(Disclaimer: This article is not confirmation of an Arkham Superman video game!)
There's no doubt that Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the defining games of a generation. Rocksteady Studios' faithful adaption of the Batman Universe garnered worldwide critical acclaim with both critics and fans alike praising the fast paced, original story, written by Batman comic-book veteran Paul Dini, the unique and refreshing gameplay mechanics (such as Detective Mode and the smooth combat system) as well as the second to none voice acting talents of Mark Hamill (as The Joker) and Kevin Conroy (as Batman/Bruce Wayne).
Since the release of Arkham Asylum we have seen two sequels - Batman: Arkham City and Batman: Arkham Knight - and a prequel - Batman: Arkham Origins - the former of which were met with the same critical acclaim as their predecessor. It is very rare nowadays for a series of games to remain so consistent in their quality, yet still to be created with the same sense of passion and care. So many franchises, such as Call of Duty or [Assassin's Creed](tag:437814), are just hurried out on an annual basis (not that those are bad games!).
But now the Batman Arkham series has reached its conclusion. So where next? That's the burning question that's on everyone's minds. Now that Rocksteady Studios have concluded their final chapter with The World's Greatest Detective what new projects await?
It is a huge surprise that Rocksteady Studios haven't announced any plans to make other games games styled similarly to the Arkham Trilogy but based on other DC Heroes, such as Green Lantern or Wonder Woman. After all, they have what many would consider to be a winning formula.
The reason for a lack of announcement could be down to a number of factors. It could be due to the developers putting all their focus into their most recent project, [Batman: Arkham Knight](tag:2683936). It could also be an issue of copyright, with DC Comics becoming more and more protective of their properties as their slate of films approaches. However, it could be as simple as Rocksteady wanting to keep their projects under wraps until they have something tangible to announce, as is the case with most developers (I won't mention the Kickstarter for Shenmue 3).
Superman is arguably one of DC's most famous, prized properties. If any hero were to be given a faithful video game adaption, it would be him. This article will look at why Rocksteady Studios should make an Arkham-styled video game for Superman, and how such a game could be made. The article will look at five broad categories: origins (and whether they are needed), story/narrative, villains and enemies (including hero weaknesses), gameplay mechanics (such as Detective Mode) and previous video games.
Is it a bird?
Is it a plane?
No: It's Superman!
Superman is the superhero who inspired superheroes. In 1938, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joel Shuster created the character Superman. Now more than 75 years later, he has become one of the most famous characters in history. There have been many iterations of the Man of Steel and his surrounding universe over the decades, but some things in his continuity have hardly been altered: characters such as Lois Lane and the Kents, settings such as Metropolis and Krypton, plus the general do-good attitude of the hero himself.
It is surprising that Rocksteady Studios haven't announced a Superman video game. Superman has such a rich and expansive mythos that he would be the logical next step in Rocksteady's domination of Superhero video game content.
Origins - Who is Superman?
There have been many versions of Superman's origin, some of which are considered canon and others which are not. Even the sense of canon has changed over the years with John Byrne's The Man of Steel being considered canon up until the writing of Mark Waid's Superman: Birthright. Then again in 2009 the new canonical origin became Geoff Johns' Superman: Secret Origin. There are, however, similarities and parallels between all the tales of Superman's origin.
As a baby, Kal-El is sent from his home planet Krpyton moments before its inevitable and unavoidable destruction to Earth. Kal is found and adopted by Jonathon and Martha Kent, a happily married couple with a strong sense of morality and justice, who name him Clark Kent. Clark grows up realising that he is not the same as everyone else. He learns that his Kryptonian body absorbs radiation from the Earth's yellow sun, presenting him with extraordinary powers: superhuman strength and speed, x-ray and heat visions, freeze breath, invulnerability and flight. Clark moves from his adopted home town of Smallville to Metropolis to become a reporter for the Daily Planet newspaper. Here he meets the intrepid reporter Lois Lane, love interest of both Clark Kent and his Superman persona. With a will to do good and protect the citizens of Metropolis from any danger, Clark adopts the Superman identity. Donning a blue suit emblazoned with a red "S", and draped with a red cape, Clark becomes the symbol of hope in Metropolis; an ideal of truth, justice and the American Way. He becomes the advocate of the Superhero.
