As long as there have been games, there have been games based on superheroes. Most of these tended to range from mediocre to terrible, with only one or two gems popping up every few years. Recently there has been a resurgence in superhero-based games, thanks in no small part to developer Rocksteady’s excellent Batman Arkham trilogy. Even Marvel has decided to make a comeback after a short hiatus from the gaming world and things are looking up for superhero fans wanting to play as their favourite hero. With Square Enix working on a new Avengers game and Insomniac bringing everybody’s favourite neighbourhood Spider-Man to consoles, one question remains: will we ever get a good Superman game?
Supes hasn’t had a great track record when it comes to gaming, with the terrible Superman 64 probably being one of the hero’s lowest points and the Superman Returns game being dismissed by fans as a cash-in. So, exactly what does a good Superman game look like?
But… he is invincible
Ok, so let me start off with the overpowered elephant in the room. One of the main reasons many feel that a Superman game just can’t work is due to the fact that Mr Metropolis is fairly tough to kill. Sure, he has “died” before in the comics, but we all know how that turned out (hint: with a not-so-dead Superman). So how do you create a game that’s challenging yet stays true to Superman and his abilities? Well, personally I think that the Superman Returns game, although not good by any means, had a great idea which only lacked in execution. In the game, the city of Metropolis had a “health bar” which meant that if it took too much damage it was game over for Superman. While this worked initially it did mean that the game became repetitive quite quickly.
The solution could be right underneath everyone’s noses. Many might not be aware of this but Superman has actually lost his powers on quite a few occasions in the comics. One such story (Superman #40, 2015) revolves around The Man of Steel’s discovery of a new power. While fighting the villain Ulysses, Superman unleashes a “superflare” by expending all of his body’s stored energy. Using this ability leaves him temporarily without his powers (which he obviously regains again). We’ve also seen Superman lose his powers due to exposure to Gold Kryptonite which removes a Kryptonian’s ability to process yellow sunlight. In short, there are quite a few ways in which Kal-El can lose his powers. The loss of Superman’s powers or at least some of them will leave him in a weakened state and more susceptible to damage. The game can then allow players to regain/upgrade Superman’s abilities as these begin to slowly return. The final battle against the big bad villain could see Superman fully powered and ready to kick some butt.
It’s a bird, it’s a plane…
When most people think of Superman they think of a guy in red and blue spandex flying over a city with the iconic John Williams theme playing in the background. That image is enough to give most Superman fans goosebumps. There’s just no denying that flying forms an integral part of what makes Superman a super man.
There are few things as enjoyable as swinging around New York City as Spider-Man or grappling and gliding over the rooftops of Gotham as Batman. Basically, these games make exploration fun and the same must be true of a new Superman game. While flying might seem like an easy mechanic to implement in a game, it’s important to note that Superman should be able to manoeuvre around Metropolis easily yet be able to speed off and save a helpless civilian hanging from a balcony somewhere. Flight shouldn’t just be a tool for protecting peace, justice, and the American way but should also be exciting and fun to use (which flying through rings isn’t. I’m looking at you, Superman 64). Of course, having the power of flight but being stuck in a small area in which to fly around can be just as detrimental to the game as badly implemented flight mechanics, which would mean that Superman should be given ample room to spread his cape and do what he does best: save people.
Faster than a speeding bullet
What fun would flying be if you weren’t able to use it in conjunction with Superman’s heat vision or ice breath? Let’s face it, Superman is a living breathing weapon and that’s why part of the enjoyment of getting to play the Man of Steel is having the chance to use his multitude of powers. Just as Batman’s gadgets were accessed using a “gadget wheel” so too can Superman’s powers be mapped to a similar “power wheel”. Players should then be able to upgrade these powers using a skill point system. Giving players the option to choose which powers to unlock first means that each player will have a different experience that would allow them to be creative in how they approach each situation or villain using the powers they have unlocked. And while Batman had his Detective Vision, Superman could use his X-ray vision in the same way, allowing him to detect enemies and civilians who might be in trouble while flying above Metropolis. While having amazing superpowers would be great, continually punching your enemies in the face and saving civilians might get a teeny bit reparative, which brings me to my next point.
