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Superman Returns: The Videogame Review

Greg_Damiano By:
GENRE Action 
T Contains Violence

What do these ratings mean?

You’ll return it, too.

How do I put this: a few short spurts in Superman Returns have you playing as the oafish clone Bizarro, giving you points for tearing apart the city. So it’s a huge, HUGE problem when this two-minute mini game is more fun than the actual six-hour game.

Six months after Bryan Singer’s superhero chick-flick, Superman returns as a meandering video game that gamers will not need, nor want, nor miss. There are so many problems here that I will forcibly try to keep from making this piece a rant.
click to enlargeAs you fight robots and mutants, Superman Returns tries to follow the Lex Luthor plot of the movie; the dramatic subplot with Lois’ husband and son has been removed to fit in more villains, which sounds good for a video game but it really takes a few key beats away from the main storyline.
Superman Returns offers eighty square miles of open Metropolis, loading seamlessly as you zip from one end to the next. The city looks and sounds fine, complete with a set of orchestrated tunes; the size is perfect for the gameplay, feeling enormous until you need to get around. Target-lock and super-speed buttons help make navigation the best and only good part of the game.
The core gameplay is an endless stream of missions: you fly to the scene of a disaster and fight every imaginable combination of the same eight enemies. Occasionally you blow out a building fire, or a super villain shows up for a more complicated battle. These missions aren’t total chores; there’s an element of figuring out which punches and superpowers affect each foe. That takes about fifteen minutes. Even worse, all the baddies are as strong as you are, so the combat drags on and on. It’s super weak.
That basically leaves us to drift around the Metropolis skies, waiting for the next mission.
Metropolis is not nearly as dynamic or interesting as New York in Activision’s Spider-Man series: your only options beside the main missions are a handful of short time trials and one hundred hidden kittens to save (no joke). The occasional boss chapter pits you against giants or large mobs on irritatingly tight timers, and after a dozen tries you will be ready to get back to the normal, boring missions.
click to enlargeOr you might be ready to take it back to the store for a refund. This game almost receives my patented Automatic F (TM) because cheap shots and unresponsive environments make the second stage nearly impossible.
And even if you get past it, you’ll wish you hadn’t. What sounded like an interesting idea at E3 – a life bar for the city, rather than Superman – has become, in practice, a frustrating nightmare. Due to awful collision detection and imprecise controls, it’s way too easy to accidentally kill a bunch of civilians or crush a building, in turn ending the game.
Generally speaking, Superman handles like a bull in a china shop. You’ll wish the game was Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. Punches indiscriminately fly into enemies and innocents alike, you use your superbreath to put out a fire but end up blowing over a block of parked cars and civilians; nearly everything you do on the streets hurts the city. It’s the same stuff that put The Incredibles out of work, and it’s inexcusably lame when the point of the game is to finesse your way through combat.
This would all be fine if the civilians ran AWAY from danger, but the six million residents of Metropolis seem determined to place their skulls directly in front of your fists. Maybe a dented cranium counts as an “autograph.” Superman is just as happy to oblige, and finicky target acquisition had me stomping fallen civvies instead of my nearest enemy.
click to enlargeThe whole “defend Metropolis” setup is just one broken item in the gameplay - Superman has some interesting ideas and features, but they either work against the player or don’t work at all. I don’t want to go on about the useless map, the ambulances that don’t show up or... well, basically everything else.
There is some unlockable bonus content, but you probably won’t be chasing after it. Batman Begins offered a lot more in the way of outfits and. Come on, even a few extra costumes (like Soviet Superman from Red Son) would have been interesting. Instead, your reward for filling the experience bucket is an upgraded superpower, a new move and a cut scene of dubious quality.
At least these issues lead to a few funny bloopers: on my favorite occasion, I saw a propane tanker, surrounded in an intersection by robots. I sped to the tanker and carried it to safety, but then I kind of mixed up the ‘drop’ and ‘throw’ buttons... fortunately, Super Breath was able to put out the huge fire I started in the local park. Cue the nervous laughter and it’s up, up and away!
The real joke, sadly, is the game - no one would be surprised to hear about a disappointing movie-game, but for such a high-quality attempt... well it’s still a damn shame. Bryan Singer built his movie around an emotional core; Superman Returns is an empty gaming experience that needs tuning, heroics and a conclusion worth fighting for.
D Revolution report card
  • Superpowers translate fine
  • Everything else bites
  • Awkward animation, story
  • Bizarro am kill everything!
  • You’re not Bizarro, you’re Superman, sucker
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