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The Dark Knight Rises Review: This Average Movie Tie-In Is No Arkham City Lockdown

Gameloft has become the go-to game developer for movie studios looking for competent iOS game tie-ins. Already this summer they’ve had apps based on Amazing Spider-Man and Ice Age, and now they’ve released The Dark Knight Rises, just in time for the highly anticipated Batman film. Unfortunately, The Dark Knight Rises never rises above the level of standard movie tie-in fare. It’s an uninspired action game bolstered by the licensed assets and some brooding graphics.

The Dark Knight Rises is tied to the plot of the film (and contains spoilers, so those wanting to see the film unspoiled should avoid this game until you see it), but the exposition is alternately really obvious or really clumsy, and the result is that the plot never really seems to make sense. It’s an excuse to get from mission to mission.

The game plays like a hybrid of Gameloft’s recently-released Amazing Spider-Man movie tie-in and their Splinter Cell: Conviction iOS game. Like Amazing Spider-Man, parts of the game take place in an “open world” city where Batman can traverse along rooftops and follow waypoints to his next mission; but the missions themselves often take place in built levels a ‘la Splinter Cell, where Batman must sometimes sneak, sometimes fight, and sometimes solve little puzzles to progress in the game. These two parts don’t always mesh well together, and sometimes I just wished the game would forego the open world and take me to the next mission. The open world portion of the game is definitely less well utilized than in Amazing Spider-Man.

The combat engine is pretty much exactly like Amazing Spider-Man: you mash the attack button and Batman executes a series of impressive but meaningless combat animations. If you down one enemy, Batman will usually turn automatically and leap at the next enemy while you conitnue mashing … usually. In truth this is a little spotty, depending on the way he’s facing. Amazing Spider-Man had this issue, too, but with that game the camera was far enough back that you knew there was someone behind you and could quickly turn and beat him down. Here, the camera is pulled in close, and it doesn’t always rotate when you’re fighting, and so you can be stuck trying to fight a bad guy you can’t really see.

The combat controls aren’t the only controls that are dodgy. In general, Batman doesn’t move very elegantly. He certainly feels more sluggish and awkward than Spider-Man did earlier in the summer. Batman does get the nifty ability to glide through the air when he jumps off of rooftops, but this also has clunky controls.

Because it’s Batman, you of course also have various bat-gadgets that you can use. Most of these are keyed to specific moments in the game, and you’ll always get a convenient icon to alert you to the opportunity. Some of these felt kind of pointless, and others — like Batarangs — I would have preferred to be just a standard weapon option with unlimited use.

Not only are Batarangs limited, but they’re one of many gadgets in the game that you purchase from the in-game store … and almost all of them are charge items. You can’t just buy a lockpick; you buy *charges* of a lockpick. Ugh! As you can imagine, buying these things requires in-game credits, which in turn can be purchased via IAP. I can’t stand heavy IAP in a game I’ve paid $6.99 for!

The choppy storytelling, mediocre combat experience, and IAP extras all come wrapped in a sufficiently good-looking package. On my iPhone 4S the game looked good. Like most Gameloft apps, the game does scale to be playable on older devices, but to be honest it looked like crap on my iPad 1. Play this game with Retina if you’ve got the option.

Ultimately, The Dark Knight Rises is no Arkham City: Lockdown (Read Review). It’s not even an Amazing Spider-Man. It’s the very definition of a mediocre movie tie-in, bolstered by some good graphics and the fact that it’s Batman. If you’re in the mood for a couple hours of Batman button-mashing, and you’re familiar with the Gameloft style, than this might be worth picking up … but not until Labor Day, when it will almost certainly go on sale.

Our Score: 3 out of 5

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