Another highly hyped film of course will always result in a possible game tie-in and something from the Superman franchise certainly isn’t going to miss this opportunity.
So as you would expect, you are the hero Superman, flying from one edge of the city to the other fighting crime in spectacular super human fashion. Only Superman can save the day as over and over you fling yourself faster than a speeding bullet to the next disaster area to battle with the hideous creatures and rescue the simple folk.
As a movie licensed game, you of course will be dazzled with the music, characters, locations and backdrops associated with Superman. The collected materials are put together in a pleasant way and this can be seen with the introduction. From the very start you want to be Superman, you want to feel like Superman and more importantly you want all the attention that Superman attracts. Unfortunately actual execution of this array of desires is lost.
Metropolis is a massive area to explore and I can’t emphasize that enough, with Skyscrapers, vehicles, roads, people and everything else you would expect with a bustling place like a real city. Flying high into the sky you can see for miles and miles around you. It is like the feeling I received from playing Midtown Madness 3 on the original Xbox when I realised how much there was to explore. This vast area though has one major sacrifice, which Midtown Madness 3 like it suffered. The graphics are very average, but do offer some signs of detail when you fly through the various skyscrapers. The game is all about distance and because of this suffers overall and will certainly not win any prizes for best looking title.
The main aim of Superman Returns is saving the citizens of Metropolis from what ever foe may be around. Indicators appear on your screen when there is a call for help and just like Superman off you go at spectacular speed to deal with the situation. Although quite fun to begin with, it soon becomes repetitive as no matter what enemy you encounter it’s a process of using a few super powers like heat vision, freeze breath among others and also the basics of pummeling the said opposition with your fists. You can also use surrounding objects like lamp posts and vehicles to chuck wherever you like, but at the end of the day this is what the game boils down to. Flying around, battling a few enemies, saving the day and moving on to the next problem.
Superman is so strong he doesn’t need a health bar, so how do you get around that? Well cleverly the developers have used Metropolis itself as a way of showing damage. A little bar will show you the health of the overall city and when this reaches the bottom it is game over.
As Superman you should feel super human, an almost indestructible force that laughs in the face of danger. This is not exactly an easy challenge for the developers so you have to sympathise, but there are a few aspects where things could have gone better.
During any action on the ground, you feel very distant from the lead character. Every punch feels to just glance the enemy rather than making any impressionable impact, spoiling the sense of power Superman should enjoy. It is only really when you grab someone and then toss them about a bit on the screen, that you feel any sense of pounding someone. The enemies come and go at regular intervals, with very similar patterns and behaviour. The amount of robots and flying aircraft you chase around that attack the city time and time again are just simply boring after a while and the lack of variation seriously hurts the longevity of this title. Lastly I have to mention the poor injured citizens. As you attack the enemies that arrive, it is impossible to always avoid injuring any people that are just trying to run away from the area. You can carry some to ambulances to receive medical attention, but again this process is slow and uninspiring. I find myself quite happy just to leave the scene of destruction, leaving a road full of injured people just because it just opens up more tedium.
With all this battling, you gain experience points which unlocks stronger attacks and an end of level boss section. The bosses are extremely aggravating and seem to go on forever as you try various methods of damaging them. There is very little instruction during the game other than Superman saying to you that you should try something else. Yeah thanks for that!
There is a story involved (if you can call it that), although it is about as important as Superman ironing his cape every morning to keep the fashion experts happy. With the odd cutscene here and there all it really does is break up the tedious repetition of the game, which is needed but not satisfied. This is highlighted at the very start of the game where you jump from one area to the other with no real information of what on earth is going on. The game composes like it is made up of lots of very short stories that somehow are meant to be read together seamlessly, but the conclusion is always a puzzled expression.
The exhilaration of flying around a vast city is very short lived and soon this title like so many others before it has virtually no personality or appeal in getting you to pick up and play again. It may have elements from the movie, but even with this heritage the title makes next to no positive use of it.
Superman Returns is alas like the many other movie tie-ins that have come before it. They very rarely live up to expectations and it becomes just another licensed cash in. Fairing distinctly average, it could have been so much more, but it will take a true super hero to revive this title from the ashes of embarrassment. It is certainly not the easiest franchise to turn into a game and although some of it had potential, the actual result is quite dull.
If you are a true Superman follower and you want to relive the glory days, buy the DVD or heck buy the HD DVD version, but I wouldn’t recommend spending your hard earned cash on this!