Secret Wars!! E3 Brings Us Seven New Comicbook Games!
This summer, inspired by both a need to bring some sequels to some money-making franchises and the explosive debuts of some new movie franchises, Marvel and DC comics both see a variety of their Super-Hero characters return to game consoles.
Green Lantern debuts with Ryan Reynolds donning the tights, and Captain America gets his first game without his stalwart Avengers beside him. The X-men return, possibly bolstered by the release of First Class, but in a form that’s a bit less familiar. Meanwhile Spider-Man and Batman both get sequels on their respective series.
It was a pretty grand year for comics games, overall. Which heroes rose to great heights, and which ones couldn’t save the day? I’ve got them ranked inside, true believer.
7. Gotham City Imposters
Going into E3, I’d forgotten about this game, and with good reason. Andrew had written a while ago about the awkward and unnecessary coupling of the Batman license with a first-person shooter, especially when Batman wasn’t in the game. I thought I’d try it out.
I’m sorry, girl-in-Harley-costume, even your bubbly enthusiasm standing by me on the E3 floor could not get me to enjoy this game.
The gameplay in the demo I played revolved around 3-man teams of Batman and Joker fans, armed with shotguns, vying for a battery, and then trying to hold ground for 30-seconds after this battery was brought to the goal. Doing so turned on a machine which spread ‘demoralizing messages’ across speakers on the maps. When this happened, the opposing team dropped all their weapons for a couple minutes, and then were reduced to slap-boxing.
… also, every character has a hang-glider on their back, which is coupled with the trampolines spread all over the level.
Not my worst gaming experience at E3, but pretty close.
6. The Darkness II
The original Darkness wasn’t a bad game. But, it wasn’t a great game either. It was one of those games that you’d find at Target on clearance for twenty or thirty bucks, and buy on a whim to play over a rainy weekend. Bought from a bargain bin, it was a worthwhile purchase.
Darkness II follows in that tradition.
The game continues the storyline from where the first game left off, with Jackie as the head of his Mafia family after icing his uncle. He’s in charge of the family, in charge of his life, and had finally learned to control The Darkness… until, that is, The Brotherhood comes for him. These baddies add supernatural enemies to the foe roster, as they know how the Darkness works, and use light-based attacks to neutralize your powers. They also have armors and magic that let them mimic some of your abilities.
The controls are set up in a manner that allows you to dual wield weapons, even while lashing out with Darkness tentacles and destroying your foes in increasingly brutal ways.
Despite the fact that the controls seemed smooth and fluid, and the graphics, which were hand-painted in vivid, comic-like color, looked nice, there was just something… missing. Maybe there’s not enough to set it apart from other shooters, or maybe the story just isn’t as compelling as it could be, but Darkness II just doesn’t quite get above ‘adequate’. Its not a bad game, but you can probably wait on it.
5. X-Men: Destiny
In some ways, this is the most ambitious and risk-taking of the new comics titles of the year, but it also ends up being the flattest. The strangest part of this X-men game is that you don’t actually play as any of the X-Men, you play as 3 new mutants created for the game. The X-veterans pop up on the sidelines as mentor characters, rather.
This development is sure to turn some people off, but I really don’t mind the decision. I remember Eric just complaining the other day about how all the Star Wars games just devolve into a series of repeated fan-service characters and scenes. The same argument could be made for X-men titles, and in that regard, its nice to see a game that lets the player, and the writer, mess around in the sandbox of the X-Men universe without messing up continuity.
The game even takes a lot of comic continuity and puts it to good use. In the story, the X-Men are at their current base in San Fransisco, and are being hunted by the mutant-hating Purifiers. This bigotry puts the player in danger, and forces them into action, eventually they will choose to join either the X-Men or the Brotherhood of Mutants. At the same time, a group of scientists have developed a way, through illegal experimentation, to remove samples of genes from captured mutants, and harness their mutant powers for themselves. They can inject themselves with a compound derived of mutant DNA and awaken the ability inside themselves briefly. As you can imagine, mutants don’t take kindly to having their flesh harvested for science.
That bit of villainy, though, ultimately helps you a lot through the game. Your hero can take the gene injections they find, and inject themselves. This lets them use new powers, from all the X-Men, for brief periods of time. A character can have 3 different powers, or stack one power 3 times, and the combinations change the form of the attacks drastically.
Overall, I like all the concepts of the game. I still think Activision has big brass balls for going this route, but it sounded like a cool system; the idea of stealing and combining all the powers of my favorite X-men seems like fun. My issue was just the lack of technical polish. The textures on CG characters looked pretty bad, particularly in the cut scenes, there were some weird movement issues, and the whole combat system seemed kind of clunky.
At the moment, this is my lowest priority game, but there’s still some time to refine its look and controls. I’m hoping that we just saw a pre-Alpha version today, and that we have a positive surprise waiting for us this fall.
4. Green Lantern
Hal Jordan finally gets a starring role in a video game. Its kind of sad that he’s Ryan Reynolds, and that we never got a comic version of him, but oh well. We’ve had Green Lanterns in games before, but not Hal Jordan, and not with such a tremendous amount of focus spent on developing his powers.
