Batman Arkham City has hit the shelves and reviews from IGN, Gamespot, and G4 have all been overwhelmingly positive. G4 went so far as to say “Batman: Arkham City is one of the greatest games ever made. Period.” The reviewer at IGN concurred by saying that Batman Arkham City is “Not just better than Batman: Arkham Asylum, it’s better than most games on the market.” A poll was posted asking which superhero Rocksteady should take on next. At 32% currently the majority swung to the Man of Steel with Batman at a close second at 28%. While I’m sure this maybe subject to change soon, it would seem with the success of the Arkham games, a good portion of IGN’s readers hope that Rocksteady will be able to do the same with Superman. This is coupled by a recent interview with Paul Dini, a writer for both Batman games and the animated series, saying that it would be fun to write a video game featuring the Man of Steel. A very good idea and if anyone can pull off writing a good Superman game, Paul Dini can.
However, the overwhelming question I noticed on the discussion boards was exactly HOW Superman would translate into game form. Let’s face it, Superman has not had much luck with video games. The most recent being the Superman Returns video games which did about as well as its movie counterpart (I.E. not that successful) and let’s not even get into Superman 64. So the question remains, what do you do with a superhero who can do almost anything? How would a game featuring Superman work in terms of game-play and story? IGN has recently posted their suggestions on how a Superman game could work.
Well here are my suggestions as a Superman fan.
I feel the story must come first and foremost, as it’s the foundation for the entire game and the IGN article concurs but offers no suggestion on a possible story-line. One of the factors that made Arkham Asylum so good was just the idea of Batman being trapped on the infamous Arkham island, surrounded by enemies with the Joker, his greatest threat, pulling the strings. Arkham Asylum made for the perfect “one man against the world” scenario that fits video games like a glove. Can the same be done with Superman? I believe so. A potential plot for the game could be:
An explosion from a supernova sun has shattered the Phantom Zone allowing not only General Zod and his cronies to escape but every super-criminal, creature and monster that has ever been imprisoned in the alternate dimension. Zod rises as the leader of the rouges and under his leadership conquers Earth while Superman is away. When the Man of Steel returns he finds his home under control of these foes and must fight to free the people of the Earth along with some help from Superboy, Supergirl and Steel. And restore the Phantom Zone projector to send the criminals back where they belong.
Whether such a scenario is compelling enough for a game is up for debate. But it does give Superman a large enough problem that can’t be solved in a few punches, plenty of chances for epic boss battles, a large enough environment to allow open-world exploration via his flight, and a chance for Superman’s supporting cast to shine.
2.) Bring in People Familiar with Superman
Another factor of Batman’s success was that the game developers brought in Paul Dini, Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy and Arleen Sorkin, writers and actors who have worked with Batman’s universe since the inception of the animated series in the 1990’s. These people know Batman, they know his character and how to portray him in certain situations. I believe that same familiarity is needed for Superman. Writers and actors who know him just as well and knows how he uses his powers, why he chooses not use certain powers, and how to keep his upstanding moral code relevant in a video game market filled with gun wielding anti-heroes.
Some picks include but are not limited to, Grant Morrison, Jeph Loeb, Geoff Johns and Paul Dini. I’m sure there are plenty others, but every Superman comic I’ve read that has really stuck out, was written by one of these four. It would only make sense to give them a shot at scripting a game. In terms of voice work, Tim Daly’s performance as Superman in the animated series back in the 90’s has always stuck out to me. Include any of these four in a Superman game and I’m sure it will at least be decent. But it takes more than an open world and some familiar faces behind the scenes to make a game spectacular. Every hero and every great game has some challenging villains to face.
3.) Powerful Villains
A main gripe with Superman in general is the idea that he does not have villains that can challenge him. Lex Luthor is just a guy Supes can easily punch into the stratosphere and be done with him. For a video game where Boss Battles are expected, I believe the bar needs to be raised to a level fitting to the Man of Tomorrow. In the previously mentioned scenario, there are plenty openings for street level villains like Livewire, Metallo, and the Parasite being starter bosses. Zod could easily cox these three into his employ just through their mutual hatred of Superman.
