The good news: I got to play through the first few missions of The Dark Knight Rises on iOS last week. The bad news: I've been spoiled on the first few key events of the movie; such is the risk of games writing. The Dark Knight Rises’ design is still a bit of a rarity for iOS games, namely a fleshed-out open world experience.
It certainly doesn’t compare to Rocksteady’s console achievements with the Batman franchise, but this release by Gameloft does feature a high-production mix of free exploration, mission-focused adventuring, and close-up combat.
Batman may not have his Batpod available at all times (certainly not in the beginning of the game), but he is adequately mobile, thanks to both his grappling hook and gliding ability. Practically every edge of a building is fair game for the grappling hook, and the UI gives very visible indicators for these hooking points. That includes reeling in enemies from a distance for a discrete takedown.
At times I’d pull in a thug while he was in mid-conversation, though that didn’t seem to bother, let alone alert, the other guy. This was a preview build, though, so I wonder if Gameloft allotted themselves enough time to fix such bugs.
The first few chapter's worth of enemy encounters are strikingly easy to clear, regardless of how many of Bane's thugs surround Batman. Spamming the attack button will do the job, and you won’t need to learn how to block until Chapter 4. It'll also help to know the dodge roll once snipers show up and try to pick you off while you're busy with the melee combat. If you do prefer to be as stealthy as possible, the game will present many context-sensitive opportunities for takedowns from above.
As with many movie tie-in games, it was cost-effective for The Dark Knight Rises to rely on sound-alike voice actors; the facial models also resemble the main actors from the film. Michael Caine's impressionist is nearly identical, and gosh bless Morgan Freeman's sound-alike voice actor for at least making a good effort.
What’s equally impressive was the time spent crafting the game's numerous indoor levels, particularly a multi-level subway and a very grungy prison. It’s great to see such story-focused areas complement the more expansive open-world portion of Gotham City. Some of the spaces might be tight, but it's easy to touch-manipulate the camera in case entire walls are obstructing your view.
These indoor spaces also feature numerous door-hacking mini-games. These use the classic conduit/pipeline game of rotating squares until you can get a line current to flow from one side of the screen to another. As many of these doors are part of the game’s critical path, you’re allowed as many retries as you need and some doors have more challenging time constraints than others.
In terms of play length, Gameloft claims that The Dark Knight Rises will be slightly longer than the publisher's recent iOS take on The Amazing Spider-Man, a game that takes about six hours to beat. An open-world Batman game on iOS doesn't exactly equate to Arkham City Lite, but this game does have a wealth of optional side quests, due to the sufficiently large map. These are mostly straightforward beat-em-up encounters as you retake areas controlled by Bane's soldiers.
There are also time-based bomb disposal missions and vehicle chases, the latter being an opportunity to introduce a certain flying vehicle from the new movie. Trying to control this flying machine became the most challenging part of my demo session, as I couldn't seem to move the camera well enough to keep up with the go-anywhere versatility of this vehicle.
The game has a competitive price point of $6.99 and Gameloft is further monetizing The Dark Knight Rises by giving impatient gamers the option to buy extra in-game currency to speed up the upgrading process for Batman’s skills, equipment, and vehicles. Yet the game does offer enough opportunities--whether you’re beating up every henchman in sight or completing missions--to earn the currency without spending more than the upfront $6.99. It does speak to the game’s depth that the Batarang’s damage rating can go up to five levels, glide time can be extended, and stealth skills can be further enhanced.
From the 45 minutes I spent on this game, Gameloft's The Dark Knight Rises might be worth checking out while basking in the afterglow of having just finished your day-one screening of the movie. I can't say with certainly how faithful the game is to the film, but I was assured by Gameloft that I did see spoilers. So, thank you Gameloft for not releasing this before July 20.
By: Miguel Concepcion