Since both Batman and Spider-Man have had great success with their games, I am asking the age old question will there ever be a great Superman game? To me there is untapped potential to make the greatest power fantasy game ever. If left up too you which developer/publisher would you choose? What style of game would it be? An which comic writer would you want writing the story?
Will there ever be a great Superman game?
Wasn't Megaton Rainfall a pretty well received take on an off-brand Superman style hero?
Anyway, I'd probably not want so much a power fantasy as something that kinda just skips over the combat stuff entirely, since I don't think that aspect could ever really be engaging with Superman.
Instead, give me a non-stop selection of trolley problems to figure out, where it would generally not be possible to solve every situation in time. Or a Frozen Synapse/Flotilla/early Rainbow Six kinda thing where you set up a plan in order to tackle all objectives in a single turn to save as many as possible and then see it all play out.
The problem with a Superman game is the same problem with Superman's comics: the people claiming "he's boring" are usually at the helm, and that means the first question they ask, when given a character with the power of a god and the brain of an alien, is "WHO'S HE GONNA PUNCH REAL HARD?!" (because the CHARACTER is the one who's boring...)
But I could sit here and list reams of books that take the character and actually do something interesting with him. So what needs to be done is, as fisk0 points out: something other than a combat focused open-world game. And frankly I don't know what that is! I don't think a Supermassive/Telltale "choice-driven narrative" game would work, but something more puzzle-y or more like plate-spinning could work.
Honestly, I'm not sure it CAN be done, because anything actually outside the box in terms of gameplay is gonna get shot down pretty quickly by the license holder, who isn't going to want to take risks on a big property. In which case: send him away from Earth and go for something more with the scale of Mass Effect or Halo, have the story about him trying to return to his new home rather than trying to defend it.
ITT a bunch of people who want to pretend that the perfect Superman game doesn't already exist:
More seriously, I have no idea whether it will or won't happen but I don't think it really depends on whether there's combat or not. You can do lots of stuff to give Superman reasonable combat challenges. Robots with kryptonite weapons, other Kryptonians to fight, alien beings of great power, whatever. It's not hard to find narrative justification.
I think the problem with most Superman games (Superman 64 definitely not included) is not so much their conception but their execution. They are generally janky as hell and just not well made. We don't have any examples of games that were super well made and polished but failed because they didn't understand the character. We just have a bunch of bad games. The reason they're bad is not because Superman has to punch someone more than once to beat them, or Superman is too vulnerable or whatever. Frankly if the game were fun to play nobody would really care that it wasn't 100% true to the character. In the new Spider-Man game Spider-Man can get shot a bunch and heal with "focus" and that is definitely not true to the character but nobody cares because it's fun to play and close enough. Same with the Arkham games.
You just need a good studio and a high budget whatever the concept is. I think you can make a good Superman game with combat or without. I think you can make a good Superman game focused on narratives and puzzle solving or just another variation of Infamous. Will anyone? I don't know. I feel like Superman is just not the highest priority, especially for games. I think it would be fun, especially if it did something cool like with the new SSD drives allowing you to fly way faster than in any other game and maybe go between planets or something like a No Man's Sky type deal (though obviously not exactly that) but since Superman's movies haven't done great in recent memory and that's how comic characters get attention now I doubt it will happen soon.
It is difficult because the way video game players read stories, and the way in turn that video game makers tell stories, directly conflicts with what is fascinating about Superman as a character. Specifically, our lack of agency over a theoretically all powerful being.
I think the closest relative to something like a Superman game would be a simulation game, where the omnipotent player tries to do their best for a society or civilization. I suppose a city management simulator with direct control, and a focus on tangible change rather than a focus on policy and economy. You'd be deciding which crimes to stop, which to leave to the people to resolve. Which policies you should intervene in. Does Superman stop a riot? Drug deals? Does he intervene in wars?
But that is assuming of course it's a story where the player controls Superman—again, this doesn't play into the strengths of his character. Controlling Superman is a hell of a power fantasy, but doesn't do much to create an interesting narrative or work within the themes of hope. I think those questions get a lot less interesting when Superman simply does whatever the player audience thinks is right. There's not much hope involved when you can simply do whatever you want, consequence free. The hope comes from the faith people can place in a force they can't control, that choses to do what is just.
Or I guess you can just make a game about guy who punches good and flies through rings. Whatever.
