This September Sony are set to release the latest in a largely maligned Spiderman video game series. Early showings from E3 were very promising suggesting Insomniac Games have finally cracked a difficult superhero formula.
There is a lot of crossover between the gaming and comic demographics with many fans eager to embody the experience of their favourite characters. So it seems like a safe bet for developers but the superhero genre has proved problematic.
Shaky camerawork, confusing physics and an over-reliance on quick time events have plagued the genre in the past. There has been a long list of woeful superhero releases so should fans be optimistic that this latest offering will be any better?
Superman 64, Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis & Iron Man
Superman 64 is one of the first 3D superhero titles and is considered one of the worst games of all-time. Gameplay was repetitive and the end product was riddled with bugs and glitches. Speaking in a recent interview the game’s producer Eric Caen pointed to the license holders as the main problem they faced in development.
“The main issue was working with the licensor. The licensor refused to let Superman kick “real” people. They caused us so much trouble. Also our design originally was too ambitious compared to what an N64 was able to deliver” — Caen said.
It was a trend that would endure with another of the worst games of all time Aquaman: Battle For Atlantis. This was a significant point for nauseating camerawork in the genre and an awful control system with the game taking place underwater.
Coming out of the ocean, the sky also proved a troublesome domain. The movie tie-in Iron Man game was universally panned by critics for a frustrating control system when piloting the suit. Receiving one of the lowest scores ever from Nintendo Magazine and scoring just 3.8/10 from the respected IGN critics.
“Terrible visuals, straightforward/easy gameplay, and a plethora of other problems make Iron Man fail at being anything worth trying.” – IGN review.
X-Men Arcade, Spiderman 2 & Batman: Arkham Series
Not all Superhero games were flops. Beginning in the arcade with a landmark side scrolling beat-em-up that pioneered six-player co-op. Offering a variety of characters to choose from and an addictive gameplay formula, X-Men Arcade has received several ports over the years.
In 2004 developer Treyarch managed the impossible making a good superhero and a good movie tie-in game. Exploiting the trend in open world sandbox games pioneered by Grand Theft Auto 3. Allowing players to web swing around the city created a great immersion for fans.
The key draw was the intricate web-swinging mechanic in Spiderman 2 something that has since been unmatched in further releases. Jamie Fristrom the game’s technical director has since revealed the team also worked on an unreleased stealth mechanic.
“I had a sub-team working on some stealth levels where you crawl along the ceiling, there’d be guards underneath you, you’d drop down, grab them. And to blow my own horn there was a hint of what you’d see later in the stealth missions in the Batman: Arkham games.” Fristrom revealed to Eurogamer.
That particular Arkham series would go on to be the most decorated game in the entire superhero genre. Building on the sandbox and traversal mechanics from games like Spiderman 2, Rocksteady also added an award-winning combat system. It’s the closest players have come to feeling like their favourite hero as they battled through a diverse rouge gallery.
“The combat system initially started out as a rhythm action game. It was based on my love of classic Jackie Chan movies. They have this lovely cadence to the combat which I’d never seen done in a game. Even though we removed the rhythm action requirement, the core of that idea lived on.” Sefton Hill creative director of the Arkham Series.
With Sony owning exclusive rights to Spiderman there should be no issues from third party interferences for Insomniac. The combat system showcased so far has certainly taken inspiration from the Arkham Series. Making use of the character’s trademark ‘Spider Sense’ promises to make motion even more fluid and high paced.
Insomniac also look to have built on the web-slinging mechanics from Spiderman 2 with the advantage of improved technology. The multiple point detection system will not only improve city traversal but will give an added boost to combat. From the demos released, we’ve seen Spiderman use his environment as a weapon with the use of his webs.
It’s unclear what impact this will have on the control system and overcomplicated controls have been a problem for the genre in the past. There was also a sight of quick time events already, which fans will hope won’t be too prominent, particularly in boss battles.
The Arkham Series also revolutionised boss battles so fans will be hoping for more that influence in the big showdowns. It will be impossible to know before the game’s release but early signs are very promising.