Holy Metacritic, Batman!

I can’t stand Robin. Or, if you want to get technical, any one of the three Robins there have been so far. It’s not just because of his inexperience and co-dependence on Batman; Dick Grayson eventually shed the tights and became Nightwing. It’s the fact that every time you end up dictating his actions with a controller, mouse or keyboard, his mistakes and general idiocies become mine.

For the purposes of my argument, I’m simply going to ignore the LEGO title that takes advantage of the various instant-success comic book franchises so readily available to game developers as of late. Games like Spiderman 2, Arkham Asylum and other games we’ve loved and are valiantly hoping to love become our internal marking criteria when we engage with the characters whose role we play in a game’s storyline.

Everyone wants to be a super-hero, when you think about it. Deep down, you know you’d love to fly, turn invisible and throw cars at bad guys, or even -be- a bad guy. But when you can’t feel the wind rushing past your mask, and you’ve replaced arm gestures for the right trigger when slinging webs all over Manhattan, is it really possible?

Most folks would say no. The only titles in which you can be a true hero of your own creation are in MMO titles like City of Heroes, where the fleeting feeling of strength, heroism and, most important of all, immersion, are often shattered by a random "lol" in the background. I suppose this is the price for trying to create a solitary immersive experience for yourself on a server full of "leet kids". Strive to be a heroic Dwarven warrior, the most powerful in all the land, and it’s only a matter of time before a heroic Dwarven warrior two levels -above- you steals your kills and asks for gold in Chinese.

So where are we able to be super-heroes of our own worlds? The established ones are already there. Marvel has Spiderman, DC has Superman, and before you ask about games centred on Batman, Iron Man and The Punisher, let me remind you these men are vigilante forces of justice. No mutant powers, just a lot of money or a veteran’s history in Vietnam. We can respect and adore them for what they do, but they are still bound by laws. Not homicide or arson, but the boring-to-games-developers laws of physics and thermodynamics.

Sadly, the Spiderman franchise is poor bar a few exceptions, and I’ve seen less torturous tests of endurance in the Olympics than playing Superman 64. The fabled "super-hero game gets ten out of ten" is one we’ll be telling our grandchildren unless a few things change. Yeah, you -could- say this is a list, but I like to think of it more as a multiple-clause ultimatum to the developers working on said titles.

1) Stop assuming super-powers are going to explain themselves.

When you give me control of a laser that turns puppies into sheep, I’m not instantly going to exclaim "awesome! I wanted this since issue sixteen!" I want to know why I’d need to do this, when, where, and by the love of all that is Marvel, -how-. Don’t give me Aquaman and assume that a mission to put out fires is going to explain everything to me.

In fact, don’t give me Aquaman anyway. A man who talks to fish is a Londoner, not a super-hero.

2) Generic waves of bad guys have to go.

Spiderman: Web of Shadows was a great game, but it suffered from using the same fifteen enemy models over and over again. Criminal behaviour is motivated by sociopathic tendancies, anger, or drug/famine-motivated desperation. It is -not-, however, motivated by people all wanting to wear the same orange robotic armour. The former is a criminal. The latter is a fashion statement.

3) Give super-villains realistic goals.

I can’t state this enough. How many times has an evil mastermind attempted to take over the world? Did you ever wonder what’d happen if they actually -succeeded-? Wealth and power isn’t enough. Why not the same goals as their morally-grounded counterpart? I don’t know about you, but a super-villain who hijacks a medical vessel in the sky to cure cancer, then wants world control in exchange for said cure is something I could fear.

4) Less talky, more punchy.

The Punisher was a great game. Very little dialogue, but a lot of combat. He takes out bad guys as soon as possible. So why is it that super-hero dialogue has to be repeated in full in a medium where removing a character’s ability to talk for ten minutes is a desirable trait in a game? Reed Richards (the stretchy Mister Fantastic) has an IQ of well into the hundreds, and yet somehow gamers see more logic in combat efficiency than he does?

5) Stop stealing their stuff.

What’s with unlockable upgrades? If I had made a suit for Iron Man, what possible turn of events would ever make me want to have each of its features unlock gradually? Spiderman has had his powers in full since the age of fifteen, but at the age of twenty-five, he forgets them until Beast turns up and teaches it to him again in an hour? How powerful is a player really going to feel when the prerequisite for using his powers involves killing fifty men? It’s a game, not cult indoctrination.

6) More moral independence, please.

Spiderman: Web of Shadows was interesting because of its use of the black, Venom parasite-infected suit as a morally deviant choice for players. You could live honestly, end up with Mary-Jane or fight dirty and end up with Black Cat. Either way, you ended up with a tiresome and questionably dressed woman. But you also got to be bad. Sometimes, it’d be nice to level a city. I’d feel like I was really in control then.

These are just some of the problems I can think of in reference to super-hero video games. More choice, more intelligence on the part of the character, bad guys with individual motivation from super-villains all the way down to the average thug… this stuff matters. It matters in the comics we read, and the films that go with them, so why not the games? It’s a scary task bringing something like the Marvel universe to life, but if you end up with an award-winning gaming experience, rather than a generic beat-‘em-up stat-fest, wasn’t it worth it?


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Author: Christos Reid View all posts by

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