I love Batman. I own all the movies, games, and Funko Pops. In fact, one of my all time favorite games is Batman: Arkham City, closely followed by Batman: Arkham Knight. Rocksteady had a hit when they released Batman: Arkham Asylum, which spawned two sequels, a spiritual prequel, and even an animated movie based in the same universe.
The Arkham games weren’t the first games to place a hero at your fingertips and let you save the day. Games like Spider-Man 2 for the PS2, and Marvel: Ultimate Alliance were positively received among gamers and comic book fans alike, and we can’t wait for the new Spider-Man game coming to the PS4. It’s also been rumored that Rocksteady is set to release another Batman game (code-named Batman: Insurgency), and I think we can all agree that Injustice 2 is going to be epic. The new Guardians of the Galaxy game was also just released this month.
But, going back to the classic hero games of before; what made them so good? And more importantly, what can the new superhero games do to be just as good, or even better? With the tidal wave of superhero movies flooding today’s market, why are their not more superhero video games? And, in an age saturated with superhero movies and culture, would another superhero game even work, or will the fall into the discount bin like so many other superhero games before? In that spirit; let’s talk games, shall we?
What Does it Take to Make a Good Superhero Game?
Marvel: Ultimate Alliance was an RPG that I played over and over again. I loved everything about the game. A classic now, it brought all your favorite Marvel heroes to your console. I loved mixing up my teams in that game. Maybe one mission required heavy hitters, so Thor, Colossus, The Thing, and Luke Cage made up my team. Maybe I wanted to play as more bad ass characters like Blade or Wolverine. And, if you’ve played the game, you know any interaction with Deadpool was priceless. One of the game’s strongest points was the diverse roster, ranging from Ms. Marvel to the Silver Surfer to Moon Knight, and each character had his or her own set off skills, powers, and weaknesses. For the first time, the wide range of characters let you form your dream superhero team, making Ultimate Alliance a much loved game.
The same thing could be said about Injustice: Gods Among Us. Injustice follows the same formula as the Mortal Kombat games, where you spend each chapter with certain characters. Injustice was also a fighting game, so the gameplay was focused more on the individual combos and abilities of the characters, and not team building. The ability to play and fight as any of your favorite heroes who have unique skills brought a sense of fun and diversity to a game that has a very linear story.
But what about other games where you only play as one character? Batman: Arkham Asylum let you take on the role of the Dark Knight as he tries to take down the Joker on a prison island. The first game in the Arkham series had Batman fight alone, unlike Ultimate Alliance. In this game, Batman had a diverse set of gadgets to take down his enemies, or to infiltrate buildings. You could knock out a guard using your Baterang and sneak in a base, or use some explosive gel to blow a hole in the wall, taking out several enemies at the same time. There were also many different ways to fight opponents. Maybe you could lure enemies into a choke point and drop down on them, taking them down all at once. Or you could truly be the Bat and hunt them down one by one, never having to engage in an open fight at all. These elements were only flushed out and expanded upon in the later games.
What Arkham Asylum lacked in diverse playable characters it made up in a diverse gameplay, but you should remember that the Arkham games’ strongest points were the characters themselves. Where as in Ultimate Alliance, all the characters weren’t very flushed out, and you didn’t get to know the more obscure heroes like Ghost Rider or Moon Knight; in Batman, the characters, playable or not, were so well crafted and well written. They all served a specific purpose, which brings us to our next category.
While Ultimate Alliance had a wide ranging roster, the story was lackluster at times. Sure there were twists and turns, and the occasional death, but they were few and far in between. I’m not saying the story was bad, in fact, the story was very fun, and it kept you playing. I loved the story, but when compared to other games, Ultimate Alliance had some glaring flaws. Some elements of the story were just not necessary, and it was obvious that some plot points were only stretched out to fit boss battles. The same thing could be said for Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. While this fighting game let you play as any character from either universe, the story was just laughable. Diversity did nothing to help this game, and it landed in the discount bin shortly after it’s released.
Story is where games like Arkham Knight and Assassin’s Creed shine. Sure games like Assassin’s Creed and Dishonored are not branded as comic book hero games, but they do possess superhero elements. The assassins from the Assassin’s Creed games are basically ancient Batmen. There’s also Batman: A Telltale Series, which is wholly based on story alone. Granted all of the games made by Telltale focus on a chose-your-own-adventure story based element, but it is the story makes these games so damn fun. Story is still a huge core element in games, it doesn’t matter what the producer of Battlefront EA, Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir, says.
Ingvarsdottir claimed that gamers no longer cared about a story, and would rather have a game based on multiplayer. Well, not to burst anyone’s bubble, but there is a reason why Battlefront EA, Destiny, and other games received a ton of backlash. Sure they were fun games to play, but in the end there was something missing. The games sorely needed a good story campaign. Titanfall learned from this mistake, and when Titanfall 2 was release it was praised for its compelling story, no matter how short it was, and gamers appreciated the effort.
