Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Problem with Superhero Games

Superman will save citizens with puzzles!!
It’s a known fact (well maybe more like a really accurate theory) that superhero games, like movie-based games, tend to suck. We’ll get the gem every now and then such as Batman:Arkham Asylum, but most of our history with superheroes are plagued with the likes of Superman 64, and Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis. In truth, some of the best superhero games that are out there are not properties that fit within their realm. They are fighting games such as Marvel vs. Capcom, or a new hero entirely that has no comic origins like Infamous or Prototype. Outside of those…superhero games kind of suck.

For a number of us, we look at comic books in the same way that we do movies. We want to get a great recreation in the form of a video game and it just doesn’t happen. A lot of it has to do with the source material: there are aspects of a comic or graphic novel that just don’t translate into a game. We may be able to spend more time on the lore and history of a character in a book, but in a game this can lead to hundreds of hours of content that turns players away. While the medium of gaming allows for more cohesion with comics, a lot of the content will still need to be removed in order for the game to exist.

Which brings me to my next point: how do you make a superhero worth playing? Part of what drives us to play a game is to level up, garner achievements, and improve your character in order to reach the end-goal. With a number of heroes such as Thor, Superman, Wonder Woman, they are already super-human. It’s impossible to level them up or have them stumble upon new powers. They have been gifted with these aspects from birth. So…what’s the fun in running around a town being a demi-god? Unless you’re playing The Sims, not a lot. At least with Batman or The Green Lantern they are human and part of the journey is discovering their strengths and weaknesses. Superman doesn’t have a weakness. Okay well he has Kryptonite, but that’s such a rarity. On Earth, he’s a god, basically. He has no health bar. He has no hit points. He already has all of his powers. So…what’s there to do when you’re Superman? What’s the end goal? What purpose do I have to run through a game and save people if I achieve nothing else out of it?

I realize that’s a shallow view when saving people is an important, and noble, aspect. But that’s not enough for a gamer. We need multiple goals and reasons to keep moving forward. Saving someone’s life who may, or may not be grateful for it, who doesn’t offer anything in return other than a possible “thank you” is not worth it. If you couple it with a life-altering decision of killing the few to save the many, that could be interesting. (I didn’t realize people were so up in arms about Man of Steel for having this premise-Spoiler Alert if you click on the link.)

Again we’re stuck in this wonderful catch-22. We want games for Deadpool and a proper Superman, but the reality is that without goals to obtain and a proper re-telling of the comics, we won’t play them.

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