Over the years we’ve seen a tremendous array of superhero games. Some were good (Marvel Ultimate Alliance), some were decent (Spiderman) and some were just horrendous (Superman, Iron-Man, every Batman game ever made and of course Aquaman). This year though we got a chance to see what a good superhero game should be and in the case of Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum, you have the making of an excellent superhero game.
The Not So Good, The Bad and The Ugly
The big issue with a lot of the bad superhero games is that so many of them were either terrible attempts at siphoning off the momentum of a movie (good or bad) or for the original titles, sorry excuses for a video game. They either tried to make the game too broad and cover too much of the character’s mythology or in the case of the movie-tie in they often times tried the make a playable version of the movie to often ridiculous results. Take for example the Iron-Man or the Fantastic Four games that were released to tie into the films. Both films did reasonably well (Iron-Man even more than reasonable) but the videogame counterparts were terrible. In an attempt to expand the movie experience the developers of these games ended up making a playable but not enjoyable version of the film that did nothing to enhance your experience of the movie or the characters themselves. Instead you ended up with some wrote reproduction of key points in the movie, clunky game mechanics, substandard graphics and all around unsatisfying gaming experience you wish you could get back (as well as a refund).
While technically not a superhrero, the recent G.I. Joe: Rise of the Cobra videogame tie-in to to the movie is a shining example of this. Calling it a craptacular game would be giving it too much praise.
For the titles that were not connected to films, you get the same situation except in those instances, developers didn’t spend enough coming up with a game worthy of the character’s depth or source material. Granted it’s fun to run around as the Hulk smashing buildings but then to sneak around doing missions as Bruce Banner – not so much.
The Hero Rises
This year though we have had two titles already and one upcoming title that stand to break stigma attached with most superhero games and finally give some of these popular and iconic characters a chance to shine in the videogame world. Earlier this year Activision delivered up the movie tie-in to Wolverine: X-men Origins and not only was this game outstanding in it’s game play and action, it gave gamers a chance to really get into the claws of this character. Mixing back-story with present day action and throwing in nods to the origins of one of Marvel’s icons, this game did exactly what it should have done – be a quality game that wasn’t hinging it’s success on the marketing efforts of the film.
Jump ahead to late summer and we get what without a doubt will file into the ranks of one of this year’s best games, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Anybody who has played a Batman game prior to Arkham Asylum knows the agony and frustration that went with having expectations of playing a great game but instead playing what amounted to a set of pixels pretending to be a videogame. Arkham, has broken the curse on the Batman videogame franchise by providing a moody, visceral, exciting experience that really gives you a sense of what this character is like, how he operates and just how much of a badass the Dark Knight can really be. With a combination of stealth/RPG and some intense action/fighting this game delivers on several levels. The setting and mood is as creepy and intense as 2k’s Bioshock and while we essentially are confined to the asylum and it’s surrounding areas, it’s more than enough for a deep journey through the mind of a mad Joker and a flawed hero who does his best to thwart him. Here is an example of where they tapped into an arch nemesis, picked a set piece that people really know nothing amount and then build a solid story around that. Putting aside one major flaw of disappointing boss battles, Arkham Asylum is a shining example of how to make a superhero game the right way.
Soon we’ll have a chance to see what Activision’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 brings to the table but from all early reports things are looking great. So it’s with a welcome sigh of relief that we are hopefully ushering in a new era of the superhero video game and hopefully get more outstanding titles and less of the craptaculars.