The Untapped Potential of Superhero Games – Gaming illuminaughty Skip to content
Published June 2, 2015

As you know, in recent years, there has been a boom in the superhero/comic book movie genre. They are constantly being churned out by Marvel, Warner Bros., Fox, and Sony and are almost always sure-things. But while these movies are typically great, the video games based on comic book superheroes are often mundane to terrible.

A vast amount of superhero games that get made are in conjunction with a film. Most of the time these misfortunes are because developers are rushed to make a crappy game to release when its accompanying movie does. Just watch TBH’s review of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — it looks like trash and a waste of resources. The same can be said for almost all movie tie-in games, like the Iron Man games, Thor: God of Thunder, Superman Returns, and the Fantastic Four games.

The only times when superhero games excel, or are at least decent, are when they aren’t move tie-in games, with the exception being Wolverine: Origins, which had its own plot and fun gameplay similar to the God of War and Devil May Cry games. Its developers were allowed a bit of freedom and honored the source material with their game. One of the latest superhero games is Deadpool, which came out in 2013. It didn’t have a movie to tie into and thus the creators were allowed to do their own thing and create their plot and successfully honor the character. The game was only moderately praised and didn’t sell too much, but it was a step in the right direction.

But what people really think of when it comes to superhero games is the Arkham series. The Batman: Arkham games show just how great superheros can translate into the video game medium. When you’re playing an Arkham game, you don’t just take control of Batman, you become Batman! The player is endued with Batman’s detective prowess and stealth abilities to dispatch thugs, as well as his combat badassness that translates to fun, yet repetitive gameplay that was so expertly copied and pasted into another Warner Bros. game (Shadow of Mordor).

The biggest draw of the Arkham games are their stories. Rocksteady Studios, which developed exactly one game before working on Arkham Asylum, has done a fantastic job creating its own Batman story. The story of these games is what keeps them in the upper echelon of gaming’s recent years and the upcoming Batman: Arkham Knight looks to close out the excellent trilogy. Rocksteady has been given creative freedom to formulate their own interesting Batman stories instead of being confined by having to rush a Batman game to coincide with a Batman movie.

However, with the success of the Arkham games, one has to wonder why hasn’t Rocksteady, or another studio, been commissioned by Warner Bros. to create games based on other DC properties? Rocksteady has proven they can succeed making Batman games and I think they could have the same kind of success crafting their own story with another powerless vigilante — Green Arrow. Ever since I started watching Arrow I’ve wanted a Green Arrow game and I think Rocksteady would be the perfect developer to create Starling City and Oliver Queen. The Arkham combat would work well with Green Arrow and instead of using gadgets, the vigilante would obviously use his bow and arrows to dispatch enemies. DC has a lot of other characters that have the potential to star in great video games, like Superman, The Flash, and, of course, the Justice League.

In 2013, Netherrealm did an excellent job creating Injustice: Gods Among Us, but I don’t really consider this to be a superhero game. Yes, you are playing as all your favorite costumed DC heroes — Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. — but the game is a fighting game through and through. It plays very similar to Mortal Kombat (also developed by Netherrealm). Even though the game is very fun and it plays great, I never get the feeling that I am a superhero in the game.

While DC is having success with the Arkham franchise and Injustice, Marvel hasn’t really had a presence in the video game world. Aside from the endless stream of Lego games, Marvel hasn’t seen their characters star in a successful video game in years. The majority of Marvel games are mediocre (at best) and none of them have received renowned praise like the Arkham games.

Going in a different direction than their counterparts over at Warner Bros., Marvel has partnered with Telltale Games to create a Telltale game based on the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2017. Telltale has had past success making episodic point-and-click adventures based on The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Borderlands. What draws people to Telltale games are the choice-driven stories where each action you perform and each decision you make influences the story and ending. This is an interesting path for Marvel to take, especially considering how this game will be a part of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe.

However, while the story for Telltale’s Marvel game will undoubtedly be entertaining and on par with past Telltale storylines, I still want a Marvel action-adventure game. The Marvel: Ultimate Alliance games really made me feel like a superhero and I think that feeling of immersion in the role is something that the Telltale game might lack (although, it could be about S.H.I.E.L.D., Nick Fury, or another non-superhero). M:UA was so much fun in the way that you could team up any Marvel hero to create your own mini Avengers-like team. The gameplay was also a lot of fun and the sequel made it so that certain heroes could perform special attacks together. The games had great stories that traversed through several locations in the Marvel universe that hadn’t been shown before.

This is where I really think Marvel has potential to make a great superhero game. Last year TQ Jefferson, Marvel’s head of games, told IGN that an Avengers video game “will come when we have the right partner.” They don’t want to just pump out crappy MCU games to make money, like they did in the past. Marvel has definitely found a great partner in Telltale Games, but I think many years ago they already had a great partner that would excel with an Avengers game — Raven Software. This studio made the X-Men Legends games, the 2009 Wolverine game, and, of course, Marve: Ultimate Alliance. Since then, Raven Software has primarily been wasting away on Call of Duty games. Marvel knows that fans want a well-developed Avengers game that can compete with the quality of Rocksteady’s Arkham series. I think Raven Software can make that game, or maybe even Vicarious Visions, the studio that made M:UA2 (and has since been toiling away with Skylanders).

In the end, superheroes are box office gold and I think they have the potential to be a goldmine for game developers. Everybody from Superman to Green Arrow to the Guardians of the Galaxy could successfully star in a video game and I hope Marvel and Warner Bros. start making creative, high-quality superhero video games.

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