How to make a superhero game work

Arkham Asylum - the game

Image by s3rioussam via Flickr

As you may or may not know, I am a harsh critic of both video games based on movies, and games based on superheroes. Whilst movie games seemed doomed to an eternal fate in the bargain bin, games such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Spider-Man 2 have shown us superhero games can be fun and enjoyable, and in Batman’s case amazing.

Superhero games usually tend to fail because little care is taken from the developers to actually make you feel like the character you’re playing as. For example take SEGA‘s Iron Man video game in 2008, which is one of the worst critiqued superhero video games in existence. And why? Because rather than make you feel as if you’re actually playing as Tony Stark in a one man army suit, you feel as if you’re playing a really poor arcade game with ridiculous difficulty and rubbish design. The developers seem to make a poor attempt at creating the hero’s powers, whilst putting no creative effort into making the personality of the character. For instance as I mentioned with Iron Man, the main protagonist Tony Stark was portrayed as a dislikeable, arrogant egomaniac. There was no insight into his self-destructive traits (alcohol, depression etc) and unlike the fantastic portrayal of Stark in the 2008 film; this Iron Man had no substance.

That’s where games such as Batman: Arkham Asykham have flourished. Arkham’s developers RockSteady took the time to explore the man behind the mask. For instance in one scene, Batman is hallucinating that he is reliving the death of his parents again. Or in another, you witness the guilt Batman has after he fails to save Commissioner Gordon’s life. It’s these moments along with awesome action orientated game play that makes you feel like you are actually the character you’re playing as.

Spider-Man 2 also incorporated the best of both elements and did it fantastically. You had awesome web-slinging game play, which still incorporated Spider-Man’s Peter Parker Persona. For instance one mission had Spider-Man deliver pizzas because Peter Parker’s job was on the line. The game was so good it actually made you care about the repercussions of what if you didn’t deliver the pizzas on time.

Game play should take a back seat to characterization and narrative in superhero games. After all look at Spider-Man 3. It had the same game play that made Spider-Man 2 so successful but a boring story and terrible voice acting/characterization earned the game universal panning. Sort the story, and the game play should follow. I know Arkham Asylum hardly had the most character driven story, but the moments it did have were better than anything we’ve seen from a superhero game so far.

With so many fantastic superheroes such as Thor, Captain America, Green Lantern etc finally finding their way onto video games it’s time superhero games start delivering, or the bargain bin at your local Game store is likely to fill up big time this Christmas. All superhero games need is a little more development, more character driven stories and original game play. Sure it’s a lot to ask for but come Christmas this year when Batman: Arkham City takes the gaming world by storm, the bar for superhero games will be raised even higher.

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  1. Film to video-games usually don’t perform well as the developers are rushed for a quick release with the film and video-game been released at the same time.

    • But what if the developers started work as soon as the film is announced. Maybe that would make them give us an original story that doesn’t have to tie with the film. Chuck in actor’s resemblance/voice work last minute and maybe it wouldn’t have to be so rushed. X-Men Origins by Raven Software I believe, was a great movie game, which was even considered to be better than the movie itself.

  1. August 2nd, 2011

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