While this game is obviously timed to release with the movie, and has character models based on the actors from the film, it isn’t an adaptation of the movie. Instead, its a side story, written by comics veteran Marv Wolfman, about an uprising of the Manhunter robots. The ‘bots, normally there to assist the Green Lantern Corps, suddenly go haywire and storm the planet, using their power nullifying abilities to kill the peace force. Jumping right into the 2-player co-op action, a rookie Hal Jordan must team with Sinestro to fight back the Manhunters and discover the cause of their revolt. All of the main Green Lantern characters are accounted for in the game, with Kilowog running up at one point, basically just to call me a ‘poozer’. No doubt, other villains from Hal’s comic roster will make appearances as well. Interestingly enough, the one planet that is not used in the game is Earth. All the action takes place policing alien worlds, so the adventure feels very exotic and surreal.
The game is mostly a ground and pound brawler, given a unique feel by the Lantern’s ability to use green constructs from his ring against opponent. The ring’s powers are accessed by pressing one of the two trigger buttons, and then hot-keyed to any of the normal buttons on the controller. As Hal progresses in level, too, his ring energy and the number of constructs he thinks of increase. Eventually, players will have 12 constructs to choose from (you can have 8 active at a time), and a large pool to energy to ‘cast’ them from. The constructs, which vary from spiked maces to baseball bats to anti-aircraft guns, can be used to weave attack combos, and can be combined with the second player’s attacks for even more mayhem.
Graphically, the levels I played set on Oa weren’t anything too impressive, but it was fine. They were good but not exceptional. However, the space missions where Hal flies in orbit, or through rocky debris to destroy a Manhunter base, that looked really impressive. It was a nice change of pace.
If anything, the game suffered from the missions being a bit too long. The mission where the Manhunters invade was basically the same goal, knock out their siege towers, over and over again, and after about the 6th time, it was just dull. Combat system is great, but the level variety could have been spiced up.
3. Captain America (July 15th, 2011)
In the demo at Sega’s station, I ran Cap against comicbook Nazi extraordinaire Baron Von Strucker. This last Marvel movie adaptation has a rookie Steve Rogers donning the armor and shield for the first time, and sabotaging the Third Reich’s war machine in WWII. The Big One.
Gameplay was pretty solid. Cap dove in through the window (America! Fuck Yeah!) and started brawling with Nazi goons right away. The combat system is similar to Arkham Asylum, fast-paced, with a couple of buttons for light and heavy attack, and the ability to switch targets instantly with the analog sticks. Hey, if you have to emulate a combat system, Arkham’s not a bad one to use as your model. Likewise, Cap has Batman’s counter/block system, but his unique ability comes from his shield, able to block and deflect bullets at a whim. He can also launch his shield with the press of the trigger, sending it ricocheting across the room… of course, it always comes right back.
The mission demoed was a mix of combat, espionage as Cap planted bombs around the military installation, and acrobatics, flipping around bars, ropes, and through windows, to chase down Nazis. The battle culminated with a battle against Baron Strucker, and his electro-shock arm. My favorite moment came when, upon delivering the haymaker to Strucker’s jaw, Cap (with the assist of me and the block button) whipped around in a half circle with his shield, and deflected a bullet from a Nazi thug back into him. Serves him right for trying to shoot a man in the back. Epic.
Ultimately, Captain America isn’t the most polished game out there, as far as graphics or hit detection, but its plenty fun for fans of the series. So long as there’s plentiful mission variety to reflect a multitude of World War environments and scenarios, it should be high on everyone’s list.
2. Spider-Man: Edge of Time
Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions gets a sequel this year, running with the positive response Spider-Man 2099 with his appearance.
In this title, with story written by future-Spidey co-creator Peter David, a villain from the future is chased into the past, via time-portal, by Spidey 2099. The time-stream starts changing around him, and a prophecy that ends with the death of the amazing Spider-Man in our time starts to unfurl. The two Spider-Mans work together to restore time to its proper order, and save the life of Peter Parker. As the two work together, the world around both changes, quantum causality ripping apart both present and future, causing constant fluxes in the environment, and new hazards all around.
The build of the game we had at E3 was pre-alpha, but man, it looked nice! The character models were simply perfect, the best any super-hero game has had in this generation. They were smooth and perfectly rendered, but each also had the right feel for the comics, and was true to the character’s personality. Anti-Venom was the villain shown, and he was also excellent, with his powers creatively applied to the combat.
Activision has always done well by Spidey, from its first outing on the PSX. Each game since then has had its own unique twist on the character and the world he lives in. Though Edge of Time is a spin-off of the popular Shattered Dimensions, it still tries to add more tweaks to the two characters. Spider-Man modern has a ‘hyper sense’ meter, a new take on spider-sense, that charges and goes off every few minutes, giving him extra bursts of speed, and helping him automatically evade attacks and trap. Spidey 2099, who has no spider-sense, instead has his precognitive vision represented by a ‘clone’ of sorts. Mid-skirmish, you activate your power, and a doppleganger keeps fighting your opponent for you, while you rush off, ahead of the flow of time, to engage the next.
I’m a Spider-Man fan, no secret there. Definitely worth playing.
1. Batman: Arkham City
Much has already been said about the sequel to the incredible Arkham Asylum, and the anticipation for it has been tremendous. I don’t need to go into as much detail here, given all of the write-ups already existing, and Andrew’s preview for it already on the site, but I will say that they took a great game and did nothing but improve on it.
Adding in Co-op with Catwoman, who has her own unique powers and play-style, expanding the Batman experience to include all of the open environments of Gotham, tweaks on the gadget and fighting system, and increasing the role of all the villains and mystery items to better tie back into the main game… all of it adds up to a game that makes me want to get up and dance the Batusi.
All of these games (except for Gotham City Imposters) were worth trying out, but Arkham City is your must-buy.
And with that, ‘Nuff said.