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Platform(s): GameCube, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox
Genre: Action


Xbox Review - 'Catwoman'

by Geson Hatchett on Aug. 31, 2004 @ 12:15 a.m. PDT

Catwoman is based upon the DC Comics character. The film and game follow the story of Patience Phillips, who is killed after she uncovers a dark secret held by her employers. Brought back to life by a rare Egyptian cat, she becomes Catwoman and sets out to discover the truth about herself and her murderer

Genre: Action
Developer: EA Games
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: July 20, 2004

Catwoman wants to be Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time very, very badly.

It wants this so badly that both it, and you, the player, can taste it.

Unfortunately, not only does it never achieve this objective, it actually manages to damn near insult Prince's genre at every turn that it tries to pay homage to it.

Hoo-boy. Where do I start? It's all a jumble. I'll just start talking, and hopefully it'll all make sense-or at least, more sense than this game does.

You play the role of Catwoman (not Patience Phillips-by the time the game starts, she's already "dead and reborn," as the flashback kindly lets us know in the middle of a jewelry heist). Catwoman's mission is to get revenge on the people who tried to kill her, and collect lots of bling (aka shiny trinkets, and yes, they actually use the word "bling," God help us all), in the process.

On Catwoman's side are her cat-like reflexes and agility, her whip, and a whole lot of attitude. She starts the game with a basic medley of punches, kicks, and wall-scaling moves; as the game progresses, depending on how much (ugh) bling you pick up, and how many ranking points you earn, you can buy new combat moves and techniques, as well as unlock production gallery extras and the like. Sadly, all of the new techniques are centered around taking out enemies (which aren't all that numerous), as opposed to ones that will help you on the platforming and adventuring parts, which take up the majority of the gameplay.

The adventuring portions of Sands of Time become intuitive after a relatively short period of gameplay and tutorial time. In Catwoman, there are two entire stages devoted to tutorial, one of which takes a minimum of half an hour, and once you come out of them, you're still confused. Often, instead of figuring things out on your own, you wait for the game to push you ahead by way of either text on the screen or blatant visual cues that detract you from the game (more on this in a bit). The controls do not help much, either. Catwoman is mainly controlled with the two analog sticks and the two top triggers of your Xbox controller. It is… disconcerting, to say the least.

It is most disconcerting when you note that the combat system is built around these controls as well. Fighting consists of running around with the left thumbstick (often to position yourself so you can kick a guard into a tiny space and unlock a passage), then holding the left trigger and once again using the left thumbstick while it's held to activate your attacks. It's on-again-off-again with that left thumbstick and left trigger, which makes the fighting extremely stilted. The right thumbstick controls your whip, and that's all it controls. Where are the face buttons in all of this? Set to miscellaneous tasks, if any, such as activating your cat-sense. Not very helpful in a fight.

Also of note is that, while this is a three-dimensional game, there is no camera to speak of. None at all, save for your first-person view cat-sense. Oh, the instruction booklet tells you that you can move a "camera" with the directional pad (what the heck?), but once you try it, and note a slight nudge to either side before it stops, you, too, will agree that this game has no camera to speak of. Trying to figure out what to do next? Want to get a good angle, and judge your terrain? No way, buster. Work with the automatic camera – which is like the one in Pre-Hurricane Pack Ninja Gaiden, just above and behind (though sometimes in front of!) your character, only here you can't reset it – or take leaps of faith.

That's another thing. Leaps of faith are a very bad idea here, and yet, you will be taking many of them. The most obvious difference between Catwoman and Sands of Time is that, well, there are no Sands of Time. You miss a jump off of a high place, and boom, it's three to five minutes of getting yourself back to where you were from the ground level you just fell to. There's no rewinding or slow-motion here. Some call this a challenge, but I call this needless, cheap and just plain frustrating, especially when one takes the already muddy control into account.

To the game's credit, there are actually times when you can keep track of the game's mechanics well enough that you can get into a sort of "groove;" you'll know what to do next, repeatedly, and be able to look like a pro. In Sands of Time, you have this groove often, and the game's engine helps you out in this regard – if you'd truly figured out what to do next, then the game would perform your desired action flawlessly, and you moved on.

Unfortunately, in Catwoman, it is also possible to guess correctly at what to do next, yet fail and fall anyway. Lack of momentum on a jump? Missing the exact moment in pressing the analog trigger? Just plain bad karma? Catwoman is unforgiving, even when you've done nothing wrong. To add insult to injury, it is actually possible to guess the correct next move by way of pure dumb luck. Catwoman's agility, power, and flexibility seems to vary by the minute. At one moment, you're swinging from one pole to another five feet away. Suddenly, you're swinging from that one to another one two building stories up that you could barely see at the corner of the screen allotted to you by the game's horrid camera. It's jerky, unbelievable moments like this that pull you out of Catwoman's world, and into the Bizarro Gameplay Zone.

The graphics don't help either. They're all right, but nothing incredibly special, except for the actual Catwoman model, which is beautifully animated. All the other models, however, are blocky and choppy. The environments are also serviceable, but have a major flaw. I suppose it's a problem in every game that has a "darkness" motif. Simply put, everything is dark, or dark-hued. Even bright things have dark tinges to them. This means that, unless drastic measures are taken, everything blends into everything else, and it becomes darn near impossible to tell what can be utilized by Catwoman, and what can't be.

Drastic measures were indeed taken here, in the form of goofy-looking neon borders around very important things, and having absolutely nothing done to ... other ... very important things. These items appear unimportant until you use your cat-sense, after which you may notice a white mist around some objects. If you want visual cues as to what to do next, climb every dark patch you see (word of warning: some dark patches may or may not be climbable – experiment with each and every one).

Sound is nonexistent and/or annoying. Background music is subtle if at all present; you usually only manage to take note of it during action-packed missions, where there's a good load of fighting. However, what you will notice are Catwoman's sound bites. These are meant to be surly and sexy; instead, they're downright revolting and groan-inducing. Other than that, there's little else to mention here. Generic whipping sounds and enemy groans. Yawn.

What we have here is an exercise in utterly wasted potential. The designers seemed to forget that what made Prince of Persia and games like it so special was that the engine worked with you, not against you, to make progression possible. Here, it's you versus the game every step of the way ... ball dropped. However, I wouldn't mind seeing a second attempt at this because there were times when I could sync with this game; they were just few and far between.

Score : 6.0/ 10

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