Superman is the Chicago Cubs of video games. Deep down, everyone would like to see them win the big one, have a great season/game, but instead, they’re their respective fans’ “lovable losers.” Time to change that. Superhero movies are everywhere right now, and with Injustice: Gods Among Us – a game that we liked very much featuring a story centered around both a good and bad version of the most famous, if not most popular, superhero – and the Batman: Arkham series, DC Comics and WB Games have shown us that good superhero games are possible. The question is how to make it happen for Superman, who brings a unique layer of challenges to developers. Fellow TGFer Jeff Smith helped me come up with the Five Things a Superman Game Needs to be Good:
1) An Epic Story
A common complaint about Superman is that there aren’t any good stories featuring him as the main character, to which I say “go read this, this, this, or this.” It can be done and done well, it just needs to be done in an interactive medium now. Let DC’s best writers get in on it, whether it’s Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, whoever, and let it take us from Smallville to Metropolis and the rest of the world; not for the sake of doing another origin story because, let’s face it, everyone knows Superman‘s origin, but to give us a sense of Superman‘s connection to the world (see this scene) as well as what keeps him grounded (like the Kents in Smallville, for example).
2) An Open World
If Superman Returns for the PS2 and Xbox 360 got one thing right, it was the flying. Unfortunately, Superman was limited to just flying around Metropolis. No, that’s not enough. Let’s go big. Keep Big Blue around Earth — we can go elsewhere later — but let him be able to not only protect Metropolis, but other locales if needed. Perhaps have a hub accessible by flying straight up, into the upper atmosphere; from there, the player can select from a series of side missions that are generated, taking place in areas all over the world. Think about it – Superman can go from putting out a fire in Metropolis to saving people from an earthquake in Africa to dealing with a tsunami in Asia. The possibilities are truly endless.
3) Gameplay that Works
Back to the flying part of Superman Returns: it was fun, easy to figure out, and gave a true sense of how fast Superman can travel. Now we need to find a way for the rest of the gameplay to give us a sense of how it feels to be Superman, much like how the Batman: Arkham series has done for the Caped Crusader. This means Superman needs a credible threat, not just street thugs who manage to get ahold of Kryptonite. Look to Superman: The Animated Series for inspiration: there, Superman was still… well, super… but also vulnerable to more. A cannon could take the wind out of him. He could be hurt by electricity. If it’s established early on that Superman‘s powers have limits, then you have more freedom for his opponents. He could be dealing with an invasion from the Phantom Zone or Apokolips, though I’d rather Darkseid not show up in the first game of a potential franchise. Perhaps Lex Luthor works behind the scenes to get some of Superman‘s lesser-known villains together – think Parasite, LiveWire, etc. Mix that with giving Metropolis its own health bar, like in Superman Returns, or a city “morale” bar… that way, the gamer is tasked with acting like Superman would… that car being thrown at you won’t hurt YOU, but it could kill someone around you. Do you dodge it and let someone die, or take the hit, losing some of your own health in the process?
4) DLC that Makes Sense
You know it, I know it: developers LOVE DLC. That’s fine, and I’m sure DLC would happen for a Superman game – heck, it did for Batman: Arkham Asylum and Arkham City. If there must be DLC, then take it in one of two directions: either have it be made up of additional side missions that take place within the main game’s storyline, or utilize DC’s Elseworlds line to cherry pick stories that can be played as standalone adventures. I’d gladly pay $15 for a chance to play through several hours of gameplay based on The Death and Return of Superman or Superman: Red Son. Give the gamers a reason to keep coming back to your title.
5) Don’t Rush It
Superman Returns was mediocre because it was a movie tie-in that tried to cram too much into a short time frame. Superman 64 was terrible because it was just unfinished… again, developers either didn’t manage their time properly or were rushed. The next Superman game – and there will be one eventually – should be very carefully and slowly produced, not alongside a movie, but along a reasonable timetable. Don’t take a decade or anything, just make sure it’s the best game possible before unleashing it upon an unwitting public.
Got any further suggestions? Let us know below.