The Man of Steel certainly has a spotty track record when it comes to videogames. Starring in what is considered by many gamers as one of the worst games of all time (see Superman 64) certainly doesn’t help, but with a recent appearance in Snowblind Studios’ excellent Justice League Heroes things are looking up for everyone’s favorite Kryptonian. Superman Returns is the first game from EA and Tiburon Studios featuring mild mannered reporter Clark Kent and his alter ego and thankfully they have done him more justice than both Bruce Wayne and the Marvel team combined.
In Superman Returns you play the role of the most famous super hero of all time. The plot of the main game is loosely based on this summer’s blockbuster hit of the same name. I say loosely because the only part of the game that seems to have anything in common with the movie is the cut scenes. It seems like EA had created these cut scenes to coincide with the movie plotline, but forgot to add anything into the game that had to do with them.
Instead you will spend the majority of your time flying the skies of Metropolis until an event is triggered in which, cue the music, you must swoop down and save the day. Throughout the game you will face off against some of the familiar and not so familiar faces, of the Superman universe including Mongul and Metallo. There is even a small set of mini-games where you can play as Bizarro and wreak havoc on Metropolis, good stuff. To be honest most of the single-player game is plagued with bad pacing and plot lines that really never add up to much more than a confusing mess. It seems the team at EA spent so much time on other aspects of the game that they forgot to give old Supes a reason to be roughing these guys up.
The core game mechanics are also questionable at times. Tasks such as flying and super speed are handled very well, but the combat of your hero can feel clunky and unresponsive at times. Superman can lock onto enemies, but the trouble comes from trying to lock on to a specific enemy as there is no easy way to switch targets in the heat of battle. The camera will also give you fits more often than not by getting stuck behind buildings and even getting so low to the ground that you lose sight of the action entirely, and can someone please tell me why the strongest, most powerful man on the planet cannot jump over simple obstacles, I mean really.
You also have a selection of super powers that can be used via the right trigger. You can switch between powers by tapping the corresponding direction on the d-pad and you can even upgrade each power individually as you gain experience throughout the game. Personally I found the heat vision the most effective against the majority of enemies with the ice breath coming in a distant second only being effective against certain baddies. The super breath in all actuality is mostly for fun until the close of the game, but it sure is fun tossing enemies halfway across the map with one swift breath of air.
The actual hand to hand stuff is also convoluted for lack of a better term. I found myself sticking to one major combo throughout most of the game. This is mostly because a lot of different moves are mapped to the same buttons as other attacks and more often than not you will not perform what you had intended on in the first place. The shaky camera and terrible lock on system don’t help matters either, which makes hand to hand combat more of a chore than anything else. Regardless of these issues I had with the controls and combat the game still gives you the sense of being the world’s most powerful super hero and in the end it still manages to be fun even with the minor hiccups.
The star of the game is not Superman contrary to popular belief, but in fact it is the city of Metropolis itself. EA has managed to create a living breathing world that spans over 80 miles. Navigating from point A to point B can be half the fun as you dash through the city landscape using super speed. From the air the city looks amazingly detailed, but once you get closer you are presented with some low-res textures and repeating character models, but for as big as this city is I can’t complain too much.
What I am disappointed in though is the lack of destructible objects in the game. Sure I can set fire to trees and lunge cars at unsuspecting pedestrians, but I really wanted to fly head on into a large building and watch it tumble to the ground. Sadly the Man of Steel simply bounces off of these structures leaving one of two simple textures; highly disappointing.
After you complete the main storyline, if you can call it a story, there really isn’t a lot left to do in this massive world of Metropolis. There are some mini-games such as the aforementioned Bizarro missions that will entertain you for a while and some checkpoint races with your good friend Mr. Mxyztplk, but after that you are left simply wanting more.
The game can be summed up in less than ten hours and with no real reason to return to Metropolis, outside of the Achievement points you can earn, the game is over long before it really gets started. With such a large world to play around in it would have been nice to throw in some crime stopper missions such as thwarting bank robberies or simply saving civilians from burning buildings, but alas when all is said and done you will be left with swapping punches with the same tired enemies from the single-player or trying to round up an abundance of missing kittens.
At the end of the day I may have bitched a lot about this game, but I still find myself flying over the streets of Metropolis on a daily basis. The truth is the game is fun, even with all the aforementioned issues I had a great time being a hero for the day. While the game will likely be criticized for doing a lot of things wrong, it does do one thing right and that is entertain the player. I recommend giving it a rent to see if you enjoy stepping into the shoes of Kal-El for a day, hell you might even have a good time, I know I did. Definitely shows the potential of the franchise and perhaps EA can iron out the kinks for the next adventure of the man from Krypton.