Superman Returns PS2 Review

Now before I begin to absolutely slate this half-baked effort of a sandbox game, I’m going to give it a sprinkling of sympathy because the task of making a great Superman game would arguably verge on being impossible. Whilst some game characters break a few of the ‘golden rules’ of games mechanics – Superman just takes the piss: He’s invincible, can fly through space, and lift up potentially anything if he needs to – and that’s just for starters… Superman as a character must be every game designers nightmare, the only game I’ve ever played which successfully had you playing as a protagonist who couldn’t die was the near-perfect Planescape: Torment, which only worked because the character design and narrative made this mechanic seem intrinsically linked to the game. But of course, this ain’t gonna work for old Superman.

Firstly, Superman is boring: he’s good for good’s sake, clean cut, trimmed, and well shaven. So if they’re not going to use an immaculate storyline to fix the mechanics issue of being invulnerable, how are they going to make it work? And the answer to this ladies and gentlemen is one you’ve probably already worked out for yourselves…
They’re not going to make it work! This game is a poorly executed mess of thrown together ideas that’s an unpleasant experience to play. Now although I could quite happily leave the review finished at that, I’ll take you deeper into the psyche of the man of steel- giving you a brief but enthralling taste of what EA have decided it’s really like to put those sexy red boots on for a day:

9:00am – Woke up on the streets of Metropolis, Would have been nice to pop over to Lois’s place but unfortunately all of the buildings appear to be cardboard boxes – but that’s ok because there’s LOADS of them. Decided to go for a fly to escape the painful framerate of downtown life.

10:36am – Cardboard buildings kept catching fire. Predictable. Robots caused mayhem around the city and I had to keep chasing them down. Despite my unsurpassable strength it seems I am unable to harm anyone who blocks their upper body with their arms: Depressing.

12:13pm – Started throwing vans around a bit. No one seemed to mind. No one seems terribly aware that I actually exist to be honest, unless I’m saving them or punching them. Typical.

12:36pm – Metropolis was destroyed while I was flying around a bit making zoom noises. Didn’t care. Tried to fly into space to negate responsibility. Couldn’t.

That’s right- being superman is boring as hell. It’s a sandbox game with responsibility- whoever thought it was going to be fun should be fired before they inevitably start work on a GTA-style milkman simulator which requires you to get up at the crack of dawn every day and fire up the batteries in your float. Superman’s invincible, so to combat that they’ve given the city itself a health bar- which in effect makes your sole purpose in the game to uphold and defend one of the most soulless game worlds you’ll ever see. Not only that, but for a city of its size it tends to become apparently irreparably damaged in no time at all- so how can you stop it? UPPERCUTS! Lots and lots of uppercuts; Superman’s never really been all that into flying, but by god he loves a good fist fight. Well he better, otherwise in the next 5 minutes Metropolis is going to be deemed beyond help and Superman’s gonna cry into his hands like a schoolgirl with a grazed knee. Of course, Superman isn’t just limited to uppercuts – throughout the game you constantly unlock a veritable plethora of excitingly named combos which you’ll never, ever use. Why? Because, like me, you’ll most likely be confused and scattered, frantically hitting buttons in the hope that somehow you’ll do something that the game will like; hand to hand combat is disjointed and rough in terms of both mechanics and presentation, or in other words: I couldn’t for the life of me work out what the hell was going on most of the time, one of the main buttons used in combos is also the button which launches you into the sky and more often than not you get the latter.

To add insult to injury, the camera seemed to quite literally have a life of its own sometimes, occasionally zooming out hugely and maintaining inexplicably odd angles. Considering so much of the game revolves around fisticuffs it’s unforgivable just how awful the fighting system is, it gives me an overwhelming sense of being grounded and useless rather than empowered – which is rather strange considering the character you’re playing is essentially omnipotent and pretty much invincible. It’s even more depressing that the enemies described as ‘robots’ which you repeatedly get beaten up by seem to have been created using a texture and polygon variation of the timeless art of ‘lucky dip’- I’m pretty damn sure that last time I played Superman I took a beating from a guy who had 2D legs… equally hilarious is the ability to freeze helicopters mid air and watch them remain perfectly stationary; it seems that the development team made the logically sound decision that if Superman doesn’t obey the laws of physics, then to include physics in the game would really just have been a waste of their time.

Graphically, this game is a mess, looking like a shoddy PS2 release game at best; explosions are dire and environment damage is almost entirely sprite based, animations are sluggish and Superman’s got the face of a serial killer. It’s difficult to comment on the actual world environment; although EA do often tend to specialize in generic they’ve really excelled themselves with metropolis. Oddly however, the musical score is rather lovely – having been presumably ripped from the film, and some of the sound effects used for zooming around are rather magnificent, it’s a shame that this high note is crushed by an incessant flow of cringe-worthy quips from the man of steel himself.

I think the icing on the cake for me with Superman Returns is the fact that I seem to repeatedly find myself wanting to destroy the buildings and fry innocent people with my laser eyes; I’ve never enjoyed the chaotic destructive nature of sandbox games like GTA, but being forced to work as a constant caretaker for this lifeless city just leaves me wanting to raze it to the ground. Quite simply this game is cheap and nasty, avoid at all costs.

Being an invincible demi-god has never been less fun.

3 out of 10
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