Weirdly enough I've been playing Gravity Rush recently and I actually think it could be a good fit for a Superman game. The enemies are fairly fragile and easy to deal with so that tracks with his power set. Most of what you'd change are: a more normal city architecture for the game world, alter Supes' posture and how the camera locks to him for flight, an enemy variety to match with the source material. Admittedly that strips away quite a bit of what I find cool about Gravity Rush but you gotta start somewhere right?
If you need a narrative justification just create an abilitease at the start where you're fighting a mid to high tier villain when he gets blasted in a cut-scene by a kryptonite bazooka or omega beams and he has to build his powers back up in the game. While there have been cool Superman stories out there I don't think they need to overthink it for a video game. All the Arkham games have all been serviceable enough in that department (with varying results) and Marvel's Spider-Man made a largely safe superhero story yet made it compelling to someone like me who isn't even a big fan of the character.
@hatking: Superman 64 had an absolute garbage idea. You didn't actually play Superman you were in a simulation. It made no sense just conceptually.
If that game had the exact same concept but was designed and played as well as the Playstation Spider-Man game from Neversoft people would have loved it and remembered it fondly to this day. A lot of people would LOVE to fly through rings and punch people real good and throw cars at them and stuff.
Look at The Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Did it take the Hulk seriously as a character? Not really. He had to punch helicopters multiple times to destroy them etc... But it captured enough of the essence of the character for people to love it. They could have done the same with Superman if the games weren't all trash.
i mean, to me it's not an issue of gameplay- saints row 3 & 4 basically make you a superman-like figure in terms of abilities. you can make that fun.
the most interesting aspect of superman has never been his abilities- it's his relationship to humanity and the morality of circumstance. if the game hired a writer that wrote a nuanced meditation on what it means to be a moral human- i think superman would be a good platform for that.
but that's likely a harder sell for mass market. people want to smash, not reflect.
@bigsocrates: I might argue a game that unleashes player into a city to make an exploding sandbox out of it, in a way you couldn't and wouldn't do in your everyday life, is more than just a decent adaptation of that character. I think the differences between the Hulk and Superman are exactly why the Hulk is an incredible character for video games and Superman isn't. The Hulk is about a lack of restraint, going buck wild. Making boxing gloves out of public transit and kicking a soldier in the dick so hard they enter low orbit. Superman is about restraint. A game that had Superman break a police man in half with his kicks would be damn fun (and funny) but not exactly in the spirit of the character.
@hatking: Superman and the Hulk are not the same character, of course, and the destruction aspect would work differently for Superman (he actually can destroy things just not living humans. Androids, evil space ships, etc...) The Hulk fights a lot of mechs in that game and Superman can tear the limbs off mechs so long as he doesn't kill the pilot (if there even is one.)
What I was saying is that people feel like a Superman game can't work because he's too powerful and the answer in Ultimate Destruction was just not to worry about it and focus more on a balanced game than perfectly representing the power level of the character. That works with Superman too.
Once you aren't so worried about him being ultra powerful then you basically have your model in the Spider-Man game. Spider-Man also doesn't kill people. So you have Superman saving a bunch of people, stopping a bunch of crimes without killing the criminals, halting natural disasters etc... and fighting whatever version of bad guys you want, whether he destroys them or doesn't.
Make it fun to fly and use the powers, insert a decent story, maybe have some missions where you have to be Clark Kent, and you could easily make a very popular game. Is it the most interesting use of Superman? Of course not. But there's nothing stopping Superman from starring in a big budget open world superhero game.
With the new consoles you could probably do cool stuff that hasn't been seen before, like have Superman fly at very high speeds, or have him try to shield people from huge hunks of falling debris, or stop an Earthquake, or fight an alien robot the size of an Asura's Wrath giant boss or whatever.
I maintain that the reason that we've never had a great Superman game is that we've never had a great developer attempt one with a big budget. We don't have any examples of games that were very well made but not fun to play because it was Superman and not some other character. Instead we have a bunch of games that were just poorly put together with bad controls or cheap graphics or other issues. I don't think it's a conceptual issue, it's an execution problem.
I don't think there's any way to make traversal for character that can freely fly fun.
Think about traversal in Spiderman, you're dodging buildings, trying to find a sort of optimal path, boosting off of ledges and what not. It's engaging just getting from point A to point B in that game.
