NOTE: ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON COMICBOOKMOVIE.COM 06/23/2013
I can’t think of an odder choice of a developer for a Superman game then the one attached to Superman Returns. Published by EA, Returns was crafted by EA Tiburon who are most famous for making sports game, specifically the Madden NFL series. I guess Superman hits people hard, and so do….football players?
Returns is an open world game that loosely follows, as well as expands on the plot of the film of the same name and was released in conjunction with the film’s debut on home video. The actors of the film, including Brandon Routh, Kevin Spacey and Kate Bosworth are all present to provide their voices to their respective characters. I do give credit to EA for delaying Superman Returns, as it was supposed to release along side the film theatrically, but was pushed back to allow further development time. Overall the game is pretty mediocre, but it could’ve turned out a lot worse should it have been rushed.
One of the more clever ideas in Superman Returns is the health system. For the first time in his career in video games, Superman is actually invulnerable and it’s Metropolis that’s actually taking the damage. Attacks by enemies and natural disasters cause the cities meter to deplete and when the city takes too much damage, the game is over. The meter fills up slightly with the completion of every main story mission you complete. In one of the more interesting sequences at the start of the game, which elaborates on what Superman was doing before he came back to Earth, you are taken prisoner by Mongul and forced to be a gladiator on War World. In this area your health is determined by how much crowd approval in a fight you’re getting.
The majority of play time in Superman Returns is spent waiting for something to happen, and it’s really boring. I know part of a super hero is reacting to trouble, but in a video game you need to give the player something to do. Flying around is fun, hitting the boost button and breaking the sound barrier feels very satisfying but it wears thin fast. Also, would’ve killed EA to license the John Williams music for when you’re in flight or doing something heroic? It was in the film, and they have it in the trailer of the game for crying out loud!
In comparison to something like say, Spider-Man 2, where there are crime markers all over the map and then main event levels, Superman Returns is just basically the crime events. Unlike that game also, you have to wait for them to show up. Most of the missions are defeat X enemies or put out a fire and occasionally you’ll fight a boss like Metallo or Mongul, but all the games bosses can be taken out by throwing cars at them until they die. I know Superman Returns wasn’t the most action packed film, but they could’ve tried to do something like the sequence in the movie where you have to rush to catch the plane and land it, instead you put out blimp fires and fight flying monsters. The last boss encounter is very strange as well, as it’s not Lex Luthor or any of the foes you previously encountered, but a tornado. Yes, you read that correctly, a tornado.
There is some interesting side missions in the game that show up around half way through this very short game, seriously I played for an hour or two and I was half way done percentage wise, but they too are repetitive. One type is a race with Mr. Mxyzptlk through rings (them again!) and another where you’re transformed into Bizarro where you gain points by causing damage to Metropolis. The only reason you’ll play either of these is to get a few achievements if you’re so inclined.
The controls in Superman Returns are also nothing to write home about either. Flying feels tight and fast, but fighting feels loose and unresponsive. You have access to a large amount of combos that combine light and heavy attacks with your powers, but button mashing works fine. You select what super power you want on the d-pad (heat vision, super breath and freeze breath) and by double tapping you can get a more powerful version. There is no on screen indicator that shows which one you’ve selected, and there were many occasions where I would tap once, pull the trigger for heat vision only to incinerate all local plants and people.
EA put forth some good ideas in Superman Returns, such as the work around for invulnerability and putting the Man of Steel in an open world, but the experience is sullied by bad controls and a lack of content. The cast of the film brought their best to the game for the story, but even the pipes of Kevin Spacey can’t save a mediocre game.