Let’s face it. Superman may be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, out run a locomotive, stop a bullet, see through walls, and more, but he has found success in the video game market to be his Kryptonite. Over the past thirty years over a dozen video games starring Superman have been released, not including games where he is part of a larger ensemble such as Injustice: Gods Among Us or Justice League Heroes. While these games and others proved to be successes, the same cannot be said for games where Supes is the sole or primary hero. What gives? What has prevented Superman from having a largely successful game in the style of Batman’s Arkham Asylum franchise?
The Batman games don’t have a direct correlation to the Christopher Nolan film series, but the popularity of those films and the wild success of the first two Arkham games share a strong relationship, especially since the games and the films all were released in a relatively quick seven-year span. It’s impossible to separate which caused the other, but one fact remains clear: The Batman games are infinitely playable, easy to control, have an engrossing storyline, and tons of complexity in how the game unfolds. The most recent game, 2006′s Superman Returns, is loosely based on the film of the same name, with several of Superman’s villains appearing in the game and infamously having a tornado appear as the final boss. The game was not well-received, and after plans for a sequel to the film were scrapped, any hope for further momentum on a quality Superman game appeared dead.
All of that leads to this week’s release of Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. To say the film is expected to be a blockbuster is a huge understatement. We’ve already posted our own review of the film here, so feel free to see for yourself what we thought, but other critics are anticipating a masterpiece as well. Some are already calling it the best Superman film made, with others wondering just how good it will be. Will it disappoint with all this hype surrounding it? Only the general public and the second week box office numbers will tell that tale. DC and Warner Bros. are obviously hoping for more with this film, much like what Batman Begins gave Batman.
How does all of this connect to the video game market? If Man of Steel can prove to be not only a massive money maker but a crowd pleaser as well, DC and Warner Bros. will want to take advantage. The same thing is true of this week’s release of new comic book Superman Unchained; it’s a possibly lucrative tie-in. Even though these are characters we know and love, it’s still a business. A video game that could mimic as much of what makes Superman powerful and engaging as a character and have a story with a hook could only supplement the momentum that Man of Steel will give the character in the public eye. It might also provide a possible video game franchise, something Superman has never had.
A hurdle to consider is the tone and direction of the game itself, is one were to emerge. A common thread among the Nolan films and now Snyder’s films is the inherent push for realism and a distinction of these characters being part of a strange and harsh world that isn’t always ready for what they have to offer. This does not lend itself well to video games, as Batman Begins found out when it was mostly criticized for different aspects of its gameplay and linear storyline that adhered closely to the film.
If Man of Steel does indeed lead to a large enough interest in the character to attempt a video game, pulling a page from the Arkham Asylum playbook seems wise. Give Superman an open world to explore, plenty of side missions, a wide array of powers and abilities to use, and a host of villains to make use of the rich landscape that Superman has. This is a big piece that is usually ignored by many game developers where Superman is concerned. The main villain of almost every Superman game is Lex Luthor, usually constructing some elaborate plan to destroy blah, blah and must be stopped by blah, blah. It’s been done. While Lex can certainly be a part of a new game, Man of Steel makes things interesting by reintroducing General Zod to a wide, new audience who might be unfamiliar with Terrance Stamp’s classic portrayal.
Zod has always been one of Superman’s most challenging foes, and a game featuring him in some complex scheme brings in another host of possibilities as well, including supporting characters who run a whole universe and other civilization. There is no shortage of ways to go with this if the film finds a lasting footprint with the public at large, especially those with an interest in games. Will Man of Steel provide the shot in the arm that a Superman video game has been begging for over the past several years? Only time and the public will tell.