Batman same deal, you're grappling and gliding. Not as fun as Spiderman, but it's still active and turns traversal into a sort of simple minigame.
Superman, without some sort of limitation imposed by narrative nonsense, you fly up above the buildings, fly in a straight line to your destination, land.
If you want to make flying fun, you pretty much need to design some crazy environment explicitly to make the flying fun, ala Anthem (and even then the flying wasn't all that fun, it just looked cool).
I guess you could, you know, make rings you have to fly through...😈
Apparently The Death and Return of Superman is one of the dozens of games I remember fondly from my childhood but in reality was just a generic Sunsoft beat-em-up, but I do think conceptually it's one of the more interesting takes on a "Superman" game, especially now that consoles are capable of pulling off character swaps on the level of Grand Theft Auto V.
Based on the arc where Doomsday killed Superman, an earnest attempt at this game could open with a huge, Kratos vs. Baldur-like set piece to get players engaged before ultimately "killing" Superman and placing players in the shoes of four different wannabes - Steel, Superboy, The Eradicator and, briefly, Cyborg Superman. Steel would allow you to emulate Superman's land-based power without having to figure out his invulnerability, Superboy would allow you to emulate his more airborne and alien powers and The Eradicator would let players that just want Superman-but-GTA to go buck wild. With the game ultimately culminating in a morality tale with Superboy learning to become less impulsive, Eradicator learning what it means to be a God amongst mortals and Steel sort of acting as the moral center of it all while allowing the game to end on any number of notes when it becomes clear the only way to solve the Doomsday problem is to revive Superman.
This would have a lot of obvious hurdles - a Superman game where it's star character is a Black man forever tainted by a weird Shaquille O'Neal movie is probably the one marketing people would fixate on - but I really think it'd be a clever way to tackle this wild video game problem, and it'd double as a truly of-the-times tale of morality and what it means to be a minority/immigrant/outsider in the United States with some big booms and laser beams on top.
@sweetz: There are plenty of games that allow free flight. These include games like Lego Marvel Superheroes and Dark Void. You just need to build some gameplay into the flying, which isn't hard. You set up collectables, challenges, combat opportunities, and distractions. Superman is flying when all of a sudden he sees one of Braniac's Drones and he needs to catch it kind of like the pigeons in Spider-Man. Or Superman is flying and he hears calls for help to respond to (like the crimes in Spider-Man.) Or he's flying and there's stuff scattered in the clouds and on rooftops for him to collect like the gems in Gravity Rush. Or he's flying and he gets attacked by flying robots or shot at with missiles he has to evade or whatever.
There's lots of things you can do to make flying not boring. And if you make it feel good and make an interesting world it would be fun even without that stuff. Game designers have tools to tackle this stuff. If you fully upgraded in Arkham Knight you could more or less fly and it didn't really wreck the game because there was a ton of stuff to do in the city below you, and stuff to do up above like the Man-Bat missions and gliding challenges etc...
You don't need to make people just fly in a straight line with nothing to do for minutes on end.
You could put the player against multiple problems at the same time. An helicopter with bad guys, an ongoing hostage situation, a police pursuit - the whole city in chaos. Even if Superman virtually can't be hurt, he can't kill anyone and he needs to get every civilian safe. I think it is possible to transform multiple "mundane" stuff for Superman into an epic sequence.
For me, the best game where you can play as Superman is LEGO Batman 2 just because it plays the iconic Superman theme when you're flying around in the open world sections of Gotham City. It's a small touch, but the first time it happened, I had the biggest smile after nearly passing out from laughter since I didn't expect it. Plus, that game was actually pretty fun to get 100% achievements in (I haven't played much of most of the other LEGO games, but I've heard they're all pretty much the same aside from the licenses).
In terms of a Superman-centric game, I kinda like the idea of the Superman Returns game that came out alongside the movie where his "health" is determined by how much of Metropolis gets destroyed. If someone could make something like that, but make it better and more fun, and/or have it be a mechanic that affects Superman's morale/will to fight (which won't kill him per se, but will affect how well he fights hand-to-hand and how effective his other powers work), I could see that being fun if it's balanced correctly and fun.
Alternatively, do something like Final Fantasy II/IV where you start off as regular Clark Kent and build up your stats in terms of physical strength, speed, etc. Then, when you finally become Superman proper, those stats will be boosted compared to the others.
Please Log In to post.