The Dark Knight rises, but not after a few falls along the way
While Gameloft continues to strive toward pushing out “console quality” games on mobile devices, its track record has been able to pull some heroic partnerships. Both The Amazing Spider-Man grossed over half a billion dollars, while The Avengers is the third-highest grossing film of all time. Joining the Marvel madness is Detective Comics’ newest blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises.
At least eight times out of ten, I love the work that Gameloft does for mobile. In light of this, it felt pretty strange to come out of The Amazing Spider-Man a little disappointed. It only took a few minutes of play from The Dark Knight Rises before my Spidey sense started tingling: both games are extremely similar, and very likely run on the same engine. There were two possible outcomes to this: either the Dark Knight would rise above his arachnid competition, or he’d fall into the same pits and trappings as the last game.
Or there’s always the third outcome – where some problems are fixed, but new ones arise. That, much like Bane’s introduction of anarchy to the city of Gotham, can be a pretty sticky situation.
Let’s start with the positives. The biggest improvement over Spidey by far is The Dark Knight Rises‘ presentation. Voices aren’t goofy or unbearable, and ring surprisingly close to their on-screen counterparts. Character models still don’t move their mouths when they talk, but thankfully, they look much better.
At first, I thought that The Dark Knight Rises benefitted from using smaller environments instead of Spider-Man’s sandbox approach. However, even in the latter half of the game where Gotham opens in a similar fashion, I never experienced any kind of slowdown. Models were crisp, and even blended well with motion blur.
You’d think that the hero with the ability to swing with an unlimited web supply would be able to transverse properties more fluently, but the caped crusader also has the edge here. The grapnel gun has an incredible range, allowing you to zip across incredible distances without breaking a sweat. Plus, once you’ve easily reached a tremendous height, there’s nothing quite as fun as gliding a hundred meters downward onto an unsuspecting criminal. The Bat Pod and “The Bat” vehicles are few and far between, but also provide the same satisfactory speed-based thrills.
Unfortunately, the glide-based takedowns become the game’s epitome of combat. Once you take things to the streets, the two-button combat gets old very quickly. Batman is able to bust nearly unlimited heads with his single-button punch, and occasionally tapping a counter button whenever it shows up keeps you damageless most of the time. There’s a plethora of collectible ranged weapons to toy with, but let’s be serious here. You are The Batman. Why throw things at a distance when you are a one-man jujitsu-wielding army?
Despite its extremely frustrating flaws, Gameloft’s Amazing Spider-Man (as well as Batman’s Arkham series on consoles) has one major advantage on the bat: a rewarding upgrades system. Spider-Man came with dozens of options to explore right off the bat, and players could improve their character in any facet they wanted to. Batman’s upgrade pool is surprisingly scarce in terms of new offensive moves, and many abilities are locked behind a specific level before they can be purchased.
Instead, the one big thing The Dark Knight Rises did borrow from Spider-Man was very possibly the worst aspect of the game: terrible filler missions. I understand that a videogame based on a movie needs to add in extra content in order to create more gameplay, but this is exactly why games should be companions to films rather than an emulation of them. If I made a drinking game for every “diffuse the bomb” mission in Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises combined, I’d have been dead long before I wrote this review.
My final issue with The Dark Knight Rises is that despite it’s extremely polished visuals; it’s still pretty buggy. Despite being one of Batman’s favorite methods of intimidation, enemies are unable to be knocked off of buildings, and instead glitch to invisible layers of the floor in any situation where they’re bumped too much. In one scene, guards open fired on me mid-cutscene. And across my playthrough, the game crashed on my new iPad no less than seven times.
The Dark Knight Rises, like The Amazing Spider-Man, is a game that I desperately want to love, but I’d be fooling myself if I didn’t say it could be a good deal better. Add in additional hand-to-hand combat options, debug the crashes, and diversify the missions and you’d have a perfect game. And while the easy way out for me is to simply recommend Arkham City, a game with all of those options, it goes to show that the Dark Knight only needs to rise a little farther to present a perfect mobile crime-fighting experience.