NOTE: ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON COMICBOOKMOVIE.COM 06/14/2013
Superman: The Man of Steel is bit of an oddity when it comes to comic book based games, as it was published by a company that had the rights to both the animated and comic book side of the character. Publisher Atari also put out the “Apokolips” games based on the animated series for the PS2, Gamecube and GBA. In most cases you see one company having the rights to the animated property and another with the comic, like Ubisoft and Kemco around the same time or Telltale and Activision with The Walking Dead today.
The Man of Steel hails from developer Circus Freak who only have this game to their credit. The story of the game apparently spins out of the events of the story “Superman: Y2K” in which Metropolis is given a futuristic upgrade and becomes the home of things like hover trains and flying cars. The game does not outright explain this to the player, in fact I only found out after I had beaten the game, as I was looking into why Metropolis looked like it did. On further research, it’s also stated in the instruction manual of the game as well (hey, remember instruction manuals with games?).
The game gives you full access to all of Superman’s powers, with the exception of invulnerability. Your primary offensive powers (punching, heat vision and freeze breath) are mapped to the face buttons, while your secondary abilities (x-ray vision and hearing) are mapped to the black and white buttons. The action controls are nicely set up and this is a good thing because you will constantly be switching between powers. You can lock on to enemies with the “L” trigger and a reticle will indicate the best way to dispatch an enemy. For example, if there is a green target, they are best taken out with freeze breath, purple for heat vision, and yellow for melee.
If in games you’re not a fan of protection missions (like myself) MOS may not be for you, as most of the game is a series of small defending tasks with time limits, but this is a Superman game after all so it’s to be expected. Within one level you’ll be defending a structure from Brainaic’s robots, then you’ll rush to put out a burning building to extinguish a fire then rush to remove an obstruction from a train track. Even the boss fights, with the exception of the last one, have you performing these tasks before the main event.
What holds the Man of Steel back from being at the very least an okay game is the strict time limits that are imposed on the player. The game is pretty difficult even from the start mostly due to how quickly you have to get your task done, and sometimes you’ll have to balance multiple tasks at once without a clear indication of what takes priority. The game also suffers from a lack of mid-level checkpoints so if you die after completing a series of tasks, you have to start at the beginning of the level and this includes the boss fights. The first major boss encounter you have in the game is with Bizarro and before you get to fight him, you have to rush around putting out fires at various points. If you get to the final fight with Bizarro and then lose, you start back putting out the fires again. Needless to say, it becomes quite frustrating.
There’s also a problem with the games camera or lack thereof. The right stick is dedicated to strafing controls both in the air and on the ground. The camera is zoomed too close to Superman, and as the game has you for the majority of the time in the air, it’s difficult to keep track of enemies that are both above and below you. Superman’s flight speed also lacks any type of force and feels very slow, faster than a speeding bullet you are not.
The voice acting in MOS is quite corny, in particular Superman who is always shown with his fists to his hip doing an impression of the character from the 1960’s, which is a contrast to the futuristic version of Metropolis in the game. Other characters are down right bad, with poor delivery and even worse audio quality, which is a shame because the game does look pretty good.
What is most disappointing about playing through Superman: The Man of Steel is that you can see a good game hidden amongst all the unnecessary frustrations and forced difficulty. It features a lot of Superman’s rogue gallery, it has a lot of unlockable costumes and modes where you can just fly around unrestricted. If only the main game was like this maybe it could’ve been better, as is however it’s just another Superman game best forgotten.