For a video game adaption of Superman there are two routes which could be taken: having Superman as a rough-around-the-edges young man, or having him as a seasoned crime fighter. Both have their benefits, with the first allowing you to have grittier, less clean cut gameplay, due to Superman's lack of crime fighting experience, set in a darker toned world (like Zack Snyder's Man of Steel) and the second giving the world and its characters a more established existence (that's not to say that this establishment couldn't be dark). From a narrative stance it would make more sense to have had Superman fighting crime for a few years. That way many of his relationships, partnerships and enemies will already exist and need only to be fleshed out further in the game. There's also room still to introduce characters into the story, villains he may not have yet faced in this universe.
Regardless, a Superman video game would not need to delve too far into the hero's origin. It is a story that most of us know well, either from comic books or film. Re-exploring that origin would become tedious unless a new angle was provided or we were to see it through the eyes of another character, perhaps Jor-El or even General Zod. But it is Superman that we want to experience, therefore a flashback or simple mention of how he came to exist on Earth would suffice, enriching the world without becoming tedious.
The Superman comic books, as stated above, are stepped within a rich mythology of characters, settings and events, all of which have survived through more than 75 years of stories in hundreds of iterations, by hundreds of writers. There is no lack of material from which Rocksteady Studios could draw in order to develop an immersive, Arkham-styled Superman experience.
As with the Batman Arkham Trilogy, the story for Arkham Superman would be better served as an original one. This would make for something unpredictable, yet enthralling and exciting. It would also give Rocksteady a chance to build up their own version of the hero while still staying faithful to the original source material (as they managed to do with Batman).
That isn't not to say that Rocksteady Studios couldn't draw inspiration from some beloved Superman story arcs. On the contrary, doing so could help provide the game with a solid foundation. The key thing to remember if borrowing from the source material is not to make a direct adaption, but to put an original spin on everything (unless it is intended to be an Easter Egg). Of course, there is no hard and fast rule about this and sometimes using whole story lines can fill gaps in the world and make connections that would have been difficult otherwise (such as the use of The Killing Joke by Alan Moore in Batman: Arkham Origins to look at The Joker's origin, and also in Batman: Arkham Asylum to explain why Barbara Gordon is serving as Oracle instead of Batgirl).
There are a number of popular arcs which could be used for inspiration in Arkham Superman. Below is a small list of such stories, followed by a brief description of their plot and then an idea of where they could fit into an Arkham Superman video game:
- The Death of Superman - The title of this story is pretty self explanatory. In a climactic battle with Doomsday, he and Superman are both killed by the other. This is a story which shows the raw brutality and power of Doomsday. Such a story could set up the villain as a main antagonist, without having to follow the exact story of the comic book. If Arkham Superman were to act as though this event had already taken place then the game could open with the return of Superman to a world which believes he is dead. This could provide a story where the villains of Metropolis have gained power in The Man of Steel's absence and him attempting to reset the scales.
- Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? - The story follows, retrospectively from Lois Lane's viewpoint, the return of Brainiac, through Lex Luthor's body, and the horrific battle which ensues between Brainiac and Superman in the Fortress of Solitude. Superman discovers that the man orchestrating these events is Mxyzptlk and Superman ends up killing him. Having broken his vow to never kill, Superman uses Gold Kryptonite to remove his powers and lives under the alias Jordan Elliot (Jor-El!), marrying Lois Lane and having a child...a child who can crush coal into diamonds. There are many important elements in this story arc which would transfer well into an Arkham Superman game. The first is the brutality which accompanies heroism as this story sees the death of Supergirl, Lana Lang and Jimmy Olsen, plus many more. This sort of violence could work well into the story, on par with the suffered and harrowing origins of the Arkham Knight in Batman: Arkham Knight. Arkham Superman could see the hero wrestle with his struggle of what it means to be a hero.
