Saturday, November 12, 2011

Superman's Superprospects

Arkham Asylum was a homerun that no-one saw coming.

Video games and comics have rarely mixed in the past, for two things that go so well hand in hand in our lives, combining them usually ended up in poor results. Comic based video games are just bad, terribly bad. Those of you who have played Superman 64, the generic Spiderman games, or Catwoman: The Movie: The Game will know what I'm talking about.

North London Studio Rocksteady took the beloved Batman character, in a time when his popularity was at its peak, and decided to do the opposite of what everyone expected. They decided to make a Batman game unrelated to any existing story out there.

If they were to phone it in they would have gone straight to a "Batman Begins / Dark Knight" game, featuring Christian Bale's voice and rigid grimacing. Or at a stretch, gone for a game based on an existing storyline. But they didn't. They took some existing arcs and merely referenced them, choosing to do a new story, a standalone game story. And what was the result? Sheer brilliance.

It was an engaging, gritty, fun as absolute crap game and it was the first time the player actually felt like Batman. Rocksteady perfected the transition from stealth to full blown combat that most games can never do. One minute you'd be sneaking up on a thug and taking him down silently, the next you're engaged in fisticuffs with 15 ruffians, leaping from one to the other, snapping limbs and throwing Batarangs everywhere. For the first time in video game history, you weren't just playing Batman, you WERE Batman.

Arkham Aslyum also opened up a new level of Gotham for newcomers, the majority of people outside the comic world would know a few villains, but Rocksteady said "fuck you, know em all", and provided a massive amount of easter eggs, character bios, and tributes. Walking past a jail cell then doing a double take as I saw pages strewn across the room, all with dates marked on them, I said to myself "holy shit.. calender man?" and BOOM, with the press of the scan button the game gave me Calender Man's backstory and even an awesome little sketch of him.

Rocksteady struck gold once more, and gave Batman some space to stretch his legs and go on the prowl. Walling off a section of Gotham, Arkham City put you in the famous city itself, albeit a little worse for wear... you felt like Batman on a rough night, traversing rooftops, beating on thugs, and foiling the plots of the more eccentric villains.

All good things must come to an end though, and while I feel Batman has one more mind blowing game in him from Rocksteady, I know they can't churn out the gold too many more times. Rocksteady know this too, and they've already looked towards other DC Superfriends just waiting for a good game to be made for them, and god damn they're overdue.

But the problem with another character is there's really only one other option for a DC superhero. And that's Superman.

DC really missed the boat when it came to superhero movies. Where Marvel's colourful critters leap from the page to the screen easily, DC banks a lot of old storylines, some that date back to the 40's into a relatively small roster. And trying to put 70 years of character evolution into a 90 minute movie results in poor misunderstood films. This means that the mainstream audience are only familiar with a few DC characters, limiting Rocksteady's choice for their next game.

The problem with Superman is he's just too fucking Super. Clark works great when he plays a small role, like in Batman: Hush, and The Dark Knight Returns. In fact I half expected him to make a cameo in Arkham City much like Robin's little bit. Since they took a lot of ideas from No Man's Land which had a brilliant single issue story with Superman, I was looking foward to a little back and forth with Bruce and Clark. But hell, that's what DLC is for right?

Superman is great in small doses, but as a main focal point he loses his impact. There's no slow burn with him, he can utterly decimate anything at the speed of light. Let me break it down into a few key points why a Superman Game just won't work.

1) Superdickery

Batman is, at the end of the day, an ordinary man. Sure he's at his mental and physical peak, but he's still flesh and bone and blood. A stray bullet would put an end to his entire crusade.

Fighting 15 thugs in Arkham City takes a little bit of practice, and you still get knocked about if it doesn't go your way. Put a guy with a gun into the mix, and you're in a potentially lethal situation there.

With Superman, there's no danger. The guy can pummel the strongest opponents into dust, and is impervious to bullets. Superman fighting thugs is unbelievable, he'd have to go up against aliens, or robots, or other super-men, and that's just silly.

And the stealth parts, why need stealth when he can fly at the speed of sound? He'd round up 6 armoured and armed thugs in a second. Where Batman has to sneak around and use every trick he knows to come out unscathed, Superman can literally dick around.

2) Lex Luthor is a douche.

President Chucklefuck

Batman's villains are Batshit crazy, they have no desire for world domination or the like. Most want to just make money, or kill for the sake of killing. They reflect the deteriorating city in which they live. A city so corrupt and depraved it's cannibalising itself.

All of Superman's villains are domination geared. All they want to do is take over or destroy the world because they're thick-browed knuckleheads. He has 3 slightly non-generic villains, Bizzaro, Brainiac, and Lex Luthor.

Bizzaro would be the only one which could work in a straight out combat boss fight, since he's essentially Superman's version of "Shadow Link" in the Zelda series. Brainiac would be his Riddler to Batman, but that's a hell of a stretch there already. I suppose he could send robots to try to fuck shit up, but fighting robots compared to thugs... it just seems... well.. a tad shit.

