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Man of Steel the Video Game?

The Arkham franchise nails the Batman experience. What would it take to turn gamers into Superman?

Walter Hudson


June 27, 2013 - 7:00 am

super power

That said, what would it take to make a satisfying Superman video game? The nature of the character requires rethinking established game mechanics and leveraging the emerging power of next-generation hardware to present a scope and scale heretofore impossible.

What does it feel like to be Superman? What does it feel like to be a god, capable of destroying anything or anyone, faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive? Surely, it ought to feel damn good! It ought to feel liberating, exciting, and above all empowering. However, it also has to convey upon the character a significant sense of responsibility.

How does Superman interact with his world? Pretty much any way he sees fit. He can fly. He can travel at tremendous speed. He can bust through structures, natural or otherwise. He can kill just about anyone with a minimal amount of effort. But these abilities suggest all manner of consequences.

What are Superman’s limitations? Physically, there isn’t much that can stop him. Kryptonite is a contrivance which the recent film respectably avoided. Superman gets his power from Earth’s sun. He could therefore be reasonably contained to its proximity. Regardless, the more relevant limitations are emotional and moral. Superman can kill. He can destroy. But should he? Will that achieve his goal? He seeks not only to protect Earth but inspire humanity. Will wonton destruction accomplish that?

Considering these questions leads us to imagine certain game mechanics. Character progression has become a staple of gaming, starting out with basic abilities and leveling up to more powerful ones. Superman shouldn’t play that way. He should be brimming with power from the outset. The challenge should be reining that power in, scaling it to a given situation, and avoiding more damage than necessary.

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Maybe a slightly softer and lighter version of something like the later Grand Theft Auto games, with the player as Superman in Metropolis instead of a criminal thug in Liberty City? Superman doesn't need to steal cars or be a bad guy, of course, but some sequences could require him to travel around in mundane forms of transportation disguised as Clark. The game could also be set up in such a way that, although no invisible wall prevents him from leaving the city, the game ends if he does. ("While you were off gazing at your navel in your Fortress of Solitude, Supes, Lobo arrived and nuked Metropolis for fun. Where are you when we need you most? Loser!")

Just like the GTA games, it could also have lots of satirical background humor based on various in-jokes and mythological gags from the D.C. Universe, such as negative political campaign ads featuring Lex Luthor running for President and trading jabs with Bruce Wayne, and shock jock Leslie Willis on the radio slamming Superman for his job performance regardless of how well he carried out his last mission.

If Rockstar can build a video game city as massive as any of the ones in its GTA series, I'd say an equally complex Superman: Metropolis could be done with a similar engine. The player could work his way up from stuff like foiling muggings and bank robberies to taking out super-villains, rescuing Lois Lane from killer robots, and dealing with one of Lex Luthor's attempts to hold the city hostage with a killer satellite. Kryptonite, while rare, could also be employed on one mission requiring Superman undercover as Clark Kent to go retrieve a special Kryptonite-proof suit without getting Lois Lane suspicious. (In another mission, contact with red Kryptonite could cause massive hallucinations for Superman, requiring the player to try to sort out reality from illusion while freeing some hostages.) Along the way, how well you did on various missions would be determined by how much collateral damage you did and how many civilian casualties there were. If these go over a certain limit or Lois Lane gets killed or the like, it's game over for you. If you succeed with some damage and casualties, you'll also see people coming to carry the bodies off to the morgue, and construction crews busy rebuilding parts of the city you trashed.

For a little extra fun, a certain freestyle mode in the game might allow you to play as Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, General Zod, or Lex Luthor while the computer plays Superman. Just think of all the possibilities...
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