Sometimes, the lack of a product proves more noteworthy than the presence of one. To date, we have seen no video game tie-in to the recently released Man of Steel. Given the infamous history of subpar Superman titles, gamers welcome the omission. However, past developers’ inability to capture the experience of being Superman does not preclude modern developers from taking a fresh look at the challenge.
For inspiration, they should look to the Man of Steel’s DC Comics compatriot, the Dark Knight. The experience of being Batman was nailed by Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum. Playing that game and its even more successful follow-up Arkham City leaves the impression that the developers cared immensely about the character and his world. Rather than start with the goal of making a Batman video game, which had been done many times before, they set the bar much higher and sought to convey the experience of being Batman.
No doubt, the development process on Arkham Asylum began with a list of questions. What does it feel like to be Batman? How does he interact with his world? What are his limitations, and how does he overcome them? The answers then informed the game’s mechanics. Batman uses fear against those who would prey on the fearful. That means stealth, surprise, evasion. Batman depends upon his physical prowess and high-tech gadgetry to gain the upper hand in the face of superior numbers. That calls for a deep fighting mechanic and appropriate weaponry. Thus Arkham Asylum was built as a playground tailored to the character.
The challenge of producing a Superman game as successful as the Arkham franchise is accommodating that character’s immense power. When asking what it feels like to be Superman, how he interacts with his world, and what his limitations are, the answers prove much more intimidating. Batman remains mortal, bound by the finite strength and ability of a human being. Rocksteady can therefore confine him to an island, or entrap him within the walls of a city district, without it seeming like an unreasonable limitation. Superman, on the other hand, never met a wall he couldn’t bust through. Imposing limitations in the way video games typically do, with natural barriers, invisible walls, or some other contrivance, just doesn’t work with the Man of Steel. Ultimately, by limiting him, you take away from what makes him Superman.