Developer: Electronic Arts
Platform: PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PC
Reviewed on PlayStation 2
Patience Philips was once an artist employed by a cosmetics manufacturer. On a simple errand, she stumbles across a dark, corporate secret, for which she's killed and her body left for scavengers. But a supernatural cat named Midnight revives her, endowing her with superhuman cat-like abilities. Gifted with newfound talents (and a skimpy leather costume) Patience goes to exact revenge and halt the release of a dangerous product – as Catwoman!
Like Halle Berry in her typical roles, the game is stunningly beautiful, but not particularly deep. The art and animations take top honors – Catwoman herself is a sinuous vision in skimpy leather, scampering and swinging about the game's levels. The animations are very fluid, from Catwoman bounding on all fours and clawing her way up walls to swinging from her whip and slicing her heels through the air with Capoeira-inspired fighting moves. The surroundings are as detailed as comparable PlayStation 2 titles. Everything takes place in a perpetual twilight with dramatic shadows that emphasize the contrast of the environment and Catwoman's curves.
The lighting, animations and environment all combine with the camera to produce some highly cinematic moments. The camera constantly moves to creative angles, both to mimic the low angles used in the film, and to make sure you don't spend the entire game staring at Catwoman's shiny leather ass. While the many camera angles provide some impressive visuals, they also lead to the game's biggest flaw. Despite plenty of combat, Catwoman is substantially a platforming action game, and creative camera angles never work when you have to make a complicated series of jumps. Players have minimal control over the camera – you can nudge it to one side or the other, and use Catwoman's cat senses to view the world in an enhanced first person mode, but neither of those will help you leap to a distant pole. To be fair, once you identify the first step in a series of acrobatic moves, the camera will often reposition itself to show you the next logical destination. Fortunately, staging areas for acrobatics glow purple, so you'll know once you see them. Even so, you'll still find yourself making lots of leaps of faith, swinging from a convenient perch out of the camera's view. Worst of all, the camera will regularly shift at the most inconvenient of times, such as when you are navigating a narrow ledge.
The camera is even more annoying when it comes to fighting. Enemies can be knocked around the area freely, often into areas that are completely out of view. Beyond that, the fighting is entertaining enough, if simple. Catwoman can scurry about on all fours, swinging her feet into the faces of security guards and thugs alike, knocking them through scenery or over balconies. She can use a series of moves, and buy more (such as the ability to grapple or disarm foes with her whip), but that variety is really only useful for achieving higher scores and unlocking bonuses. The worst combat comes in occasional boss battles. The bosses fight with nearly identical styles, and can all be beaten by running in circles until they attack and miss, then hitting them or whipping objects at them until they succumb. That sounds better than it is – in your first battle with Laurel Hedare (Sharon Stone's character), she mostly chases you in circles with a golf club (next time she thinks to grab a gun). Ultimately, you will either find the combat monotonous or a cheap thrill.
The interface is interesting – Catwoman chose to use the right analog stick for Catwoman's whip (the limited camera control is done with the directional buttons). It works reasonably well, and is fairly easy to use to snap at enemies or latch on to high-up grapple points. The whip really isn't a problem, but the acrobatic controls can be unforgiving. It's irritating to jump at slightly the wrong angle and miss the last in a long series of leaps, forcing you to start the whole series over again. At times like that, you wish Catwoman had her own Dagger of Time to replay that last missed leap. Instead, you'll just do the sequence over and over until you learn what's behind each twist of the camera. Even more irritatingly, several levels require you to perform extensive acrobatics under fire, meaning that you don't have the time to take the necessary step of using the first-person mode to spy out your path.
The game does have a few interesting conceits – the Hunting mode is a particularly nice twist on the first-person mode available in most current platformers. The vision mode highlights interactive objects, and also shows the trail left by Midnight the cat, which hints at the approach Catwoman should take to escape an area. Catwoman can taunt her enemies or strike seductive poses in an effort drive them into a frenzy. This is a creative concept, but, oddly, those two animations aren’t as skillfully executed as all of Catwoman's other movements. Her normal motion is fluid, and she beautifully pulls off moves like her provocative, pole-dance-style entrance early in the game, but the seductive combat poses look awkward, and she doesn't move her lips while huskily muttering come-on lines, making her seem particularly wooden during these moments.
The high-level design choices in Catwoman are great. It looks slick, has a colorful artistic bent and lots of creative details. As you run through the city, you'll hear crying babies, blaring television and phones ringing from individual windows. Most of Catwoman's animations are amazing. Several of the levels boast cool designs, such as the theater's fly space that hosts some backstage aerials, but between the hostile camera angles and the acrobatics being difficult to execute consistently, it can be hard to distinguish the best levels from awkward ones. Certainly, the game needs more levels, as it is very short (even an inexpert gamer could finish the game in a long afternoon). Lastly, the story is barely integrated with the game. Aside from a very few cut-scenes and some voice-over narrative, much of the game is spent in single-minded pursuit of one man, plowing through his many thugs. Many things will seem particularly odd, unless you see the Catwoman film first (and may seem strange even then). Why do you fight the same set of identical looking men over and over, and then suddenly encounter attractive armed women? Perhaps it's just obvious that the head office of a cosmetics firm is guarded by hot women with guns.
For all of its flaws, Catwoman is really just fine as a game. Most of the game's problems could be solved by placing the camera in the player's control. Fighting is entertaining, if simple, and Catwoman can execute some impressive sequences, tumbling and leaping from perch to perch. The game simply isn't particularly noteworthy – it could use more gameplay, a more robust story and a friendlier camera. The art and animations feel like an impressive framework that was never entirely filled in. There is fun to be had, but the game could have been simply ... more.