It used to be that you'd have to wait awhile to see games based on the big summer movie releases. But these days, the simultaneous movie-video game release seems to be rapidly becoming the norm. Electronic Arts, which has done some great work recently with its games based on the Lord of the Rings movies, is now delivering a game based on the upcoming Halle Berry movie, Catwoman. Catwoman attempts to deliver some Prince of Persia-like acrobatics, but its sharp graphics are offset by bad control, weak voice work, and shoddy gameplay.
Catwoman puts you in the role of the former Patience Phillips. After a brief tutorial-like sequence that demonstrates Catwoman's moves, you're shown a brief cutscene that is meant to reveal the mystical origins behind Patience's transformation into Catwoman. This noninteractive sequence isn't really clear, but it's still probably the easiest part of the story to follow. From there, you're never really given much in the way of motivation. You're on a revenge mission to take down the people responsible for your death (and subsequent rebirth as the cat lady), though most of the cutscenes consist of enemies running through doors to stop you or Catwoman gyrating around a bit while making a horribly hackneyed comment about her surroundings, like, "Working the night shift? So am I." The dialogue doesn't even qualify as campy. It's just dumb.
Playing Catwoman is a mixture of bad combat mechanics and a series of climbing and jumping puzzles. Catwoman can climb some walls, she can hang and swing from poles, and she has a whip that can be used to press buttons or grab onto distant poles for swinging purposes. She puts all of these moves to a lot of use, because most of the level layouts focus on Prince of Persia-like acrobatic puzzles. While this style of gameplay worked very well in Ubisoft's Prince of Persia, Catwoman's control isn't designed as well, resulting in a lot of frustrating moments where you know what to do but have to get the controls to cooperate.
Also adding to the frustration is an in-game camera that goes for stylish-looking shots instead of usable ones. This makes combat a hassle since you'll get attacked by characters you can't see very well. Furthermore, these camera issues occasionally make some of the levels--usually parts that you need to interact with somehow--harder to see than they should be. This, combined with the sometimes confusing level layout, means you'll be spending a lot of time in the game's first-person-look view, which lets you scan around a level in search of what to do next. The proper path through a level is marked by a scent trail that is only viewable in first-person mode.
The fighting in Catwoman is weak. Attacks are executed by tapping the right analog stick in any direction. If you're holding the crouch button, you'll kick. If you're standing, you'll whip or punch, depending on how close you are to your target. You earn points after each of the game's levels. These points turn into diamonds, and you use these diamonds to purchase new moves. Some of them, like a disarm move that lets you whip guns and nightsticks from your enemies' hands, are very necessary. However, most of them aren't really interesting or useful. Domination mode, for example, is yet another Matrix-style slow-motion effect. If the combat was challenging in any way, a slow-motion move might be useful. But here, it isn't.
Another weird thing about Catwoman's combat is that it seems to go out of its way to illustrate that none of your enemies ever dies from your attacks. When an enemy is defeated, he'll continue to stand around, but he'll glow and stop attacking you. And if you knock an enemy off of a high ledge, the game will often cut to a view of the enemy landing--and then sitting up and holding his head.
The game's overall control suffers because of the decision to make the right analog stick necessary for attacks. Since your right thumb is meant to always be on that stick, most of the game's controls are handled with the shoulder buttons. Too many different functions get mapped to your two primary trigger buttons, and the face buttons on the controller go largely unused. This can make your acrobatic maneuvers difficult to pull off. The combat is rarely intense enough to require a 360-degree attack ability, so this scheme just seems wasteful. The Xbox and GameCube versions, which have fewer shoulder buttons to work with, forces you to use additional, sometimes hard-to-reach buttons for some of your secondary abilities. This isn't a big deal--the control setups in all of the console versions are equally flawed.
The gameplay leaves a lot to be desired. However, Catwoman tries to make up for this deficiency with its graphics, which look great on all platforms. The Catwoman model animates very well, and the game's environments all look pretty good. In what can only be described as a creepy touch, letting the game idle for a while shifts it into a series of weird close-ups of Catwoman, who writhes around like a bad stripper and occasionally licks her hands and winks at you. These close-ups are dumb, but Catwoman is animated well and does a good job of showing off her model quality. However, if you stare at her too long, you might find yourself trying to stick dollar bills in your television.
Like the movie, Halle Berry plays Catwoman in the game. Her dialogue is sparse, and what is there is bad. Berry's attempt at sultry instead comes off as silly, because practically every one of her lines is completely over-delivered. Some will get a campy thrill out of it, but after you hear the same tired phrases repeated a few times, it just gets lame. The rest of the game's sound is passable, although pretty standard. Musically, Catwoman plays a different short clip of tense music throughout each level, which might fit for combat but doesn't really mesh well with the climbing and jumping that represents a majority of the game's action. The music occasionally fades down, though some more-suspenseful tunes would have fit the gameplay better.
Catwoman isn't a good game. The graphics are its only real strong point, and the rest of it has the feel of a bad attempt to duplicate the acrobatic gameplay that made last year's Prince of Persia such a success. But bad control and annoying camera work get in the way of this goal, making Catwoman a rental--at best. However, most players won't be missing much if they skip this one entirely.