- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 2, 2005

Superheroes and cartoon characters have become integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. Around the world, youngsters and guys who can’t get dates spend countless hours in front of their computers and video-game systems.

With this in mind, I salute the melding of pop-culture character and Silicon Valley with a look at some …

Comics plugged in

Batman Begins

Electronic Arts game, $39.95

DC Comics’ Dark Knight returns to the silver screen, and Electronic Arts delivers an interactive companion in this third-person adventure based on the blockbuster Warner Bros. movie. The game gives PlayStation 2 and Xbox owners the chance to assume the role of Bruce Wayne’s costumed alter ego and patrol Gotham City with a mission to wipe out crime.

What’s the story? Here’s what the atman Begins production notes have to say: “Tormented by guilt and anger triggered by watching his parents gunned down before his eyes in the streets of Gotham, Bruce Wayne placates the demons that feed his desire for revenge by secretly traveling the world, seeking the means to fight injustice and turning fear against those who prey on the fearful.

“Bruce returns to Gotham to find the city devoured by rampant crime and corruption and unleashes his awe-inspiring alter-ego: Batman, a masked crusader who uses strength, intellect and an array of high tech weaponry to fight the sinister forces that threaten to destroy the city.”

Characters’ character: The game overwhelms players with authenticity, mainly by harnessing the voices and amazing likenesses of all the primary actors from the film.

Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Liam Neeson as Henri Ducard, Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane and Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox are just some of the stars who contributed to the virtual experience, which takes the player by the hand and leads him on a linear adventure to stop crime boss Carmine Falcone, the Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul.

Fear and stealth dominate the action as the single player controls Bruce Wayne and the Caped Crusader, who wears a fantastic-looking Bat suit, as he interrogates thugs and scares them into dropping weapons — and unleashes a fighting style honed in an early mission that placed him in the Himalayas training with the League of Shadows.

While in Gotham, the player can incorporate such famed weapons as the Batgrapple, Batarang, optic cables (to see under doors), a high-frequency transponder to summon a colony of bats and high-tech lock picks as he climbs poles, hangs from ceiling pipes and glides, using his cape, to infiltrate and extinguish evil.

Certain levels even allow him to take control of the awesome-looking Batmobile to crush opposition on the roads of Gotham in a pair of explosive missions.

Batman can even visit some Arkham Asylum residents, after he puts them there, to learn more about their criminal backgrounds.

Additional extras also allow the hero to wear a trio of costumes culled from comics and television and watch interviews with the makers and stars of the game.

How would Lt. Frank Drebin fare? The simulation pretty much spells out what the hero needs to do to succeed and survive by guiding him with lit icons and text tips to help him complete missions. Thugs can be battled via a standard button-mashing technique, but developers clearly want players to avoid conflicts with armed combatants by having Batman sneakily maneuver through environments.

Parental blood-pressure meter: 120/90, slightly elevated. Batman has no problem head-butting or punching thugs in the solar plexus while interrogating them, which makes scenes occasionally violent. However, no blood is shown, and defeated bad guys just magically vanish from the ground.

What if I feel like reading a book? DC Comics created the trade paperback “Batman Begins: The Movie and Other Tales of the Dark Knight” ($12.99), which compiles the official sequential-art adaptation of the film with four extra stories.

What’s it worth?

Casual gamers in love with the Batman mythos will revel in the look and feel of the “Batman Begins” cinematic presentation, while hard-core players will consider it too simplistic and short for the money.

Pop bytes

A brief review of game titles that didn’t have time to get fully plugged in.

Batman Begins Control Pad

Mad Catz for PlayStation 2 and Xbox, $19.99 to $24.99

Video-game-playing crime fighters will appreciate a new selection of Batman-themed controllers that offer equal parts of style and durability.

Players get a pad boasting grooved rubber grips, thumb-pleasing tactile rubber joysticks, an 8-foot cord and two expansion slots with art designs ranging from photo-realistic imagery of Christian Bale as the Bat to an awesome, fully extended illustrated pose of Batman with his cape fully extended.

The Batman controller assortment comes in colors such as fiery reds, Bat blues and blacks and striking white, with an assortment of slogans, winged creatures and an occasional Wayne Enterprises’ Applied Sciences Division logo appearing on some of the designs.

Although I love the selection and features, I am stymied as to why the control pads do not incorporate wireless technology. Considering the high-tech gadget world of the Batman mythos and in view of the fact that Mad Catz already has demonstrated that it has one of the best wireless controllers on the market with its Lynx and Microcon models, it seemed like an obvious, no-brainer choice.

Zadzooks! wants to know you exist. Call 202/636-3016, fax 202/269-1853, e-mail jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com or write to Joseph Szadkowski at The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002.

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