Story is what made games like Assassin’s Creed II an instance classic. I felt connected to Ezio, the main character, as he set out to avenge his family. The running and jumping and fighting were fun, but without a compelling story, they would have gotten old and repetitive. One can see the huge difference a poor story can make in a video games within the Assassin’s Creeds series. While Assassin’s Creed II was hailed as the best in the franchise, Assassin’s Creed III fell on it’s face with its slow and sometimes downright boring story. It didn’t help that Connar Kenway, the protagonist, was an uninteresting character that no one cared about. Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag set the franchise back on it’s story focused path, but Ubisoft has been on a downward spiral ever since.
The Arkham games were also driving by story. As you progressed in the game, new plot twists and characters made you want to keep playing. These games weren’t a chore to play like AC:III. As new elements of the story were introduced, you felt the odds stack against you, and I often found myself thinking “How the hell is Batman going to get out of this one?” There were also some “Oh my God,” and “What the f***” moments where a particular scene would leave you wanting to continue. Often times I would try to set my controller down for a few hours of sleep, but the story would keep my hands glued on the grips, and before I knew it it was five in the morning.
Whether you agree with me or not, Story plays a vital role in any game, especially a superhero game. After all, what good does having superpowers do if you have no clear purpose for them? Story is something gamers love, and we eagerly wait for what Injustice II, Destiny 2, and Spider-Man have in store for us. Even Battlefront II is bringing back a story campaign after receiving so much hate from the player community. Who knows, I might find my self buying Destiny 2 or Battlefront II, even though I hated the first games. With the gameplay both these games had, a good story will catapult them into everyone’s favorite list, which brings me to my final topic.
We all have our tastes. Some of us like fighting games, so Mortal Kombat or Injustice are our go to picks. Others like stealth based games, so you’ll find us playing Batman or Assassin’s Creed. Maybe you like story telling games, or maybe you like role playing games. The point is, it doesn’t matter what you or I like, all that matters is that we like it. We enjoy spending a few hours of our lives playing a game, so, in theory, we enjoy the gameplay.
Gameplay is a touchy subject for many. Some games may have stunning graphics, but fall short with poor mechanics. Other games may have excellent mechanics, but a poor story. Some games, like Superman 64, are just unbelievably terrible; so bad in fact that I would prefer not to even mention that game at all. But, I have too if I want to make a point.
Superman 64 is the worse superhero game in the history of superhero games, maybe ever! Putting aside the dated polygon graphics of the Nintendo 64, Superman was abysmal. The story was non existent, but the mechanics… God, the mechanics. The terrible handling and control the game had is infamous. The entire game consisted of Superman, you, flying through rings. Maybe you got to fight some bad guys here and there, but the game was essentially a flying simulator, which is already pretty bad. But when you can’t even get the main character to fly in a f***ing straight line, all the player could do was smash their heads into a concrete block and hope someone would save the day. Superman 64 is the prime example of a superhero game with terrible gameplay, and it will forever live in video game infamy.
Other games are not developed to give the player a headache, but they have glitches that take the fun out of gameplay. Arkham Knight for the PC is the latest example of a good superhero game with bad gameplay. When it was ported to PC, Arkham Knight developed some glitches that rendered the game unplayable, causing many people to rage quit. I believe Steam even offered refunds for players, but when the game was finally fixed the damage had already been done.
But what about good gameplay? I know I’ve brought these games up a lot, but any Arkham game can be used to show fun, well crafted gameplay (except Arkham Knight for the PC). The mechanics were great, the story was great, the graphics were great, the gameplay was great; very little can be found for people to complain about (other than the Arkham Knight PC port). The same can be said for Injustice, which brought the Mortal Kombat style that everyone loved and applied it to superheros (Mortal Kombat characters are basically superheros themselves). Story and graphics aside, the game had great fighting mechanics, warranting it a sequel set for later this year.
What I’m trying to say is that if the game is not fun to play, nothing else matters. The best story tellers and the best developers can work day and night to release a superhero game with both an excellent story with diversity, and next-gen graphics, but if the game is not fun to play; if the mechanics are off, or if there’s game breaking glitches, then no one will play the game. For a superhero game to be successful, people need to enjoy playing it. Games like InFAMOUS and Dishonored are fun, and enjoyable; games people enjoy spending hours playing. Even Destiny, a first person shooting game where your character has super abilities, was fun to play (given that you shut your brain off and ignored the non-existing story). Regardless, gameplay is vital for the success of a superhero game.
Other factors that I did not discuss, but should be taking into account are listed below. These factors play a big role in a good superhero game, but I believe they are not as crucial as the three I mentioned above. These factors are:
- Voice Acting
- Endgame Content
- Free/Paid DLC
- Co op/ Multiplayer
- Which superhero the game is for
If you believe I should have talked about one or more of these, please feel free to comment below. There are also many more superhero games than the ones I mentioned above, so if I didn’t talk about you favorite games like Saint’s Row IV, InFAMOUS, or any of the LEGO superhero games, or if you don’t think that games such as Assassin’s Creed or Destiny should fall under the “superhero” category, feel free to drop a comment.
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As always, I hope you enjoyed reading, and I’ll be back to talk about video games again soon.