- Red Son Superman - This story reviews the whole history of Superman, rewriting events from the beginning by having Superman land in Russia instead of the USA. The events of this comic would not fit well into a Superman video game as they are too obscure to really do the character justice. However one vital element that could inspire Arkham Superman is the characterisation of the titular character. In Superman: Red Son, Alan Moore has written Superman as a harsher, grittier character. This is closer to what we see Batman as in the Batman Arkham Trilogy and may carry successfully to Superman - it seems to have done for many in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, although grittier isn't necessarily better (just look at the new Fantastic Four!)
- Superman: The New 52 - In 2011, DC Comics launched their New 52 series which rebooted every character and story following the events of the Flashpoint Crisis. I am sure that an Arkham Superman game would take a good deal of inspiration from the New 52 comics seeing as how they are the most recent iteration of the character. I personally believe that the most valuable thing to take here from The New 52 Superman is "Super Flare". Super Flare is the new ability that Geoff Johns granted Superman earlier this year, allowing Supes to expel all his yellow sun radiation in one atomic blast, devastating everything within a one mile radius. This may be an overpowered ability,but it is one which could be restricted in the gameplay of Arkham Superman and has to be earned by gaining a certain amount of combos. Arkham Superman could even take their own creative license with the character and give him another new ability which would entice players - Johns has showed that it can work.
- Superman: Last Son of Krypton - The story follows Superman as he tries to protect his adopted Kryptonian son Chris Kent from both humanity and Kryptonians, including Chris' biological father General Zod, while Zod and other escapees from the Phantom Zone stage an invasion of Earth. This story was the first appearance of General Zod, Ursa and Non since the Infinite Crisis event, and displayed how to successfully reintroduce characters whom we are already familiar with. Geoff Johns managed to write General Zod with a ruthlessness which truly defined the character. Furthermore, this story arc is a clear example of how to intertwine different villains, as it pits Lex Luthor, Metallo and Brainiac together. Arkham Superman, to really be as successful and beloved as the Batman Arkham Trilogy, would need to play host to an array of Superman villains, and Superman: Last Son of Krypton may show Rocksteady Studios just how to approach this.
No matter what angle or inspiration Arkham Superman takes there are some vital things which cannot be forgotten. There are a whole host of characters which are integral to any iteration of Superman's Universe. There needs to be a feisty, fiery Lois Lane writing for the Daily Planet. It would integrate well into the narrative for her to be friends with Clark Kent and to admire Superman without realising that they are the same person. Furthermore, the story could benefit from having her pursuing the Superman mystery, acting as a minor obstacle.
As for other characters, it is important to have appearances from Jimmy Olsen, Daily Planet photographer and Superman enthusiast, and Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet, as well as Sam Lane, Lois' military General father, David Corporon, Commissioner for the Metropolis Police Department and Superman ally, and Dr Emil Hamilton. Whether the action takes place in Metropolis or elsewhere, it is important to mention some of the characters from Clark's past (even if they do not make appearances...which could be a mistake) including Lana Lang, Pete Ross and Jonathon and Martha Kent. There should also be mentions of Clark's Kryptonian heritage, with appearances and mentions of his biological parents Jor-El and Lara - perhaps through the use of Jor-El as the Fortress of Solitude's AI interface - a look at Supergirl and perhaps even a cameo of everyone's favourite pup: Krypto the Superdog.
There are villains equally vital to Superman lore but these will be explored later on in this article.
Finally there are some settings which are important for Arkham Superman. The main location of the game should be the sprawling city of Metropolis as this has the potential to be packed with missions and gameplay. In Metropolis there are many famous landmarks which should play a huge role in the video game. These include the Daily Planet and Lexcorp. The game should attempt to show other familiar Superman places including Smallville and Krypton, including its capital city of Kandor. Kandor could be integrated into the plot through Brainiac while Krypton and Smallville could at least exist in some sort of challenge map. Either way these are all places we must experience as Superman.
With such a fruitful history, there is no lack of material from which Rocksteady Studios could be inspired to make an Arkham Superman video game which is enthralling and engaging in terms of narrative.
