Watching the new "Batman Begins" movie thankfully erases the bad memories of the last few Batman movies -- and this new game should do the same for gamers who suffered through such awful movie tie-ins as last year's furball of a Catwoman game (also from EA).
Although Batman Begins is not the must-own, end-all Batman game that many fans have been wishing for, it's still a fun and entertaining ride. Played from a third-person perspective, the game ably replicates the dark look and gritty feel of the flick's Gotham City. The fantasy of living in the movie world is further enhanced by the voice acting and likenesses of the entire cast, including Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Michael Caine.
This title is designed for casual gamers, which means navigating the seedy Gotham underworld, Arkham Asylum and city streets is simple -- probably too simple for veteran gamers. You must combine martial arts combat with stealth to strike fear into the enemy. (For example, if you sneak up on the armed thugs first, the unarmed will run away scared.) You'll also make use of that trusty utility belt, employing the lock pick, Batarang and Batgrapple to break into places and get out of trouble. The highlight of the game, though, is the chance to don an armored suit and slip into the new Batmobile tank for high-speed chases at night through the crowded Gotham streets.
While the blend of game play styles works well, the ultimate worth of this game will depend on how batty you are for the Dark Knight, and how versed you are in games in general. It can be polished off in six hours, not much time at all compared with most titles these days. And fans who do replay it won't find any surprises the second time around.
-- John Gaudiosi
PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, $40
MEDAL OF HONOR: EUROPEAN ASSAULT, Electronic Arts
The Medal of Honor series is rightfully credited with sparking a boomlet in historically accurate first-person shooter games. Its latest iteration, European Assault, features spiffier graphics and a few new trimmings but follows the same basic formula: battlefields and weapons drawn to match what Americans fought on, and with, decades ago.
As U.S. Army Lt. William Holt of the Office of Strategic Services (the CIA's forerunner), your character represents the spear tip of various allied assaults, first in France and then across North Africa, Russia and finally Germany. Though you are OSS, this is not a sneak-and-be-silent game -- the bullets fly, as do the artillery shells and grenades fired and thrown by your Nazi enemies, who are controlled by the computer but still are smart enough to carry out the right defensive moves on their own.
The environments are beautifully rendered, whether in the back streets of the ruined French city of St. Nazaire or the surprisingly mountainous "open desert" of North Africa. The audio effects are just as effective: Different types of gunfire have different cracks and pops, and you can hear dirt and rocks rain down after an artillery strike.
Other aspects of this game, however, exhibit awkward moments. Your troops are infuriatingly stupid, often running directly into your line of fire. The controls don't feel too natural, and a new squad-based play feature fits poorly into the rest of the game. An "adrenaline" mode basically just re-creates the "bullet time" slo-mo action other games have offered for years. Embryonic multiplayer support is limited to the number of controllers that you can plug into one console -- after you've played Halo with a dozen opponents, charging around Europe with one to three opponents is underwhelming.
-- Robert Schlesinger
PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, $40
PSYCHONAUTS, Majesco/Double Fine Productions
This comes from the same folks who developed LucasArts' classics Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and it shares many of their ingeniously kooky sensibilities. Consider the story line: You take on the role of a brilliant kid named Raz who must make the most of one day at Psychic Camp -- then finds that an evil scientist is abducting fellow campers and stealing their brains.
Psychonauts' 13 enormous levels all you to roam pretty much wherever you want. That's a necessity in practice, as exploring and interacting with the odd cast of characters is required to learn more of the story. The catch is, 10 of those 13 levels aren't physical places at all -- Raz's special abilities allow him to enter the minds of adult counselors, then use his psychic powers to battle dark forces inside. The scenery here reflects each counselor's mental makeup. For example, the psyche of the regimented disciplinarian Oleander is littered with figments of tanks, trenches, bombs and explosions, while the psyche of the painter Eduardo is a beautiful, velvet-encrusted world. Back outside of people's heads, Raz can employ such psychic abilities as levitation, pyrokinesis and telekinesis to battle the hordes of enemies in the game.
In one particularly clever level, Raz enters the mind of a mutated lungfish who happens to be terrified of Raz. (Long story.) So inside this strange place, Raz finds himself to be a giant destroying Lungfishopolis, trampling on buildings and stomping on a miniature army like Godzilla. If Tim Burton designed games, he might very well come up with something like this. But you may have a lot of trouble explaining Psychonauts to friends who haven't played it yet. -- Tom Ham
Win 98 SE or newer, PlayStation 2, Xbox, $50