published Tuesday, Dec 05th
It’s a tough job making a convincing Superman game, with his seemingly endless amount of superpowers. Just ask Titus Software, the company that unleashed Superman 64 upon the world and which now regularly tops the “worst game of all time” polls. With the announcement that EA Tiburon were to develop a tie-in to 2006’s summer blockbuster Superman Returns, everyone hoped that the trend of bad Superman games would finally come to an end, and Superman would finally be the man-of-steel that we all wish he would be in a videogame. Unfortunately it seems as if it’s been hastily rushed out of the door to coincide with the movie’s DVD release. This game isn’t finished.
You start the game having to save Metropolis from a meteor storm, and you are then captured by a villain named Mongul and forced to fight in an arena against an array of bad guys. These essentially serve as the game’s tutorial. From there it’s back to Metropolis as the real game starts. Like previous comic-book/movie adaptations such as Spiderman 2 and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Superman Returns is set in a free roaming environment which allows you to fly wherever you want, whenever you want. Unfortunately for the game, there is just nothing to do inside it.
The game is set up into chapters, with each chapter being dedicated to a different villain from the comic books. These are broken up with cutscenes that recount the events of the movie; however these serve as nothing except ways to tie the game into it. You don’t get to battle Lex, or do any movie-related missions, which seems like an incredible oversight (or lack of development time) for a game that is proudly named the same as the movie.
Instead, to progress through each chapter you need to roam the city and complete any missions you may find – completing missions earns you experience, and when you have enough you face the boss of the chapter. The first problem with this is that the missions do not start until you get near enough to its location, at which point an arrow appears directing you to it. This leads to a lot of flying aimlessly around the city trying in vain to find a mission. The next problem with the game’s mission system is that every single one of them, bar the boss fights, is the same. You are tasked with defeating various robots and mutants who are causing havoc to the city – and that’s it. At first it’s initially fun, but once you’re beating up the same generic robots for the 20th time, it starts to get extremely tedious. If you’re lucky, you may be tasked with putting out a fire to add a little variety. The missions would be somewhat more enjoyable if there were at least a wide variety of enemies to beat up, but there aren’t. It’s the same robots and lizards over, and over, and over again. Boss fights aren’t really much better, and in some cases are exercises in pure frustration. As Superman is invulnerable, he has no life bar – this is solved by giving the health bar to the city itself instead, and as the city is damaged, it goes down. Completing these missions and carrying injured civilians to an ambulance boosts this back up. There are some distractions to the missions in the form of a few races, but these are easy and each can be beaten first time in about a minute. You can also scour the city for 100 cats, but it offers no reward other than a few measly gamerpoints. The game doesn’t last very long either, with the entire game able to be wrapped up in 6 or 7 hours.
This is a shame, because Superman’s control mechanics – bar the camera – are actually well implemented. Flying at a high speed from the stratosphere straight down into the streets of the 80 sq. mile Metropolis is fun, and is one of the gameplay features that stand this Superman game above the rest. Holding down the right bumper whilst flying allows a form of “super speed” that is faster than the speed of sound (you hear a satisfying sonic boom once you break the sound barrier) and is initially impressive when flying through the streets, dodging buildings. Along with this, Superman also has 3 different powers available at his disposal – super breath, heat vision and ice breath. They work well enough except for the super breath power, which is pretty much useless except for putting out fires. Changing these powers is done via the D-pad, which can be pretty awkward in the middle of a fight as your left thumb is on the left analog stick. These powers are governed by a stamina bar, which depletes as you use them. Unfortunately the camera isn’t as well implemented and it can get pretty confusing when fighting lots of enemies on the ground. The lock-on system is also pretty awkward, with no way to switch to a different enemy without letting go of the left trigger, moving your aim to a different enemy, and pressing it again.
The city is pretty well realised with plenty of cars and civilians roaming the streets, and even though the city is plenty big enough, it all seems the same with the exception of a few landmarks such as The Daily Planet building. You can’t go inside any buildings, either. Graphics are tolerable at a distance (the textures become extremely blurry up close), however this is let down by the frame rate which tends to stutter when there are lots of enemies on the screen and the textures that pop in when flying at high speeds.
Fortunately the music is one of the high points of the game, and although it lacks the traditional Superman theme, in its place is a well executed orchestral soundtrack. The 3 main actors from the movie (Routh, Spacey and Bosworth) also reprise their roles, however with the exception of Brandon Routh, the voice acting is all delegated to the short cutscenes. Routh’s one-liners are heard constantly throughout Superman’s battles with the game’s bosses – one-liners that are repeated over and over again. It gets pretty irritating.
It’s a shame that this latest effort to revive the Superman franchise ends up falling flat, as clearly the potential was there for it to become something special. Flying around as Superman and using his powers is pretty fun. Unfortunately EA Tiburon forgot to build a game around it. So long, Superman.