Villains and Enemies (Including Superman's Weaknesses)
It is important to distinguish between villains and enemies. Villains refer to the bad guys of Superman lore, the ones determined to bring down the Man of Steel through a plan of their own doing, such as Lex Luthor or Brainiac. Villains in the Batman Arkham Trilogy would include The Joker, Scarecrow, The Arkham Knight and Harley Quinn. Enemies refer to the henchmen of the more ominous antagonists. They range from your simple brawling thugs to your more kitted-out mercenaries, all of whom are just following orders, or causing chaos. The reason for inclusion of weaknesses in this section is that in order for combat in the game to run smoothly there needs to be a sense of balance between hero and foe.
The Batman Arkham Trilogy has shown that a superhero video game can contain a whole host of villains, working both with and against one another, and yet still provide clear gameplay with a coherent narrative. There are many different Superman villains, some who are well know, such as Lex Luthor, and others who are not, such as Manchester Black. For the game to feel natural it is important to have a healthy mix of both the familiar and the unfamiliar. The vital thing is a feeling of threat. To achieve this, Rocksteady will need to make sure they have at least one or two bad guys which exceed the rest. Below is a very small list of villains from Superman's history, ones which would fit particularly well into Arkham Superman:
- Lex Luthor - Billionaire businessman and long time enemy of Superman, Luthor has become one of the most famous villains ever. What makes him so powerful isn't his money, or even his power, it's his willpower to stop the Man of Steel by any means. Interestingly, there is a Lex Luthor Easter Egg contained within Batman: Arkham Knight indicating that he does exist within the "Arkham-verse". A video of the Easter Egg is linked below.
- General Zod (Plus Faora, Ursa and Non) - General Zod was an expert military tactician on Krypton, banished to the Phantom Zone by Jor-El and the Kryptonian council for treason. Ever since then he has had a grudge on the house of El and wishes to bring down Superman, claiming the Earth as his own. General Zod is a truly terrific villain not just because of his cruelty, but because his powers, while on Earth, are on par with Superman.
- Doomsday - Doomsday is an ancient monster from the planet Krypton who crash landed on Earth and defeated the Justice League. He is most famously know for killing Superman in The Death of Superman storyline. Doomsday is one of the best choices for a main antagonist in Arkham Superman because he not only matches the Man of Steel's raw power, but exceeds it, and has proven that he truly is capable of bringing Superman down.
- Brainiac - Sometimes depicted as a scientist, sometimes as an Artificially Intelligent android, Brainiac's mental capacity is limitless. He always has a thorough plan which usually aims to defeat Superman. Brainiac's intellect is what makes him dangerous. He does not just cause chaos like The Joker but manufactures intentional strategies to gain control.
There are many other Superman villains who would be well placed in Arkham Superman. Metallo, powered by a kryptonite power source, is a worthy foe to the Man of Steel as is Bizarro, the Kryptonian's twisted, backwards double. Kryptonite Man has an obvious advantage on Superman and is someone who would provide difficulty to defeat. Parasite is also able to drain Superman of his powers.
As stated though, there are dozens and dozens of Superman villains. Here is a more thorough List of Superman Villains, provided by Wikipedia.
Enemies are the most crucial filler for gameplay, with more than 80% of action taking place between them and your playable character. Enemies are the ones blocking the doorway, protecting the villain and causing the general chaos and mayhem. So for Arkham Superman, or any video game, to work successfully there needs to be a sense of balance between hero and enemy. Not every fight can be a one punch victory.
Now the answer to this problem is not simply equipping every single human enemy with a kryptonite dagger. That's far too easy a solution and one which audiences expect from the offset. I'm not saying kryptonite should be abandoned. It has a vital role in the DC Universe. The argument is that that it should not be overused! Superman has many other weaknesses which should be exploited including:
- Red Sun Radiation - Our yellow sun is what gives Superman his powers so exposing him to his native red sun (or red sun radiation) removes his abilities, at least until he is able to recharge them in a yellow sun again.
- Magic - Magic affects Superman in the same way it affects any other human , rendering him completely susceptible to its effects.
