The greatest foe the Batman ever fought against isn’t Ra’s al Ghul, Hush, or even the Joker. No, the most challenging criminal in the Caped Crusader’s rogue gallery exists outside of his control, and it’s only known by one name: bad movie licensed games (BMLG). Unfortunately, BMLG are back in Gotham, wreaking havoc with this year’s release of The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) on mobile devices.
The Gameloft-developed TDKR is the only game on the market based on this summer’s blockbuster film of the same name, the last of director Christopher Nolan’s critically and commercially lauded Batman trilogy. It’s a shame it didn’t turn out so well, since Bruce Wayne’s alter ego is enjoying a positive resurgence in video games thanks to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum and last year’s Batman: Arkham City, both of which British developer Rocksteady Studios made.
Let’s put our detective caps on and figure out what went wrong.
WHAT YOU’LL LIKE
Impressive presentation for a mobile game
From the rain drops beating down on Batman’s suit to the impressive lighting and draw distance of Gotham City, TDKR is a good-looking mobile game. So good that to the untrained eye, it might even look like something that belongs on a PlayStation 2. Textures look sharp and detailed, especially in the environment, where you’ll never come across the same building twice.
Batman himself is chock-full of graphical nuance, and every single piece of his suit appears painstakingly rendered with the utmost care. The menu design is surprisingly slick, as well, with a clean and stylish interface for the game’s “Tech Shop,” a hub for displaying all the upgrade options at your disposal.
Gameloft doesn’t borrow nearly enough from Hans Zimmer’s superb soundtrack for the movie, but the music that’s there does an adequate job of making you feel like you’re playing as Nolan’s Batman, rather than a mere caricature of him. Echoes of the film’s major themes are heard in the game’s various tracks, and they appropriately crescendo during the more dramatic moments.
None of the actors from the film reprise their roles here, but the sound-alikes the developers hired are not a bad substitute. In particular, voice actor Sean Schemmel accurately pulls off Batman’s hoarse, guttural vocals from the movie (which stars Christian Bale in this role).
WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE
Boring and repetitive combat
Combat is the crux of TDKR’s experience, as almost anything you do in the game involves punching or kicking someone. You have four buttons to tap on — one for the actual physical combat, one for your gadgets, one for jumping and dodging, and one for countering — but you can get through the game perfectly fine if you mash on the first one.
However, a severe lack of variation in Batman’s move set is the real problem here, even when taking the counter moves into consideration (the counter button only appears when someone is trying to whack you from behind). Within my first hour or two of play, I saw the same right-hook-left-hook-spin-kick-slow-motion-uppercut combo more times than I cared to count. Sometimes the Dark Knight decides to add a swift knee or elbow to the face and maybe even pick up an enemy to toss him to the ground, but this does little to alleviate the mind-numbing formula.
It’s so frustratingly boring that I spent most of my credits (earned only when defeating criminals) buying and upgrading the Batarangs — small shuriken-like weapons in Batman’s arsenal — just to avoid the hand-to-hand fighting altogether. Don’t even bother using the other gadgets: Except for specific circumstances, they’re too ineffective in combat.
Defusing bombs for the hundredth time
The challenge for any studio creating an open-world game like TDKR is making sure that mission designs are constantly fresh and interesting to encourage the player to explore the environment. Gameloft is unable to overcome this obstacle, as the game clumsily succumbs to the stereotypical pitfalls associated with the genre. You’ll play through the same handful of mission archetypes over and over again.
Whether you’re following the story or the side missions, you’ll likely grow tired of saving hostages, defusing bombs, and hacking electrical equipment. When these issues were paired with the repetitive combat, I couldn’t stand playing the game for more than an hour at a time.
Not even Lucius Fox can fix all the glitches in this game
Part of the reason movie-licensed games are often horrible is because of an extremely limited amount of development time, often being less than a year. After all, no studio intentionally sets out to make a bad game.
TDKR, however, feels like it’s not even finished. Sometimes it’ll quit to the iPhone’s home screen by itself; helicopters will quietly vanish after you set an EMP charge on them, rather than crash to the ground; the audio will cut out intermittently during mission dialogue; and enemies will magically walk on air when you fight them on rooftops. In one baffling instance, Batman kept freezing in place at the end of a mission, but everyone around him continued to move and talk like nothing happened. The only way I was able to circumvent this was to escape the bugged-out location by grappling to another building.
If you care at all about how Nolan’s trilogy comes to an end, please watch the movie before playing the game. Some scenes and set pieces from the film are depicted in the right chronological order, but they’re cut short or artificially expanded on with boring gameplay objectives.
Specific lines of dialogue from the film are even repeated word for word, but they, too, lose their intensity and panache because of the altered scenes. The rest of the plot plays out like a bland and uninteresting CliffsNotes version of the film.
Freemium model in a paid game
Optional in-app purchases (IAP) are de rigeur for games in the App Store, so I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s included in TDKR. That doesn’t make it any less disgusting. The game costs $6.99 up front and is filled with IAPs — in the form of virtual items or in-game currency — at a wide range of prices. Apparently, someone out there is crazy enough to spend $99.99 for 150,000 in-game credits.
With a laborious combat system, sterile mission designs, and a weak retelling of the storyline crippling it, TDKR game is an entirely skippable experience. Only those with nerves of steel and an immense amount of patience will be able to slog through all eight hours of this Gameloft-crafted adventure. Otherwise, if you really need your Dark Knight fix, just watch the movies again. Or play any of Rocksteady’s Batman games.
The Dark Knight Rises was released on June 20, 2012 for both iOS (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) and Android devices. The game was bought and reviewed on an iPhone 4S.