And his greatest nemesis, Lex.. what can he do? He's just a douchey businessman who outsmarts Clark constantly, all he could really do is send waves of baddies at him, and hire out some aliens to knock over a building.

I don't know about you, but I couldn't give two shits about Superman's villlains. Now Batman, with The Joker, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, The Riddler, Pengiun... all great unique baddies, and most of them entirely believable. (To an extent).

When your main villain is the President of the United States, maybe you're not that good a hero?

3) Arkham City tour, gliding: 10 minutes, flying: 10 seconds.

Why walk when you can dance?

Batman is limited to how fast he can get to places in Arkham City, in a pinch he can get from one far end to the other (around the big middle wall) in about 2 minutes, and I reckon a good 10 minutes would be needed to cover most of the skyline. But he's only going so fast. With his gliding and grappling Batman has to really put the effort in to get somewhere fast, making the Mr Zsasz missions nail-biting towards the end.

Superman moves as fast as a mousefart, in an area that's 3-4 square miles, he could just fly back and forth at leisure. To really give it a sense of distance for Metropolis, Rocksteady would have to increase the city size at least 10 times. And you know what that means? Generic shitty buildings.

Arkham City has around 50 buildings inside the walls, at a guess. Including a large church, the Museum/Icerberg Lounge, the subway, Wonder City, the GCPD Building, Steel Mill, Poison Ivy's living fortress, and some other memorable establishments. It has a very unique look to it, each building has character and really gives you the feel of a proper city. But if they had to stretch the size of Metropolis for Superman, they'd have to cut down on the uniqueness, and recycle in a lot of buildings.

And what's in Metropolis anyway? The Daily Planet and what? I haven't got a clue.

4) Gadgets Galore.

Batman channels his inner Pikachu

Batman is limited to exploring the city by the gadgets he has unlocked. Some gaps are just too big to traverse without the line launcher, and steam pipes block the way to other parts until you get the freeze grenades. A new Batman game could introduce more challenges that could be overcome by equipping Bruce with a new gadget.

Superman, again, can fly and is invulnerable. He can freeze things with his breath, and he can melt shit with his face. What kind of unlocks could we have for the Man of Steel?

The "Powerless" idea will always be thrown about, make Superman weak so he has to unlock/gain his powers back and access new areas. But honestly.. is that something we want? Do we want to play a Superman game and find out you can't fly for 80% of it? That's just phoning it in. And how many storylines has relied on Superman not being that Super? The entire freaking series of Smallville was about Superman slowly learning his moves. It's the most overused story arc in the DC universe.

5) If(!Superman){trace("Then Who?!");}

One of the few non-Bruce Timm images in this article

Video games, like any product, are all about profits. And if you want to profit from a game, you really need to appeal to a wide audience. DC has a massive problem with this. Since Batman and Superman are really their only two main stayers in the public eye. And if a Superman game just won't work with the Arkham engine, then who will it work with?

Let's check the roster.

Wonder Woman
- Well known and liked.
- Appeals to female gamers, and since they're nearly matching male gamers in numbers and there are still so many male-dominated games, it'd be great to have a proper female kick-ass character to go alongside Lara Croft and less alongside Bloodrayne.. the boobie sex vampire..
- Has a few Batman-esque gadgets: The lasso and wrist thingos would work well.

- Essentially a female Superman.
- Boring assortment of villains.

Green Lantern
- Midly well known
- Gadget system would work with various willpower moves
- More believable fighting thugs, as Hal is still a mortal man at heart.
- Great backstory and villain pool
- Alternate Lanterns, including Black-O-Lantern

- Movie was critically panned worldwide.
- Had no real location to match Arkham City, would have to settle for a generic city, or a few locations, or .. space
- Can fly, though not as fast as Superman (you would believe anyway... he DOES patrol the freaking galaxy with efficiency)

The Flash
- Slow him down a little bit, and he'd still be a believable character in the combat section.
- Combat engine would work nicely with him, and could be real fun.

- No gadget system, most moves would be speed based.
- Known well enough, but no memorable villains or location. Want to fight some baddies in Keystone? "What's Keystone?" I hear you ask.. exactly.

Green Arrow
- Ollie is Bruce with a bow and arrow. He's a street level hero with no powers, just lots of money and skill.
- Gadgets up the wazoo. Green Arrow utilizes "trick arrows", opening up a great selection.
- Attacking thugs on rooftops is what he does best
- Existing storylines with Green Lantern, Black Canary, The Flash, and his own Robin-esque sidekicks. Green Arrow has a great collection of partners.

- No real bad guys apart from "generic dictator" or "crime boss"

- Aquaman

Finally, why not pass on the mantle? After playing through the challenge maps of Arkham Asylum, I'm imppressed with the move-set they gave Robin, with his own set of gadets and that awesome retractable staff he uses, why not? At the very least have him as a playable character along with Nightwing. The catwoman parts were fun if not a little short. I'd really like to see more of the boy wonder in the mix.

Rocksteady have spun gold twice now, and I have faith in their abilities. If they do make a Superman game, let it not be their undoing.