- Over-Use of Abilities - If Superman is in constant and exhausting use of his abilities he will drain the yellow sun radiation stored within his cells, depleting him of his powers and making him incredibly weak.
These weaknesses could be integrated into gameplay, such as having human enemies equipped with weaponised red sun radiation to remove Superman's powers or weapons which can extract the yellow sun radiation in his body. Yet all these weapons do is weaken the Man of Steel. There has to be a variety of enemy which can match him at his strongest. There are a few ways to do this.
Arkham Superman could introduce characters who can use magic, such as Zatanna or John Constantine. Since Superman is no stronger against magic than any human, battles between himself and sorcerers would be evenly matched.
Another way to provide Superman equally, and exceedingly, powered enemies would be to have them from elsewhere than Earth. Many different aliens have powers which can match, and then top, Superman, providing him with a greater challenge. Kryptonian enemies would fit this role well as they also gain powers from the radiation of the yellow sun. Perhaps Arkham Superman could see a mass escape from the Phantom Zone. This would also give the game a chance to feature villains like General Zod and Faora.
Back to Kryptonite momentarily. It definitely should be used. There should be enemies carrying guns which have bullets laced with kryptonite. Villains should also be in possession of kryptonite, or able to weaken the Man of Steel in some other way. The point is that Rocksteady would do well not to overuse the element and show some more originality through use of other vulnerabilities. A final thing to remember is that green kryptonite is not the only form of the substance. There are many different colours and alterations of the rock which have different effects on Superman and other Kryptonians (as well as humanity, sometimes). Here is a list, from Wikipedia, about kryptonite, containing a list of the different coloured kryptonites and their effects.
Overall, Rocksteady have a fresh platter of villains which they could use to populate their Arkham Superman game, and a variety of ways in which they could match battles between Superman and his foes. Balance isn't as big a problem as one might initially worry.
Gameplay Mechanics are, simply put, the things that run your game. They are the way a particular gun shoots, or the reason a certain enemy attacks. These mechanics build up to create and influence every aspect of the game, right down to the narrative. They can also be the key to making or breaking a video game.
As stated earlier, Batman: Arkham Asylum was praised for its fresh gameplay mechanics. These include the free flowing combat system, and accompanying multipliers, the array of Batman gadgets and "Detective Mode", which allows Batman to detect enemies, their weapons, hidden rooms and easy escapes from difficult situations. It is a system which has innovated similar mechanics for games such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine and Hitman Absolution.
Nobody wants Arkham Superman to be a knock-off, copy and paste job of the Batman Arkham series. Players want a new experience, even if it is one which feels vaguely familiar. So, of course, there needs to be new gameplay mechanics introduced.
The fundamental difference between Batman and Superman is that Batman is dependent upon his expertly trained skills and gadgets whereas Superman has innate abilities bestowed to his Kryptonian flesh from our yellow sun. This difference is something which Rocksteady Studios should exploit to the utmost as it would give them an opportunity to create a truly distinct experience. Superpowers should be the new gadgets.
The most important of these superpowers is flight. Superman has to be able to fly! Nobody wants to play a Superman game where the Man of Steel is grounded because of some kryptonite poisoning, or he suddenly has a fear of flight. Flying is to Superman what Bats are to Batman. They are one and the same. Controlling Superman in flight needs to be comfortable for the player, especially since taking to the skies is second nature to the character. A simple way to achieve this is by ensuring that flight controls are paired to a sensible button scheme. The best way to handle this would be through use of the triggers on a controller, as these are the buttons most easily at hand. The left trigger on an Xbox 360 remote was used to allow Batman to crouch in the Arkham Series, an especially important mechanic needed for the stealth which the game based itself around.
A game which offers flight has to be an open world. The risk with open world games is that, if they are not properly populated with events and side quests, they can suddenly feel like huge, empty voids which cause mind numbing boredom. So if players are able to uproot at any moment in the game and soar across Metropolis, the city needs to be full of vibrancy and excitement, with danger on every street corner. From a narrative stance, this danger could be escalated in relation to the story - this technique is used in Batman: Arkham Knight when all the citizens of Gotham are forced from the city leaving only the criminals. One way which the game could integrate side quests into the story could be through the use of Superman's enhanced hearing abilities. Whenever danger is nearby, the player could be alerted. To create a further sense of urgency, these events could be timed and failure to complete them could result in game changing consequences - perhaps the citizens of Metropolis lose support for Superman following every failure? Knowing that the whole city could turn on you might make these additional missions more appealing instead of just a nuisance.
Superman needs a weapon similar to Batman's baterang; a projectile which can be aimed and fired at will. The answer to this is heat vision. Players could use one trigger to aim their heat vision and another button to fire. This could be used in combat or as a way to destroy environmental obstacles. Similarly, freeze breath is another power which could be here, and would offer more variety.
Strength and speed would naturally be integrated into Superman's physical presence in the game and wouldn't need an on and off switch - although certain "moves" would perhaps need to be unlocked as the game progressed, such as a devastating ground smash?
Lastly, Superman's X-Ray vision would play a vital role in the game. It could, along with Superman's other enhanced senses, provide Arkham Superman's version of Detective Mode. Weaknesses, such as lead, kryptonite and magic, could block these powers in the same way that signal blockers jam Batman's Detective Mode signal. I believe using Superman's natural abilities to create this mode would make it feel separate from the similarities of Batman's Detective Mode.
This article has already discussed the importance of balanced enemies which can provide a challenge. This is important in terms of combat mechanics. As powerful as we want to feel while playing as Superman we don't want every battle to be a one hit knock-out. We want to have our enemies fighting back, even winning just to prove that they can. There isn't much in need of change in regards to combat from the Batman Arkham series being pulled across to Arkham Superman. The important thing is to up the ante. A fist fight needs to become a superpowered fist fight. Superman's abilities are greater, therefore the villains abilities must be greater, which will, in turn, make the battles more epic. As long as, in doing this, Rocksteady are able to retain the smoothness of Batman Arkham's combat system then there is nothing to worry about altering.
The important thing to integrate is the feeling of power, and all of the above aspects will help to do this. When we play as Superman, we want to it to be an immersive, full experience.
Previous Video Games
It's no secret that there haven't been many successful Superman-centric video games. The 1999 Nintendo 64 title Superman: The New Adventures is known as being one of the worst video games ever - a title that I'm sure nobody really wants to have earned. The video game accompaniment for Bryan Singer's 2006 Superman Sequel/Reboot was a complete flop too - although it has to be said that Rocksteady should take tips from the way they handled flight. It seems nobody has found the winning formula for a Superman Video Game. In fact, so many failures have most likely sent fear into the hearts of most developers.
There have been many DC Comics games which have represented Superman well and made him an enjoyable character to play as. Examples of this are Injustice: Gods Among Us and the LEGO Batman series. However, while they are fantastic video games, they are not solely centered on Superman himself, and have a wider focus on the whole DC Universe instead.
While it would take more than a dozen articles to truly represent the scale of Superman's mythos, the above article has attempted to show why Rocksteady Studios should make an Arkham-styled Superman game, and some of the ways they could go about doing this. There is no lack of characters, both villain and hero, from which the developers could gain inspiration from, in order to fully populate their world. Furthermore, there are a huge variety of comic book story arcs which would influence the game's narrative process. Lastly, the thing which would really make Arkham Superman interesting, perhaps better than the Arkham Trilogy, is the fundamental difference between Batman and Superman: superpowers. An Arkham-styled game with superpowers could only be a success, right? We already know that Rocksteady Studios have a golden formula for creating superhero video games, at least in terms of The Dark Knight. Is this transferable to The Man of Steel?
And if they were to set Arkham Superman in the greater Arkham Universe, who's to say that Batman might not make a cameo, or perhaps even be a playable character...?
So what do you think? How do you think Rocksteady Studios could make a successful Superman video game? Do you even want a Superman video game? Which superhero would you like to see star in their own video game franchise (Marvel, DC or otherwise)? Let me know what you think down below.