I don’t want to get into discussing the actual movie. Given how vitriolic it got on Rotten Tomatoes and the like with critics doing anything less than lavishing praise on Christopher Nolan’s conclusion to his Batman trilogy, I’d rather not express my feelings and break down the problems I had with it. You can probably tell right there that I found it far from perfect (though still wholeheartedly enjoying it), so let’s just leave it at that.
This review is actually for the mobile The Dark Knight Rises video game. I played it on iPad (on which it’ll cost you $6.99), but it’s also available for iOS in general as well as Android devices. Developed by Gameloft, the studio behind such creatively bankrupt titles like Green Farm 2 and Shadow Guardian, TDKR for mobile devices is stunningly acceptable.
I try my hardest to go into every game with no prejudices or expectations. Sometimes this works out for a pleasant surprise like with the Battleship: The Video Game tie-in game and other times I’m utterly disappointed such as, well, I’d rather not get into it. That was an emotional moment for me. But TDKR is absolutely convention-busting in every regard.
As a Gameloft title, I don’t really expect much; they mostly produce mediocre to less-than-playable goods like Block Breaker Deluxe. As a movie tie-in game, I also had tempered expectations; the last one I really remember finding any jollies with was X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And then when you include the fact that it’s comic book-based, well, it’s not hard to imagine how incredibly dubious I was about this game.
But lo and behold, TDKR is actually a good game. You’re obviously not going to get the same production values as say Rocksteady’s Arkham series, but TDKR is just so full of game that it’s hard to ignore. There’s what feels like a full Gotham in there, beautifully realized, every inch of which is available for you to explore.
Despite the great dark and moody atmosphere set by the game overall, it’s also hard to ignore how empty Gotham feels. The streets are oddly pristine and eerily empty (pretty much like in the movie after, well, just see the movie before you play this game) and almost break the connection you have with moving about in TDKR. And sometimes things can get a bit too dark, almost to the point of not seeing anything at all. Neither of these things ruins the game by a far stretch, but it’s really unfortunate that Gameloft couldn’t seal the deal on otherwise great immersion.
What helps make up for the barren Gotham is the music. I wouldn’t say it’s the same as Hans Zimmer score from the films, but it’s close. It’s close enough to evoke the same feeling but not close enough to be of the same level of quality. I guess that, however, could sum up everything Gameloft has ever done, but I digress.
The closeness runs similarly rampant in the controls. Running off edges will allow you to glide around almost indefinitely, a handy concession to the fact that no one really likes running around the world using virtual controls. You can use a grapnel is help boost around the city, but the key is the combat, which falls closely in line with Rocksteady’s fighting system. You can dodge, counter, and strike and use gadgets like the claw to close distances and take down enemies. It mostly works as the number of enemies has been severely reduced to usually one or two at a time, but it has nowhere near the immediacy or brutality of the Arkham series.
Which, I guess, brings up the standard problem with mobile games: controls. Everything is mapped to a virtual button or stick, and unsurprisingly, that still incredibly frustrating and absolutely zero fun. While it’s nice that they’ve adopted the left-stick-anywhere methodology, not being able to feel or easily intuit where your thumbs are relative to the buttons and stick was enough to make me only want to play for a few minutes at a time. The occasionally totally broken camera usually reduced that to just a single minute at a time.
It’s good, though, that checkpointing is so frequent. It’s a nice admission to the shortcomings of the platform, the game, and playing on-the-go in general and definitely makes the game more manageable. There’s a lot to get through, though, at six missions, each of which are fairly sizable, so I actually wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t finish it. Had it not been for an extremely sizable chunk of free time last night and a compulsion to be as thorough as possible with any game I review, I know I would have stopped after probably 30 total minutes of playing.
It’s also worth noting that while you can upgrade your Batman by unlocking abilities and whatnot simply by playing and leveling yourself, you can also purchase upgrades. A fully loaded Caped Crusader will run you about 2,000 credits ($1.99), so it’s not that expensive, but given that would be about 28% of buying the game alone, that’s a bit pricey. That getting you into about early XBLA prices and while technically impressive, TDKR is not as fun as those similarly priced games.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with TDKR on iOS. Well, nothing aggressively wrong, save for the camera and the fact that it’s still played on a touch device with touch controls, but I didn’t regret playing this game. As opposed to when I spend time with most Zynga or Gameloft titles where I feel sullied and cheated afterwards, TDKR is a fine turn for the studio. Whereas their scorched-Earth policy of jumping on movie tie-in titles before has left me wanting and internally bleeding, their latest outing is a good one, able to stand on its own as its own game. Sure, it may have the sights and sounds (including some rather good major character impersonators), but as a game set apart from those trappings and the expectations of coming from where it came from, it is surprising. The Dark Knight Rises is a good game.