Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Why Rocksteady Studios should make a Superman game

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Yes, indeed, it will be one of those posts, where I yammer on about Superman. DEAL WITH IT.

Most people know that the release of 'Batman: Arkham City' is kind of shaping up to be a focal point of 2011, for me. From what I've seen of the extraordinarily extensive promotional videos and behind-the-scenes interviews, the game will be tantalisingly close to being the definitive simulated experience of being Batman. While most of Gotham City is locked off in the game and you still don't have access to any of the Dark Knight's vehicles, pretty much everything else I could have ever want in a Batman game (including the bizarre, highly unlikely request of being able to play as the Animated Series version of Batman) has been plucked from my mind and placed into a vast, gothic playground with truckloads of classic villains and nods to the character's 72-year legacy in comics, movies and television. I cannot express just how much I am anticipating this game. Honestly, if I didn't have a girlfriend and a job (and Batman LIVE to look forward to), I'd probably have found a way to cryogenically freeze myself in suspended animation, until it was released.

I hate to say it, but the last time I was this excited for a licensed game, was in the run-up to Superman Returns.

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Much like what Arkham City is promising, Superman Returns promised fans an open-world experience similar to the sublime Spider-Man 2 (which was also a tie-in to a movie), whereby you could fly around to anywhere in Metropolis, saving people and stopping crimes. This premise alone was enough to light a fire of insatiable excitement within me, as that's exactly the kind of Superman game I'd always wanted to play. Ever since playing Spider-Man 2, I'd desperately wanted a similar experience as the Man of Steel, soaring through the skies of Metropolis. I even remember having dreams about playing such a game, only to wake up and be pissed off that it wasn't real.



So naturally, when I started seeing videos like the one above, I got extremely pumped.

In the run-up to the game, the developers were promising everything. They claimed you'd have access to 'all' of Superman's powers, that there would be missions where you would play as Clark Kent, that there'd be dozens of villains from the comics who hadn't appeared in the movie and (most importantly) that you could go anywhere in Metropolis and use parts of the city as weapons against villains (like in the also-excellent 'Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction'). I even saw some videos online taken from e3 2006 showing other skins you'd be able to unlock in the game (such as a 'Red Son' skin from the comic of the same name). Unfortunately, large chunks of these elements were abandoned in the ultimately rushed game.


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Sometime in the Summer of 2006, it was announced that the game wouldn't be released until November of that year, to coincide with the DVD release of the movie. This was strange news, as we'd been hearing about the game and its (supposedly complex and thorough) development for nearly a year prior to this. Nevertheless, in spite of my disappointment, this just instilled me with confidence that we were in for a real gem of a Superman experience. In this time, I actually saved up and bought an Xbox 360 entirely because of how excited I was for this very game. Another setback occurred when the developers revealed that [Actually no!] you wouldn't be able to use all of Superman's powers as the game wasn't going to feature x-ray vision in any way.

Well, when the reviews arrived, my heart sank. According to dozens of reviewers online and in print (and even on TV), the game was extremely mediocre and only worth a rental, if even. While Metropolis was large and intriguing and really cool to fly around in, there was just about nothing else to do in the entire game except fight hordes and hordes of stupid-looking robots and angry dragon-like beings. It was ironic really, because everyone complained that in the movie, Superman didn't throw a single punch, whereas in this game, there was practically nothing else to do except punch things.

The game did require you to rescue people now and again, but this was entirely optional and rarely (if ever) made any difference to the 'missions' (note the inverted commas).

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Ultimately, more than anything else, the game just seemed bizarrely rushed. I have no idea how that could happen, given that the developers had almost two years to develop the game and were yammering on for months about how spectacular it was. It is loads of fun flying around as Superman in the game, breaking the sound barrier, etc. It's just a pity that the developers couldn't find anything else for the player to do.

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Skip forward two years. Images started to pop up online of a new Batman game that would be available the following year. The game was going to be set entirely in Arkham Asylum and aimed to make the player 'feel' like Batman, using stealth and detection techniques. Honestly, I wasn't too excited, as I'd heard all of this before for the Batman Begins game. The more information that was released about the game, the more I suspected that it would be just another run-of-the-mill stealth/action game of which Batman had starred in many.