More mid-level bosses could include Toyman, Bizzaro, Non and Ursa with Zod being the top dog. Darkseid could also be involved through planning behind the scenes, setting up a sequel. Either way, every villain that makes appearance needs to be able to give Superman a good deal of trouble without the use of Kryptonite and provide players a good enough challenge that they will want to use Superman’s powers to their full potential.
Of course all of the above won’t matter if the actual game mechanics suck. A big gripe I’ve seen about Superman and by extension Superman games is that Superman is so powerful and so invulnerable that any game involving him would be boring or repetitive.
Well I vehemently disagree with that notion.
4a) Managing Superpowers and Health Bars
Yes Superman is powerful, yes he is invulnerable but that does not mean such a combination cannot work in a game. IGN suggested to base a Superman game on the recently rebooted DC 52 universe where Superman can’t fly, can be injured temporarily and is basically just starting out.
I say, don’t fear Superman’s powers.
Handled correctly, all of Superman powers can make for an incredible gaming experience. Besides, it’s not as though video games haven’t handled powerful characters before. In the inFamous games players controlled Cole McGarth who had electric superpowers. And near the endgame when Cole had gained all of his powers players reported that they sense a real sense of Godhood and felt they could do whatever they wanted.This is especially true in inFamous 2 where Cole only had the basics of his powers but was still powerful.
An ideal Superman game could take a cues from inFamous in how they handle Cole’s powers. In both games Cole had great power but could only use the more advanced ones one at a time and players could pick and choose which ones. The method can be done with Supes. Heat vision, ice breath and all his other more special attack type of abilities can be stored in a power-bank at the menu screen and during the game can mix and match which ones they want to use.
IGN suggested a regenerative life bar, which is a good idea. Superman is invulnerable but with the right level of hit, he can be hurt. Even he should need to shake off a particularly hard blow. inFamous used a similar system in terms of health in both games to much success. Cole was powerful but take too many sniper shots and you go down. Here if Superman takes too many hits from these super criminals he’ll go down too. (Or at least knocked out).
4b.) Moves and Combos
Superman’s greatest benefit, his vast array of powers, has the potential for incredible combos that players can pull off. If you want examples of their capabilities you need to look no further than the direct-to-DVD films that have come out recently.
Imagine pulling this rapid chain punch against an opponent like the one Superman uses against Darkseid and the addition of heat vision soon after(From Batman and Superman: Apocalypse)
“This ends NOW” as a definite finishing attack
You get the idea. Superman’s vast array of powers provides a long list of possible combos and different ways to play. You can play Superman as a straight up brawler or a more distance fighter using his heat vision or ice breath or super speed.
4c.) Mission Types
Varying up the game-play should be important as well. Batman: Arkham Asylum wasn’t just Bats beating up the bad guys, the stealth mode and detective modes are what really made players feel like Batman. A Superman game should be no different.
Other than combat a Superman game should have missions where players have to save citizens from natural disasters or collapsing buildings or the classic “catch a falling airplane”. IGN suggested that saving citizens should prove to be the success or failure of missions, which fits Superman perfectly. With him being invulnerable the health of the endangered citizens should be more important. To make missions even more challenging, players pass these missions only if they save EVERYONE. One dead citizen should mean a failure, since Superman would consider it such, which will push players to make sure they get things right. It also ties into Superman view of himself as a savior who can hear everything.
4d.) Open World Exploration
Superman flight some say would be a hindrance to a good game, but really his flight is more freeing than you think. Superman’s flight ability opens the entire world to him so the entire world should be his map. In the story-line mentioned in point two, Superman should be able to fly around the world, fighting and saving people on different maps and after he takes back a country or territory, he should be able to fly there whenever he wants. A large map yes but, it can be done to some extent I believe.
You still with me?
If so hopefully, you’ll see that a Superman game is neither as impossible as it seems nor would be it boring. Superman requires his writers and developers to think outside of the box and create larger than life problems for a larger than life hero. It can be done and hopefully will be done.