This year Superman Returns. Not just to theaters, but to videogames as well. Originally set to coincide with the release of the movie, Superman Returns the game has been pushed back to this fall. I'm as sick of delays as the next gamer. Still, this time their hearts seem to be in the right place. Superman Returns is to be a colossal game, truly worthy of comic's first superhero.
Where does one begin building a game that's supposed to encapsulate what it is like to be Superman? Developers, Tiburon decided to create an 80 square mile metropolis. The Metropolis to be exact. Thousands of buildings, a monorail that travels the city, streets filled with cars and people, and of course, The Daily Planet.
Speaking of The Daily Planet, Superman is capable of interacting with the famous globe that rests on top of the building. In fact, most of Metropolis is interactive. I've seen that poor globe picked up, tossed, and otherwise abused so many times. (Most recently in the finale of Justice League Unlimited.) Now it is the gamer's turn. A representative, who walked me through the game, promised there would be even more monuments to demolish by the time Superman Returns hits the streets.
Another important and obvious thing that Superman Returns needs to nail are Superman's various superpowers. Superman Returns seems to have them all. Super strength plays into the whole interactive element. Flight is a no brainer. You get airborne a number of ways. There is the hard launch, think Neo in the Matrix. Then there is the running start, more like Christopher Reeve's Superman. You can hover, take a leisurely flight, or tear through the air faster than a speeding bullet. The developer's goal was to make it more fun than Spider-man's web-slinging. That is a tough feat.
Heat vision is something that they put a lot of thought into. You will be able to focus Superman's heat vision to a laser beam or open his eyes wide for an earth-shattering blast. His super breath works similarly. What I watched was Superman standing in the middle of the street blowing the people and their cars off of the road. It was actually pretty impressive. I didn't see him use the breath to freeze anything, but that might still be in the works.
Many things are actually still in the works. I was told that X-ray vision and super hearing would be addressed also, they just hadn't decided on how yet. Each power will have upgrades too. This sounds similar to Spider-Man 2.
Combat looked like a lot of fun. Superman's training takes place on War World where the training evolves as Superman does. You will have to explore ground to ground, air to air, and air to ground combat. War World will also help you practice using your interactive environment against enemies. Certain combatants will force you to use objects in your surroundings in order to defeat them. You will also learn to use combos. The combo that I saw was called 1000 fists. Superman uses his super speed to pummel his enemy in such a way that it appears as if he is a thousand men. It is a real nice visual, but the combo aspect seemed like it took the player out of Supes' boots and made him a spectator, however briefly. Still, the combat looks like a lot of fun, especially the air to air stuff.
The story is supposed to be comprised fifty percent by the DC universe and fifty percent by the movie's story. There are a number of side missions (I saw one with gargoyles attacking blimps) and close to 30 hours of storyline. It will feature nine classic Superman villains. The representative would only reveal two of them, Metallo (who can be seen in the trailer) and Parasite. I asked about how Parasite's ability to steal powers would work in the game and was told that this was to be decided. It could simply be a health draining effect or he could steal some of Superman's individual powers.
The rep was quick to scoff at any comparisons to Spider-Man 2 or the Incredible Hulk game. (The open world, super power upgrades, the extreme level of interactivity, etc. In fact the whole game seems like a best of from the previous two.) There were two major differences between Superman Returns and its two predecessors. The first is the openness of the missions. The missions aren't designed with one specific resolution. Superman Returns encourages the player to be creative with your powers and surroundings. This should add replay value. I could see replaying missions just to see all the cool ways that Superman might save the day.
The more important difference is actually an entire shift in the way the game is played and even how you think about playing. Superman is invulnerable. He won't die. Metropolis is not. As much as I love Bruce Timm's Justice League cartoons, the massive amounts of collateral damage always bug me. Superman brazenly punches Brainiac through a building, toppling it without a care for the thousands of people inside. Generally in the comics Superman is more aware than that. I am glad to see it carry over into Superman Returns. You won't just focus on fighting the bad guy; your first priority is saving the city. This will create some very interesting gameplay and be more true to Superman's character than many of his counterparts in other mediums.
Since Superman Returns contains story elements from the movie, I am not even that disappointed it is being delayed. I would have waited until I had seen the movie anyway. After talking to the reps and seeing some of what it aspires to be, I am more than willing to give it the extra couple months that Superman Returns needs to become that game. EA and Tiburon seem to have their hearts in the right place. They must have at least a fanboy or two on staff. Until this fall I'll just have to be content reading Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly's amazing All Star Superman.