Poor Superman. While Batman gets the Arkham series of critically acclaimed video games and Spider-Man’s new title is one of the most hotly anticipated Fall releases, he’s still primarily known for Superman 64, one of the most famously terrible games of all-time.
While that’s the nadir, ol’ Supes has never had an interactive outing that properly captured the essence of what it’s like to be the Man of Steel. The common argument is that accurately representing Superman in a game would make for an overly powerful player character. After all, he’s invincible, super strong, can fly at supersonic speeds and has laser and X-ray vision. Just how do you construct a compelling, challenging game around someone like that?
This was the topic at the PAX West panel entitled The Quest for the Perfect Superman Game, which featured God of War director Cory Barlog alongside Jared Petty (Host/Producer, Hop, Blip, and a Jump), Greg Miller (Kinda Funny), Kat Bailey (Editor in Chief, USGamer), Gary Whitta (Kinda Funny) and Sydnee Goodman (IGN). They discussed the difficulty of making a Superman game and presented their solutions to solve the problems that developers have encountered in the past, with some of their ideas sounding pretty interesting.
Barlog’s first pitch is to make a game that revolves around Clark Kent’s childhood in Smallville as he discovers the extent of his growing powers. He explained that you’d have to play Kent actually attending class, taking tests and dealing with a high school dynamic while being a hero. If you’re thinking this mixture of high school and heroics sounds familiar, Barlog admitted that it’s awful lot like the Persona series.
While I suppose this could be interesting, a Superman game where you play a young Clark Kent taking tests in school sounds like the polar opposite of what I’d want. I want to run faster than a speeding bullet, leap tall buildings in a single bound etc., etc. The character has always been a power fantasy, so why not lean into it in the style of the 2003 classic The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction?
Fortunately, another idea sounds a lot better. In Barlog’s other pitch, you play the fully powered Superman, but your objective is to save as many people as possible. The gameplay balance would be prioritizing multiple cries for help and dealing with the consequences of who you choose to save and who you decide can fend for themselves. This all builds up to the Big Blue Boy Scout grappling with the philosophical questions of his heroism. That sounds more interesting, but I’d still rather see the Man of Steel grappling with a hundred-foot-tall LexCorp robot than philosophical quandaries.
Let’s just hope those rumours that Rocksteady’s next project is a Superman game pan out. If anyone can nail it, they can.