Monday, 17 December 2012

Superhero Games, Assemble!

Superheroes are currently the biggest thing in Hollywood, and with both The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers making a frankly obscene amount of money over the summer it doesn't seem like that's going to change soon.

 For many the first thought when they consider this is the same as mine; This is Awesome! Then my second thought comes in. If Superhero Movies are the kings of the box office what about their cousins in the world of Gaming?

 Well, I packed up my longship and embarked on a quest to find out more about the current state of Superhero Games. In my journey I've dug out some great games, games that stand as shining examples of what can be achieved with the combination of two great modern staples.

So it was that I assembled a mighty team of Super-Games to fight the battles that we couldn't fight without the correct combo buttons. Yet in my travels a rival team was made, a team of villainy from the absolute worst Game Designers have ever given us. The Joker to Batman, Mandarin to Iron Man the...Flashes badguy to Flash. Who is that anyway?

Apparently it's Gangster-Inuit here.Source
The Gritty Superhero

In every stable of great Superheroes there's the dark franchise. The Anti-hero who  does what is necessary even if that doesn't always line up perfectly with what is Right. In comics and film there's one hero who is the poster-child for this brand of dark justice. Appropriately enough, it's the Dark Knight himself; Batman.

With that established, it should come as no surprise that the only one brave enough to take on Batmans legacy is Batman himself and he did just that with the absolutely brilliant Arkham City.

This was Batman at his Curb-Stomping best. Whether you are trying to figure out the trajectory of Deadshots latest sniper round or simply doing the beautiful broken-arm tango with a gang of thugs this was as close to being Batman as any of us will get. Short of a sudden rise in violent gun crime outside wealthy opera houses.

Arkham City and it's predecessor Arkham Asylum also achieved the impressive feat of making Stealth Gameplay fun again without the words 'Tom Clancy' anywhere in the vicinity.

Yet if the Arkham games represent the quiet satisfaction of a perfect three person takedown then the Villainous game opposing it represents one of the Jokers chattering teeth in the middle of a funeral.

That game is the appalling Spider Man: Shattered Dimensions.

To explain what's wrong with this game I don't need to rely on the clunky gameplay, slightly dated visuals or even the problems of making an audience care about four different characters. No, I only need two words.

Spiderman. Noir.

Spiderman and Noir are two words that do not belong withing fifty feet of eachother. Spiderman is a lovable goofball who has such timeless lines as:

Your other mistakes include looking like Dr. Robotnik sans-mustacheSource

Now seriously try to imagine those words coming out in Batmans deep-threatening growl.

I rest my case.

The Upstanding Citizen

Not everyone can be Batman (as much as we dearly, dearly want to) and so in any good Superhero team you need the hero who's unquestionably a 'Good Guy'. For the Justice League, it's superman, for The Avengers it's Captain America. However this kind of moral simplicity is pretty hard to find in Gaming, mostly because if you give Gamers absolute power they will absolutely, 100% dick around with it.

That's very interesting, bucket manSource
However there is one Super-powered game that made morality such a core mechanic that everyone probably played through as the perfect good guy at least once. That game was Infamous, or more recently Infamous 2.

This was the game where the 'Good' ending was so emotional that it even made the famously harsh Escapist critic Yahtzee 'Shed a little tear, maybe, more of a sniffle'. Cole and his Scooby-Doo like gang of friends have such a compelling journey together that, for me at least, the Good option was the only real one.

Now, technically Infamous could be it's own villain as the other ending, as discussed, consists of being remorselessly evil in your actions. Still, everyone knows the road to hell is paved with good intentions so surely someone who attempted to reach this pinnacle but fell far, far short is the perfect villain? 

Step into the spotlight, Every Superman Game Ever.

Essentially this, in game formSource 

Look, it's tough being the Man of Steel. You can bench a city, walk through fire and run faster then a speeding bullet but you need to spend your whole life restraining that power so that you don't accidentally powderise an entire Continent. Games seem to have taken this central struggle and completely ignored the rest. 

This is how you end up with games like Superman (1999) where much of the central challenge isn't in battling Luthor but in flying through a series of rings. Yeah. Epic...

Now my Super-team remains incomplete but the journey made me weary (and this has gone on a bit already) so until tomorrow friends...

Let us say Skål! and drink together.

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