IGN Review of Superman Returns
The final boss in Superman Returns: The Videogame is a tornado. Not Lex Luthor. Not General Zod, not that nuclear guy -- not even Richard Pryor. A tornado!
That alone sums up the wrong direction EA is flying in Superman Returns, an unfinished game that suffers from a poor narrative, monotonous and brainless enemies, and a questionable take on the Superman universe. It should be said that flying and using superpowers are generally fun, but not enough to overcome the average graphics, sound and suspect game design.
Superman Returns: The Videogame is loosely based on the movie. That is to say that after you defeat enemies not in the movie like Metallo, Parasite and Bizarro, you will be treated to a short cutscene of Lex Luthor, voiced by Kevin Spacey, going over the next phase of his nefarious plan to create a continent of kryptonite. After the cutscene, you will then return to the virtual Metropolis to fight against evil foes that didn't appear in the movie. As far as licenses go, this was among the worst uses of one in years. Even though the stars of the movie lent their voices and likenesses to the game, the voice acting , with the exception of Spacey, is flat. Superman, voiced by Brandon Routh, sounds about as interested in saving Metropolis as he is in deciding on a ripe melon at the market. And here's a spoiler, in more than one sense: there is no great gameplay battle against Luthor, nor do you save Lois from a crashing jet, a burning building or even a paper cut.
Hold on, you say. Superman Returns draws from not only the movie but also 60 years of comic book history, you say. That is true, and there are a few boss fights against some noted villains of the past. But how do you create a Superman game without showing Clark Kent once, without having to save Lois Lane once, or without having to do battle with Lex Luthor once? As such, this is a terribly shallow Superman experience, and without having read the comics will you never know who Metallo is, what Mister Mxyztplk wants, and where Bizarro comes from. If creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were to pen a comic out of this game, it would be a four-page affair with little-to-no dialogue and a hundred windows of nothing but "crash," "boom" and "bang."
Presentation aside, Superman Returns does do plenty of things well in the gameplay department. Flying at super-speed is a great feeling, and zipping between the skyscrapers of Metropolis feels even better than wall-crawling in the acclaimed Spiderman games. Superman comes equipped with most of his powers, including heat vision, freeze breath and blow breath, although X-ray vision is absent, most likely to keep the game rated T for Teen, if ya know what I mean. Because Superman is pretty much invincible, it is Metropolis that features a life bar, and it's up to you to ensure it doesn't deplete.
When you first pick up the controller, you really feel like you are controlling Superman and that you can do almost everything he can. In a heartbeat you launch into the stratosphere, looking down on the teeming Metropolis from thousands of feet in the air. From there, you can explore 80 square miles of city and more than 8,000 building, a time consuming task if you were to go street-to-street. On the ground, you can run at super speed ala The Flash and pick up just about any item you can imagine, like tractor trailers, the citizens of Metropolis and even the giant globe of the Daily Planet. With the exception of the hero-worshiping population, all of these can be hurled at your foes.
True to the source material or not, all of Superman's powers improve as you progress through the game. You also learn melee-combinations and moves like Jor-El's Fist, Supernova and Earthquake, performed by simple button-presses. Being a third-person, open-world game, Superman is equipped with a lock-on system that, with the exception of some occasional camera issues, works fairly well. This combines for the best-playing Superman game yet, in that you experience control of a superhero rather than the limitations of a videogame. Yes, there are invisible walls that keep Supes within the city limits, and yes there is a stamina bar for his superpowers, but Superman Returns gives you the power to do more than ever before. Too bad it's all wasted.
The biggest flaw of the game is the progression from chapter to chapter. To call them chapters at all implies there is some sort of story at work here, some transition from one stage to the next. There is none. Enemies not in the movie pop up at random and without reason. What's worse is that you will replay the same battles over and over again. Here's how it breaks down: enemies spawn at random, usually a combination of robots, dragons, parasites or, later on, "bosses." After a short time, you discover an easy pattern to defeat each enemy, be it freezing or heat (blowing is rather useless in battle) or melee combat. After a few hours, you know how to beat every character in the game. Also, the same combinations of robots, dragons and parasites appear about ten minutes down the line. It's terribly easy and you keep waiting to do something more.
Oh, occasionally a fire breaks out, which takes all of 10 seconds to blow out. You could bring a fire engine over or break a water tower, but why waste time? During each battle, citizens will get hurt, and you can rush them to nearby ambulances for help. But there are no real rescue missions, like jumping into Niagara Falls to save Lois, helping Jimmy Olsen out of a jam. In fact, there are no friendly characters to be found in Metropolis at all.
The empty sprawl of Metropolis doesn't help matters either. On the ground, there is absolutely nothing to do besides hunt down kittens (there are 200), race Mxyztplk, destroy the city as Bizarro. There are no interiors to any buildings and nothing to do on the ground. You simply kill enemies and wait for more to respawn. We were hoping that there would be some kind of choice to the mission structure, like multiple storylines to follow ala Grand Theft Auto. Instead, a exclamation point pops up on the screen, you fly to it, and you kill the robots or put out the fire. Occasionally there are two exclamation points, but don't be fooled at this idea of choice. It's just more robots, and there's no way to know if either choice is more important.
The people of Metropolis do love their hero, though. In between repetitive missions, I've taken to picking up people, flying them across the city and dropping them off in dangerous places, like inside cooling towers of nuclear power plants or on top of skyscrapers. Even if they were just shopping and minding their own business, they never hesitate to thank me for ruining their day. I don't know about you, but I would be very angry if a guy in a red cape grabbed me and flew me inside a nuclear cooling tower.
Visually, the game looks decent, and the detail of the buildings from a distance is a treat. Up close, the textures are muddy and the game occasionally slows down with a large number of enemies on the screen. The sound is probably the strong suit of the game, aside from the voice acting, thanks to healthy sound effects and a nice score. Still, nothing blows me away, and the cutscenes look exactly the same on the current-generation platforms.
©2006-11-22, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved