As we wait for the release of Batman: Arkham Knight, I can't help but mention that Rocksteady Games has overlooked part of their gaming audience – specifically, Superman fans. I realize that it's practically anathema to talk about Superman games and how everyone points to Superman 64 and that really weird NES game as proof that no one has ever made a good Superman game before. I'm not going to use an entire article to remind everyone about the decent, albeit underrated, SNES Death of Superman. However, I still believe that a good 3D Superman game can still happen, so I'm going to offer my ideas on how to do it. I would not make a Man of Steel game. As much as I loved that movie and Henry Cavill, I would rely on comic books as the source text for the game, and I would use the Batman: Arkham games as a template. I would call this game Superman: Cadmus, and I'd get Tim Daly to do the VO for Superman.
Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen are sent to Cadmus to investigate some nefarious goings on. Cadmus is the code name for a government homeland security project, but the Daily Planet suspects they're up to more than that. Lois has a hot tip that Cadmus has been working with the escaped super criminal Lex Luthor, and she's looking for proof. She gets too close to the story and gets captured along with Jimmy. Clark changes into Superman, and the quest to rescue Lois and Jimmy begins. Throughout the course of the game, he comes to discover that Cadmus isn't a homeland security program – it's a government project to develop defenses against Superman, headed by Amanda Waller and General Sam Lane (who is the whole reason Lois and Jimmy don't get offed by government agents to keep them quiet.)
But Superman's too powerful, you say. What's to stop him from just ripping the place to pieces? If Cadmus blasts him early on with some kind of mega red sun ray, Superman will have a lasting power drop that will give him room to grow throughout the game as he slowly recovers. Cadmus will also have its hands on quite a bit of synthetic Kryptonite. It won't be completely lethal like real Kryptonite, but it will function more like an agony-stone, incapacitating the man of steel at inconvenient times, and a barrier, halting his progress until the story permits it. They could also have other kinds of Kryptonite that would be by-products of their experiments. Remember that red kryptonite that Batman invented in Tower of Babel? Why not make something similar? There could be a whole rainbow of Kryptonites that all have different effects on Superman, like the Black K in All-Star Superman that made him evil. Sky's the limit.
Who would he fight?
Would Superman beat up Blackgate prison inmates? Doubtful. Cadmus could have all kinds of other mooks to throw at the player, like super-suit shock troopers designed by Luthor or regular people with super-tech sonic guns, gravity weapons, and red sun blasters. Throw mechanical opponents at Superman. Players would love the opportunity to bash androids and massive motorized golems.
I recognize that not every classic Superman villain will fit neatly into a game like this, unlike Batman's games. His villains all go to the same place when he beats them, but Superman's enemies don't end up in prison. Brainiac, Darkseid, and Mongul are cataclysmic villains that can't be captured, only repelled. That's not to say we couldn't adjust some of the origin stories to make them fit. For example, Brainiac could become the AI program invented by Professor Hamilton to run Cadmus, and perhaps it develops sentience and decides to turn on its masters. Manchester Black is the shady government agent whose loyalties are unclear. He just shows up from time to time to give Superman the right hint, but he'll eventually battle the man of steel and fail. Perhaps we could encounter the creation of the first android powered by Kryptonite, only they put the brain of a dead mercenary in its head (Corbin) and turned it loose on Superman. Parasite could be a side-effect of their illegal human experimentation. Bizarro could be Lex Luthor's failed attempt to clone Superman's DNA. Same thing with Cyborg Superman. The greatest and most dangerous of the experiments will of course be Doomsday.
Teleportation experimentation with boom tubes could bring in some other characters, as well as give Superman other maps to play in. Why should there only be one Cadmus facility? Boom tubes could provide the latitude writers would need to fit Mannheim, Darkseid, Zod, Grundy, and any other big villains that wouldn't fit nicely into one Cadmus compound. Mr. Mxyzptlk could also be a convenient way to twist the plot, or he could pose a series of side-quest puzzles for Superman a la Riddler's trophies. Just spit-balling here.
I wouldn't put Mongul in this game. He would be the perfect boss for the sequel – Superman: Warworld.
What kind of gameplay objectives would it have?
Is it just a fly-around-and-punch-stuff game? No. Batman uses detective skills and gadgets to uncover his objectives. His detective mode could easily be reproduced by super hearing and x-ray, microscopic, and telescopic vision. Remember that Superman's day job is as an investigative reporter. He may not be the world's greatest detective, but he's no idiot. He can be a sleuth when the situation demands it. I'd like to see a side-quest feature in which Superman has to also piece together documents, audio recordings, photos, and surveillance footage to write front-page stories surrounding Cadmus. He's still gotta earn a living, right? I can hear Tim Daly's voice in my head, muttering something like, "Looks like I won't be home for a while. I'd better not go crawling back to Perry without something front-page worthy if I want to keep my job."
So Superman can use his super senses to keep track of this developing story as well as unlock doors. Why would Superman need to decrypt door codes, you might ask. Why not just rip doors off their hinges? Remember my premise – Superman will need to get hit with some kind of super red sun beam that reduces his powers. His strength and invulnerability will be reduced; he won't be able to fly, use heat vision, or super breath. He'll still be stronger than normal men, but in this weakened state, players can find decent difficulty from lesser foes without bending believability too much. Batman unlocks new weapons as the story progresses. In Cadmus, Superman could slowly recover his major super powers to gain access to new areas.
Let's not stop there, either. Superman is less of a crime fighter than Batman. He wouldn't have to throw smoke pellets and do silent take-downs of armed thugs like Batman. One thing Superman always does is rescue people in danger. Periodically, Superman should come across innocent people, perhaps maintenance workers doing a dangerous project, that need rescuing. Without access to his standard power set for most of the game, the player will have to get creative to rescue people in trouble – I see an emphasis on using the environment to your advantage. They could almost be like mini-games. Imagine having to hold a collapsing ceiling up long enough for duct workers to escape by rapidly tapping buttons to keep your stamina gauge above the line.
Reduced powers for increased challenge
Creatively change villains' back-stories to include them in the game
Multiple maps with boom tube access
Journalism sleuth side-missions
Emphasis on rescuing innocent people in danger
Just because there's never been a good Superman game doesn't mean there can't be. We just need good developers who take their time to get it right. I'm looking at you, Rocksteady Games. They did it with Batman. They can do it with Superman.