However, in the closing months before the game's release, it became more and more apparent that this might be the holy grail of licensed comic book games.

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Sure enough, the game was a godsend. I don't think I need to go into any great detail as to what I liked about the game as I've done that before, but needless to say, I liked it a whole bunch. Aside from the already-excellent story mode, the replay value offered by the additional combat and stealth challenges is basically unlimited as the combat system is easy to learn, but nigh-impossible to master and two years later, I'M STILL TRYING. That's right folks; I still play Batman: Arkham Asylum quite regularly, over two years after its release. I may not be the world's most broadly horizoned gamer, but that's still something.

So that brings us to the title of this post. What has a great Batman game got to do with Superman?

To answer that question, let's take a look at Arkham Asylum's upcoming sequel, the reality-alteringly awesome-looking Batman: Arkham City.

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In this game, Batman's not just confined to the walls of the Asylum anymore. Finally, seven years after Spidey introduced the concept, we have a Batman game that's set in an open-world city. Now, admittedly it's not quite Gotham City in its entirety, but 'Arkham City' (think of 'Escape from New York' in a game about Bamtan) does seem to contain most of the iconic elements we've grown accustomed to in 75 years of Batman comics (Penguin's Iceberg Lounge, Dick Grayson's former home, Haley's Circus, the Joker's birthplace Ace Chemicals and most importantly, Park Row or 'Crime Alley' where Bruce Wayne watched his parents get shot), so it doesn't really matter if we're missing some suburbs or a City Hall.

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More importantly though are the abilities of Batman in the game. Taking a cue from his film incarnations, Batman's high-tech cape allows him to glide for extended periods, between the buildings of Arkham City. But unlike the last game, this ability is much more expanded upon. By combining potential energy, wind-power and the grapple-gun, Batman can almost fly in the game.

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As in the previous game, Batman can see through walls using the special lenses in his mask and root out items or irregularities that warrant attention. Using his explosive gel he can blow up weakened walls. Even with the freeze-stunner, he can temporarily incarcerate foes so that he can deal with them in time.
That's flight, x-ray vision, heat vision (sort of) and freeze breath covered. It's almost like they're hinting that they're going to make a Superman game!



There's obviously a lot more to the equation than the aesthetic similarities I've listed, however curious they are. One of the most oft-mentioned differences between Batman and Superman is that Batman is 'just a man', whereas Superman is the most powerful man on the planet. When you play as Superman in a simulated experience, there is always (or at least for the next ten years or so) going to have to be some kind of restriction on what you can actually do, in the game. You can't fly to any other country in the world as Superman can easily do. You can't destroy every building in Metropolis as Superman could easily (but wouldn't ever) do. You can't use your x-ray vision to see Lois' bazoombas, because it's always going to have to be an all-ages game. The difference with Batman is that, as a simple human with all of the weaknesses that that implies, the sky is the limit. Batman can be bestowed with any fantastic ability throughout the game, because no matter how powerful his gadgets and weapons make him, he will always just be a regular human underneath it all. Superman will always need to be stripped of something in a videogame, and therein lies the challenge for the developers.

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More importantly than the game elements themselves though, I think the key feature of the two Arkham games is the level of care and attention paid to the source material that I don't think any game based on a DC Comics franchise has done in the past. The number one problem that has plagued Superman's videogame history is that the developers have just never seemed to care all that much about the Man of Steel's literary heritage. I honestly didn't think we'd ever see a game as rich in the history and continuity of the Batman mythology as the Arkham games are. It should come as no surprise that I want to see the people responsible tackle the other great DC Comics hero. Personally, I think Rocksteady have proven that they have the ability to do the necessary research, invest the necessary manpower and game development technology and root out the best way to bring the Last Son of Krypton into the world of gaming in as effective a way as possible.



If you agree with me, join the Facebook page I set up and let's try and show them how much we want this to happen.