Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight was something of an anomaly when it came to superhero blockbusters. Despite starring the world’s most popular superhero and grossing over a billion dollars worldwide, there was no video game tie-in. Now that its highly anticipated follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises, has arrived in theaters, Warner Bros. and Gameloft has rectified this obvious slight against fans worldwide by providing gamers with not only the best Batman game ever made, but also redefining movie-licensed games as we know it, providing the definitive Dark Knight experience.
Nah, I’m just kidding. It’s just another poorly made movie tie-in game.
Unlike the 2005 adaptation of Batman Begins for home consoles, The Dark Knight Rises is made for iOS and Android platforms, attempting to provide mobile gamers with a console-sized experience on the go. And it’s certainly a notable effort. For only about $7, The Dark Knight Rises provides all of Gotham City to explore, as well as being segmented into many indoor levels, producing a large and varied experience that goes through the story of the film while adding a few new segments of its own.
Unfortunately, the experience provided is by and large an underwhelming one. Unsurprisingly, the game takes most of its cues from Batman: Arkham City, but fails to successfully translate its gameplay mechanics onto mobile platforms. As a result, gameplay is mostly spent struggling with clunky movement, simplistic and monotonous combat, and broken vehicle segments.
Like many mobile titles that attempt to mimic console games, The Dark Knight Rises employs “virtual buttons” to emulate traditional control schemes. Also like many mobile games, it is virtually broken. Many times the game has trouble registering your inputs; moving Batman in a three-dimensional space with a virtual joystick simply doesn’t work. This carries over to the various segments featuring Batman’s vehicles, the Bat and the Bat-Pod. Attempting to handle these mechanical monstrosities was undoubtedly the worst vehicle section experience I’ve had in my gaming career.
Combat fairs better, only because it requires the least amount of input to actually succeed. Essentially a simplified version of Arkham City’s combat, Rises’ fighting sections require you only press two buttons: attack and counter. It’s fun in a purely cathartic way, and the Caped Crusader’s fighting animations are great, but it carries none of the depth that made the Arkham games such a blast to play; no combos, no special moves, no gadgets, nothing. Technically, there’s a jump/dodge button, but I’d be hard pressed to say Batman ever did either of those things when the button was pressed during combat.
Outside of combat, Batman carries a number of gadgets, such as his patented Batarangs, grappling hook, smoke bombs, and flashbang and EMP grenades, which can be upgraded through leveling up or by purchasing through microtransactions. The grappling hook is trusty for separating thugs with rifles from the pack, but for some reason the game does not allow you to use your gadgets in the midst of combat, only enabling you to use them on enemies from afar. What’s the point of that?
Frustratingly, the free-roaming sections of the game provide a Grand Theft Auto-style “Wanted” system, where Batman attacking thugs in the street will draw in more waves of enemies with increasing lethality if he is unable to prevent them from sounding an alarm. However, the camera control in the game is so horrid it’s impossible to get a grasp on where any enemy is at any given time, meaning that these encounters will usually last until the player retreats or quits the game out of frustration.
It never ceases to amaze me how far mobile gaming graphics have come, so The Dark Knight Rises’ presentation is definitely impressive. But other than successfully capturing the look and feel of the film, there’s nothing about the art design that really stands out. The game’s voice actors do an admirable job of imitating the cast from the film, though Batman’s gravely-growly voice sounds even more ridiculous than it does in the trilogy. Unfortunately, Bane is exempt from this attention to accuracy, sounding more like a generic thug than his menacing, yet sophisticated, counterpart in the film.
If The Dark Knight Rises gave me anything, it was a severe desire to see Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Universe continue into gaming. It’s just too bad they decided to put their resources into making this poorly-conceived mobile version. A full-blown console adaptation of The Dark Knight Rises featuring Arkham City’s gameplay could have the potential to be one of the best movie-licensed games ever. Instead, we're left with a cheap knock-off that neither works as a mobile experience or the console experience it attempts to deliver. I do not recommend The Dark Knight Rises game; if you want to see more of this interpretation of Batman, you’ll just have to stick with the movies.