With the Arkham games about to enter the realm of VR, a new Spiderman game in development and superhero movies being at the height of their power, now seems like as good a time as any to talk about how to make a good superhero game.
It’s no secret that superhero games aren’t always up to scratch. Superman 64, Aquaman and The Amazing Spiderman (to name a few) weren’t exactly the best showcase for the genre. But if Rocksteady proved anything with their Arkham games, it’s that a superhero videogame can be great if you do it right. So over the past week I’ve been thinking long and hard about what makes a superhero game good, and where the others have fell short.
Let’s start off with the star of the genre. The Arkham games deliver some of the best superhero action to be found in a game, thanks to the gameplay, style and how deep the developers go into the extensive source material at their disposal. Rocksteady and Warner Brothers faithfully create a dark, bleak open world for you to explore, full of Easter Eggs, references and fan service, and this goes a long way in giving fans what they want.
Other games have attempted this. The range of costumes to unlock in The Amazing Spiderman 2 provides some fun little nods to the different looks and iterations of Spidey over the years, but this doesn’t even come close to the level of depth that the Arkham games bring to the table. The suits are cool, but this is mainly a cosmetic feature, and aside from changing a few of your base stats, doesn’t impact the rest of the game.
The Arkham games have a whole list of riddles, most of which reference an unseen character or event from the comic book world. Solomon Grundy’s hideout in Arkham Knight springs to mind, along with being able to spot Arkham Asylum from the docks. It relies on your knowledge of the lore and background, but isn’t so impenetrable as to alienate casual gamers.
Spiderman: Shattered Dimensions did better than most for a similar reason. It gave four different Spidermen, each with distinct personalities, gameplay and art styles. This gave genuine diversity to the game, as well as providing fan service to lovers of the different universes.
Good gameplay helps proceedings too, and again we return to the Arkham games. The simple to understand controls and incredibly satisfying free flowing combat mechanic was revolutionary in Arkham Asylum and perfected by Arkham Knight. The Amazing Spiderman 2 attempted to replicate this with less-than-impressive results.
The reason it didn’t work as well in my opinion, leads me to my second (and main) point. The most important thing in making a good superhero videogame is making the player feel like the hero they’re playing as. The Arkham games had an acrobatic and hard-hitting combat mechanic that made you feel like a true badass, as any Batman game should.
Spiderman’s fighting style should be less (for lack of a better word) heavy than Batman’s. I personally can’t think of a gameplay style that would fit Spidey perfectly, but that’s why I write about games, not make them! The combat in Arkham Asylum was perfect for Batman, and adopting it to another superhero might make for a better game than some of the superhero failures, but if it doesn’t match that hero, it won’t be as amazing as the first time you cracked a skull on Arkham Island.
There is one advantage that the new Spiderman game has. An advantage that the Arkham games had, and the lesser games don’t. Many of the bad superhero games are rushed onto the shelves to coincide with a movie release. This leads to an unpolished (and at times, unfinished) title. Admittedly, Spiderman 2 for the PS2 defied this trend, delivering a solid game that tied in with a movie.
The most important thing for any superhero game is to make you feel like the superhero you’re playing as, but it’s also important to balance challenge and progression. It’s for this reason that Superman may struggle to have a good video game outing. It’s hard to take someone as powerful as the Man of Steel, and still make the experience challenging. I suppose you could make a game where you fly through a series of hoops until the credits roll? That could potentially be fun?
If they give Spidey his own gameplay style – one that suits him like the freeflowing combat suited Batman – it could be a superhero experience to rival that of the Arkham series. If it’s yet another Arkham rip off, we’re in for more disappointment. Only time will tell, but I’m definitely looking forward to finding out.
…That’s this week’s VuePoint!!! Check back tomorrow for a new BearSleuth Opinion Piece!!!