With Warner Brothers recently announcing plans for a Superman vs. Batman movie to follow up their successful franchise reboot: Man of Steel, we at TwinStick Gaming got to thinking about the inevitability of the video game tie-in. To most people, this might sound like a truly awesome time for the movie and game industry all round! After all, Christoper Nolan rebooted Batman and created the best Batman trilogy of all time! Over a similar time period, Rocksteady developed Batman Arkham Asylum and followed it up with Batman Arkham City for the PS3 and Xbox 360 (and now the Wii U) – rebooting the franchise for consoles with back to back, critically acclaimed games that significantly raised the bar for games in general, let alone comic book or superhero games. Now Zack Snyder has a successful Superman reboot under his belt and has let the world know a Superman / Batman movie is on the way, with him and new Superman, Henry Cavill, on board.
Sounds good so far. Unless, of course, you are a gamer. If you’re a gamer – the childlike excitement of this potential meeting of two of DCs finest on next generation consoles is tempered, somewhat, by the distinct lack of any significantly good Superman games in the realms of video game history.
The problem isn’t limited to the man of steel either, the dark knight is hardly boasting the most stellar of historical titles. In 2009, when Rocksteady Studios dropped Batman Arkham Asylum on us, they shocked the world. Not only had they made an outstanding triple A title – it was also a superhero game. This wasn’t a ‘return to form’ for superhero games, this was a ‘break the mold’ title. Before this, successful – either critically or financially – superhero or comic book games were almost unheard of.
Just a look back over the last 10 or 15 years yields some worrying trends…
1999 saw the release of Superman on the N64 (more commonly referred to as Superman 64). Titus Software tried to create a game worthy of the ‘superist’ of Superheros, sadly what they created has since been called by some ‘the worst game ever created’. Others accused the company of prioritising releasing the game over any kind of quality control. Harsh words indeed, but common at the time.
Things looked slightly rosier for Krypton’s last son in 2002 when both Superman Shadow of Apokolips (PS2) and Superman: Man of Steel (Xbox) were released. However, though neither game came close to the ‘worst game ever’ accolade, the reception of both games was fairly frosty. Shadow of Apokolips averaged scores of around 6/10 and was characterised as being pretty poor, though not terrible, suffering from wonky controls and poor collision detection. The ‘Xbox only’ Man of Steel didn’t fair any better. Some felt it was the poorer of the two with ‘confusing, frustrating controls and repetitive missions.’
Though there were other attempts at Superman games over the next couple of years, none were highly regarded by critics and the last big release was 2006’s Superman Returns. Loosely based on the movie of the same name, ill thought out game design, very poor graphics (for the time) and uninteresting missions made this as forgettable as the rest.
Before Rocksteady’s re-invention of the Batman franchise, the world’s greatest detective had a similarly unimpressive history.
In 2001 Batman: Vengence hit the shelves. It was met with mixed, mostly negative reviews and the only thing fans could hang their hats on was quality voice acting from series favourites Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill (who would reprise their roles as Batman and the Joker respectively in Arkham Asylum and Arkham City).
Batman: the Rise of Sin Tzu arrived 2 years later. Though reviews were largely average, the critics and fans did marvel (no pun) at the games distinctive graphical style. The game play mechanics worked well enough, but the game wasn’t very innovative or interesting and, though knocking seven shades of custard out of the waves of villainous goons was fun at first, it got very repetitive, very quickly.
A first glimmer of positivity for Bats was seen in 2005 with Eurocom’s movie tie-in Batman Begins. It commonly saw score of around 6 or 7 out of 10, the positive side of average. Critics felt it was a good looking game, though game play was derivative of too many other games and critcised for being ‘linear’ – which for superhero games, at the time, was progress!
2009, August, Batman Arkham Asylum was released. Rocksteady Studios brought us a Total game changer. An actually good comic book game. Dark, stealthy, well acted, well scripted, great mechanics – brought something new, fresh and inspiring to gaming (Sleeping Dogs, for instance, has a combat system that owes much to Arkham Asylum).
Batman Arkham City swooped down from a shadowy gargoyle in 2011. Expectations, already high, were exceeded by a stunning follow up that improved every single aspect of the game and removed any lingering linearity from the previous installment. Sandwiched between actually worth while DLC (Catwoman free for most) stood the pinnacle of DC comics gaming experiences so far.
2013 is set to bring Batman Arkham Origins. The bar is raised very high and Warner Brothers Montreal have some mighty big ears to fill.
Where does this leave a potential Batman vs. Superman game? Well, as an avid fan of Batman, Superman, comics, movies and, of course, video games – I have to be honest. Whilst I’m quietly very optimistic about Warner Brothers Montreal stepping up to the plate and replicating Rocksteady’s success when they release Origins later this year, I can’t help but look at the history of the real Superman curse and think whichever developer tackles the game, they will struggle to capture the man of steel with anything like the accuracy we’ve seen from The Dark Knight.
Of course, the 10 year old in me will still believe it CAN and WILL be done right and be hoping that the older jaded version of me has never been more wrong!
Richard is a father, teacher, gamer and writer. He believes that The Last of Us and Olli Olli 2 are the finest games ever made, feels that the StarWars Saga should only be watched in ‘the Machete order’ and once cleared Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time in one sitting. Took him 20 hours, four cups of tea and a sausage roll. You can follow him on twitter @TLOUFactionsMP or @VigilanteSanta and view his occasional twitch outbursts on twitch.tv/spooklebeans.