close range. When he's not fighting, leaping, or tossing batarangs at his enemies, Batman and his sidekick Batgirl are uncovering the game's surprisingly complex story, either in real-time, in-engine cutscenes that look about as good as the rest of the game, or in splotchy rendered movies that are so blurry that you'll sometimes have a hard time seeing what's going on.
No matter how much of a Batman fan you might be, you'll be hard pressed not to start pulling your hair out in frustration once you start taking on some of Batman: Vengeance's jumping puzzles. Batman: Vengeance's control scheme is unchanged from the original 2001 console versions--you can use the gamepad or the W, S, A, and D keys on your keyboard, but you'll move in only eight directions (exactly like a gamepad) with a fixed camera that will drastically change positions without warning. To be fair, the game's camera doesn't suffer from some of the common problems that plague third-person action games on consoles--it doesn't get stuck behind the character, and it can be reset by switching to the first-person view (which you use to aim thrown weapons or to use items from Batman's utility belt, like batarangs or the batgrapple, an extending grappling-hook device that Batman used often in the TV show). However, the camera can't be moved manually, so you're generally at its mercy when it decides to make a gut-wrenching 180-degree swivel after you fall from a height or descend a stairway or when you're faced with a challenging jump over a seemingly endless series of bottomless pits. These jumping puzzles might have been manageable if the game had let you rotate the camera around Batman to gauge the distance between jumps, but instead, you're left to guess where the nondescript gray ledge you're standing on ends and where the next nondescript gray ledge begins and to try again and again before you can move on to the next area.
These camera problems are also an issue on terra firma when fighting thugs in hand-to-hand combat. Though Batman can, in theory, immediately immobilize enemies by sneaking up on them with handcuffs and disarm his opponents with a well-placed batarang, you'll generally find yourself blundering headfirst toward all your enemies, even the ones armed with guns, since many of them will be placed around corners and twisting corridors that simply won't let you see around them, thanks to the game's fixed and arbitrary camera angles. You'll basically charge your enemies, hoping that you don't get shot too many times before you get close, then beat them senseless. Though Batman can eventually learn a few fancy special attacks, you can simply beat all of your enemies by alternately blocking and then using Batman's default flurry of punches--the game's fights aren't terribly difficult, but they can become irritating if you're being pummeled by more than one enemy on more than one side.
And unfortunately, that's nearly all of Batman: Vengeance's gameplay. The game generally alternates between fighting, jumping puzzles, a fight, a puzzle, then another fight. But it's clear that the game's designers presented some of the game's most frustrating elements as "challenges" that would make the game longer, because aside from its frustrating jumping puzzles, Batman: Vengeance is a pretty short game. It's a safe bet that you'll find at least some, if not most, of the game's jumping puzzles to be frustrating, but what makes them even more preposterous is that many of them involve hopping over small distances or clambering up short piles of crates (or in one of the game's most frustrating puzzles, giant mushrooms)--distances that Batman would easily be able to cover if he could actually grab onto that ledge to hoist himself up or use his batgrapple to save himself from falling to his death. Yet you can grab only a few certain, arbitrary ledges and use your batgrapple only in a few certain, arbitrary areas. The rest of the time you'll helplessly watch Batman fall to his death repeatedly and for no other reason than that the game's designers couldn't think of any way to challenge players or lengthen the game otherwise. Though you'll also be able to play through a few very brief levels in which you'll pilot the batplane, ride in the batmobile, or control Batman in freefall as he tries to rescue a falling victim, these are all relatively short and not especially enjoyable, and the batplane and batmobile scenes can be difficult to control because the game inverts your mouse or gamepad while aiming and flying.
Generally speaking, you'll find most of Batman: Vengeance to be un-fun work that you'll need to try and retry repeatedly until you get it right. It's a shame, because the game features good voice over from the actual actors of the TV show, as well as a surprisingly good orchestral soundtrack reminiscent of Danny Elfman's compositions for both the Batman motion picture and TV cartoon--though the music can get repetitive and even annoying when you're repeatedly trying to complete a jumping puzzle. Batman: Vengeance's frustrating puzzles and almost complete lack of secrets and hidden items also ensure that you'll probably never go back and replay the game. Fortunately, if you're just looking for a PC action game that you can use to test your reflexes, you have plenty of better games to choose from this year.