In order to break up the repetitiveness of fighting villains and saving those darn helpless civilians, why not have Superman don his glasses and give players a chance to play as mild-mannered Clark Kent? Think about it. Certain missions could task Clark with infiltrating an enemy base and looking for clues. This does not mean that he wouldn’t get to use his powers but, instead of bashing down doors, Clark could use his abilities more intelligently such as melting locks or freezing security cameras. Basically, playing as Clark will change up the gameplay a bit and give players a bit of respite from all the intense superheroing they’ll be doing as Superman. This doesn’t mean that Clark will be completely defenceless either. He could still punch enemies in the face. He’ll just be being doing it more sneakily and intelligently. Some of these missions could even see Clark teaming up with Lois as they investigate Metropolis’ seedy underbelly. Speaking of Metropolis…
The protector of Metropolis
There are few comic book locations as recognisable as Metropolis. As one of the largest cities in the DC Universe, Metropolis is a city where ordinary people interact with villains, heroes and god-like beings on a daily basis. It’s a city where you might be taking a stroll in the park the one moment and dodge falling debris or laser beams the next. It’s important to bring this dichotomy across in a Superman game, by not only having a huge open world for the gamer to explore but having the city feel alive and filled with all sorts of dangers. I mean the whole reason Superman does what he does is in order to help the poor unsuspecting, squishy and helpless people of Metropolis from getting killed. Life in Metropolis would be boring for a superhero if there weren’t any people around to save. Instead of just having Superman trying to defeat the main villain, how about introducing random events that force Superman to use his powers in interesting ways?
Say, for instance, a huge tidal wave is heading for Metropolis at the same time a school bus is teetering on the edge of a bridge. So, what does Superman do? He could use his breath to freeze the wave before it hits the city and then try and save the school bus. Or does he save the school bus first and then deal with the aftermath of the tidal wave? Having your choices, whether they succeed or not, end up with meaningful consequences will let players experience the kind of choices the Man of Steel needs to make on a daily basis because with great power comes… you know the rest.
Instead of forcing players to save Metropolis just for the sake of not seeing a game over screen, having players live with the consequences of their actions will help them develop a more meaningful bond with the citizens of Metropolis.
Some familiar and not-so-familiar faces
When it comes to villains, the Last Son of Krypton is spoiled for choice. It seems everybody wants to kill the Man of Steel these days. While obvious choices for main villains would probably include Darkseid, Doomsday or Lex Luthor, it would be wise to take some inspiration from the Arkham games and include lesser-known or more obscure villains too. I’m all for using more familiar villains as the main bad guys but including characters such as Mxyzptlk, Toyman or even Metallo could make for some genuinely interesting encounters. Each of these lesser-known bad guys could have their own unique side missions for Superman to take on. Imagine a villain such as Toyman fulfilling the same role as the Riddler did in the Arkham games, forcing Superman to use his intellect instead of his brute force because smashing things isn’t always the answer.
Personally, I think that it could make for an interesting narrative. It would be great to have Lex Luthor as the initial main villain only to discover that (dum dum duuuum) some much bigger threat is on the horizon, a threat that might even see adversaries like Superman and Lex joining forces.
With the Kryptonian being the rock star equivalent of the superhero world, he knows just about every hero out there. It would be great if some familiar faces popped up in between missions to help out, or just say hi. When infiltrating an enemy stronghold, like LexCorp for instance, Clark could enlist the help of Bruce Wayne to bypass some of the building’s security or he could team up with Martian Manhunter as they track a White Martian loose in Metropolis. Although, I do agree that you don’t want to overdo it with the guest appearances, having Kal-El team up with one or two familiar heroes would be really great.
A base of operations
Batman has his Batcave. Green Arrow has the Arrowcave. Spider-Man has his… well, he has his room. Where does Superman go when he just wants to be alone and knock back a beer after a hard day of saving the world? His Fortress of Solitude, of course. It would be blasphemous if a new Superman game didn’t give players the opportunity to explore Superman’s abode. This could function as his base of operations where he analyses clues, accepts new missions and maybe even travels to locations other than Metropolis (Atlantis maybe?). Superman could also partake in some dress up while in the Fortress of Solitude, equipping some of his unlocked costumes (such as the little black number he’ll be donning in the upcoming Justice League film). When not busy looking at his brand new cape or reading up on some bad guys, the Man of Tomorrow could be honing his newly upgraded abilities using the Fortress’ various training rooms.
Superman could use the Fortress of Solitude to get guidance and information regarding villains, Superman’s powers, and current missions. Heck, I’m hoping that we’ll even get to see Superman’s dog sidekick, Krypto, running around the Fortress (yes, Superman is a dog person).