Name a good game based on DC Comics icon Superman.
Go ahead. I have time. I'm in a comfortable chair. I have a nice stack of comics to read. I can wait.
No? Nothing? Fine. Just name a passable Superman title.
…That's what I thought.
This silence is the exact reason why Warner Bros. and DC should make the smartest decision they could ever make. They should give the Superman license to Rocksteady, the company responsible for not only making the best Batman game ever made but also the best game based on a comic book character to date.
The Man of Steel deserves the best. He's been through a lot.
Looking back at the pre-hype period before the release of Batman: Arkham Asylum, I don't think a single person expected anything out of yet another title based on the Caped Crusader. After all, hopes had been dashed on the movie tie-in game for Batman Begins, a title with much promise but little substance.
Arkham Ayslum changed everything.
For the first time, a company had the testicular fortitude to release a comic-book game that was inventive, intriguing, and polished. More importantly, Rocksteady also had the intelligence to stay faithful to the canon that makes the Dark Knight the beloved character he is.
Asylum was a game-changer. Consumers could suddenly expect a higher standard for the seemingly long-dead genre of comic adaptations. I think it's time for Superman to recieve the same treatment.
What underlying factors have prevented games based on the Big Blue Boy Scout from working in the past? I would argue the biggest challenge for developers is getting across Superman's raw power and invincibility. Sadly, being nigh-invulnerable just doesn't work in a medium like video games, where players need the fear of failure or death.
The second issue with Superman-based titles is the power set of the DC icon himself. Developers have been unable to capture the raw, natural-disaster-like strength of Big Blue, let alone design a title where he didn't fly like a lame duck.
Superman games in the past have unsuccessfully tried to tackle these two problems. Superman Returns, a tie-in game to the feature film of the same name, dabbled with two new ideas. Superman's flight scheme was like that of flying a super-sonic jet, forcing players to steer at high speeds. The second idea was that Superman was (mostly) indestructible, but gamers had to manage a humanity meter that required you to save bystanders or lose.
Both concepts failed miserably. The flying mechanic, while good in theory, felt more like you were aiming Superman like a bullet instead of actually flying. Slamming into buildings and overshooting your landing spot were frequent occurrences. The humanity meter was also a failed experiment; it made the game feel like one giant escort mission that existed only to punish players.
What's a developer to do? I don't have the answer, but I have faith that Rocksteady does.
Superman has the same advantages that Batman does from a design standpoint. He has a large and interesting cast of characters, including rogues. In Superman's world, intergalactic forces of evil, maniacal scientists, and otherwordly creatures are common. Add in the expansive and wonderful gallery of allies that Superman possesses, and a skilled developer will have a wide and exciting canvas to work with.
Maybe the key to a Superman game is to not limit his adventure to one planet. In a comic universe where Superman's god-like power is feared and respected by all, it seems a crime to limit the Man of Steel to Earth.
Anyway, if all this does not convince you, dear reader, allow me to offer up four simple words: Krypto the Superdog DLC.
Rocksteady has shown that it has the ability to create immersive environments, silky-smooth core gameplay, and a story that is easy for newbies to get into but deep enough to please the hardest of the hardcore nerds.
I don't know about everyone else, but I think it's high time to start believing again that a man can do more than fly. He can also be in a compelling video game.
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