Genre : Action
Release Date: October 16, 2003
This is my third review, in as many years, of a 128-bit Batman game. The first, Batman: Vengeance gave me hope that the Bat might be making a comeback. The second, Batman: Dark Tomorrow, threw that hope away and laughed in my wet, crying face. To say that I went into Ubisoft's latest Batman game a tad unenthusiastic would be an understatement. The truth is I went into this game fully expecting it to suck ass. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was not disappointed. Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu actually manages to breathe new life into the long-disappointing franchise by ditching clumsy platform antics and considerably beefing up the excitement level with solid and smooth, combo-oriented combat and an intriguing storyline featuring an original character from comic book God Jim Lee.
The character in question is named Sin Tzu, a brilliant war strategist who prides himself on conquering opponents who have never been beaten before. Using the ancient teaching of Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Sin Tzu feels quite confident that he'll cage the Bat. Especially since he'll have a few strong arms, who have recently broken out of Arkham Asylum, on hand helping him out. Batman will have to contend with the likes of Scarecrow, Clayface, and Bane before he is finally given a chance to engage Sin Tzu. The hordes of thugs, all of whom are apparently adamantly devout followers of some sort of anti-Batman religion, and/or cult, won't make your job much easier, either.
Luckily, fighting wave after wave of thug in Rise of Sin Tzu is not something you'll dread doing, at least not for the first few hours. The surprisingly deep and satisfying combat system in the game guarantees that, at least. You begin the game by choosing among four characters: Batman, Robin, Batgirl, or Nightwing. Right off the bat you can tell this is a Batman title with potential. Regardless of which character you choose though, their combos are pretty much the same. (Although it should be noted that each character benefits from unique attack animations.)
The gameplay breaks down like this: by tapping either the punch or kick button in rapid succession your character will perform combo attacks. Changing up the order and timing of your button presses will execute a wide assortment of different combos. Also, a DMC2-like combo-counter in the top-left of your screen will count the number of blows you land without too much delay, the higher the number goes the faster your combo-meter is replenished and the quicker you're able to execute the most devastating combos in the game (most of which will kill any enemy in a single shot).
The story and levels in Rise of Sin Tzu remain essentially unchanged regardless of which Bat-hero you use, but one nice gameplay incentive that Ubisoft threw in is the inclusion of simultaneous two-player action. The simple beat-em-up foundation on which this game rests is perfect for multiplayer and there are some attacks that can only be performed if you're fighting side by side with another player. Between levels you'll be able to purchase new moves and combos, a system similar in design to the one used in The Two Towers and the upcoming Return of the King videogames. But like those games, Rise of Sin Tzu is quite short. Most will rip through the entire game in under 7 hours.
It's clear that the folks at Ubisoft spent plenty of time making Rise of Sin Tzu look as good as it does. Using a style in the same vein as that of Batman: The Animated Series TV show, the art direction is simple and epic at the same time. The characters and environments are decidedly dark and shadowy but the clean and sharp symmetry of both the architecture and character models quickly put to rest any concerns that the game may not be suitable for a younger audience. The animation is liquid smooth and considerably heightens the appeal of the proceedings with over-the-top punches, kicks, and combos. Lighting and shadow play a large role in the overall feel of the game, and the Xbox handles these elements with aplomb, casting realistic shadows and all sorts of lighting effects at every turn.
The sound presentation is also surprisingly well executed. The sound effects that come from kicking the crap out of your opponents are perfectly implemented to put an extra sense of style and power into each and every move your character performs. The voice acting is right on par with the animated series, and the script is interesting enough to keep you playing the game even when the straightforward gameplay isn't. The soundtrack in Rise of Sin Tzu tends to feel a little off-kilter at times, especially when high-energy techno tracks start playing in a dark and dingy alleyway. But it's safe to say that all the music in the game is quite enjoyable to listen to, if taken only on the merits of what you hear and not how what you hear complements or detracts from the on-screen action. Uhh, yeah.
Overall, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu is a refreshing Batman title that helps put some dust on the previous Dark Tomorrow installment. The straightforward combat system and satisfying method in which new moves and combos are acquired will be a sheer delight for anyone looking to get down with some no-nonsense button mashing. But the interesting storyline and excellent Jim Lee inspired character design will also go a long way to keep you playing.
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