Sunday, June 23, 2013

Superman Returns (2006) X-Box 360

Man of Meh
Rating: 2 out of 5 cheap ass bosses

Plot Synopsis:  I don’t fucking know, you’re guess is as good as mine.

The Good:

-You get to be Superman, his powers are represented well and easily accessible.

-You get a huuuuuuge Metropolis to fly around in.  It looks pretty good and it’s fun to explore.

-Mr. Mxyzptlk is in it hosting a series of side quests.  It’s actually pretty cool to see him here.

-You’re “invincible”, the city gets a health bar.  You can be staggered but it’s ultimately how much damage you let happen that determines when and if you get beat.  A creative way around the whole invulnerability thing.

-They got the flight thing down, he handles pretty well and the escalating stages of super speed flight are pretty cool

-My favorite thing to do is just fly way above the city and listen for cries of help then rush in and save the day.  It really made me feel like Superman, just hanging out, alone, way up in the atmosphere looking down on an entire city, watching it then springing into action.

-The super powers are handled well (hearing, flight, heat vision, super breath and freeze breath).  I liked using them, they upgrade well, they are useful and I tended to rely on them more than the combat.

-The game gets better if you cheat.  Once I eliminated the stupid stamina bar that limits my super powers and the stupid city health bar that diminishes way too fast I started having a lot of fun.  Of course I would not have had to do that if the game were less broken.

-They integrate powers into combat well.  You can easily press a power button instead of an attack button and unleash an awesome super speed punch (he jumps back then dashes forward at super speed) or a gust of super breath or a blast of heat vision.  I just wish the WHOLE combat system was better.

-When fighting little Metallo I finished off his robots and then during the fight with him I used super breath to blow him literally out of the city and onto a cliff by a bridge separating the major islands of Metropolis.  Then I fought him without worrying about damage to the city.  I thought it was a pretty cool use of powers, a pretty open way to fight him and pretty badass all the way around.

-There is a sidequest where you play as Bizarro trying to destroy the city.  It’s a nice change of pace.

The Bad:

-The combat, at least at the beginning, is pretty stagnant.

-Warworld apparently consists of only 3 combatants.  WarWORLD is only three people.  That’s a shitty poker night, not a world.

-The city gets a health bar.  In Warworld you get a crowd meter, which is impossible to use to your advantage.  The city health bar gets a little annoying too.  I assume they thought juggling fighting bad guys with saving the city would be fun but in reality it gets really frustrating fast because there’s no reliable way to recharge the city damage meter and some of the big bosses can drain that meter very quickly.  Combine that with a stamina meter that also drains fast you end up fighting to stay “alive” because when the stamina meter drains, this is basically a life bar/powers bar so it drains when you take damage and when you use your powers, you have to mash a button to get back up.  While this happens the city continues to take massive damage.  Of course when you need your powers the most is when you are fighting these huge guys so you expend all your stamina using your powers and then get slapped down like a little bitch, then you have to mash a button while they destroy the city.  It’s constant frustration.

-The combat is total shit, it never gets better.

-You have a Fortress of Solitude that all your unlockables go.  You can’t access it from in game, you have to quit to the main menu, press start, then select your save game and then choose to go to the Fortress instead of into the city.  Want to go to the city from the Fortress?  You have to do the same thing.  It would make more sense to incorporate it into the game menu or give you a place to fly to?  Fly too far of the city limits just pop up a question asking if that’s where you want to go.  Or have it in a certain direction triggered by flying towards a certain place then it’s seamless.

-When you release the flying button you just stop dead.  Everything stops.  Some kind of visual effect or drifting or slowing down the visual stretching that happens during super flight would have helped.  But no, you come to a dead stop and all the visual effects that happen during super flight disappear in one frame.

-Not only does the combat suck, the combat makes no sense.  Superman isn’t a finesse fighter, he’s a brawler and I think the biggest problem is that they got too fanciful with the combat.  You have your light attack and heavy attack.  Light attack isn’t too fancy.  But the heavy attack has you finish with this whirlwind punch where you fly around in a tight circle.  Maybe it’s because the enemies don’t show a lot of hit animations or because I was legitimately not hitting them but most of the time that whirlwind punch caused me to appear to fly AROUND them and not hit anything.  Maybe it’s there to be a crowd control move or maybe it’s there for fighting the huge enemies in the air.  I don’t know but it seemed pretty useless.  The bread and butter, basic combos should be straight forward.  3 heavy hits shouldn’t go into a move like that.  It should be a single hard strike that you can charge or 2 hard strikes followed by a third that you can charge.  That feels natural, that is useful.  The thing is they hide some really great moves in the hard combos, combos that are hard to remember or pull off but they are really great and they integrate powers into the combos really well too.  There’s a decent fighting engine hidden somewhere in there but it’s under a layer of shit, if they had just shoveled off the shit we could have had something.

-The story is totally irrelevant.  Nothing that happens in the main cut scenes relates to what’s actually happening in missions.  Lex talks about the Kryptonian world being built out of crystals and the next moment you are fighting Bizarro and a bunch of Cadmus experiments he busted out.

-The biggest sin, the biggest, hugest most massive problem is there is no good flying attack.  A flying charge attack would make a world of difference in this game.  For example when you fight Metallo, the first Metropolis boss, you fight a massive version of him.  The scale is impressive, I'll give it that.  But you fight him by destroying drones and throwing cars at him.  The fight would be hugely improved if instead of that it was a precision battle using a flying charge.  You fly away, you turn around, you gather speed, you avoid obstacles, you press the charge button (and I don't know, he puts his head down, raises two fists and gets a red aura) and you crash through a vital part.  Like an elbow which severs one attacking arm and you take him out like that piece by piece with the final one going through his heart to remove his power source or going through his head to disable him.  Maybe let you fly THROUGH buildings and obstacles.  But there's nothing like that.

The Ugly:

-The videos skip and stop from time to time, it doesn't seem to have anything to do with loading or anything at all really.  They just skip and stutter.  They also look like shit.

-Sound drops in an out.

-Cut scenes will skip themselves and important audio will run with no sound.  I, of course, only realized this after I clearly missed something and turned on the subtitles to see if I didn't hear something right in the audio.  I then discovered a whole mission objective that was told to me only in the subtitle.

Final Thoughts:  This game, in many ways, feels like I’m playing a beta.  Nothing feels polished or complete.  But then recently I found myself playing some old PS2 games and I realized that it’s not that the game is incomplete, it’s that the game is old.  The game came out during the weird transition period between generations so it most likely was primarily designed for the PS2 and then GIVEN polish for the 360.  But instead of spending time on the menu’s and what not they just made the in game graphics prettier.  Which I do appreciate, the game itself isn’t terribly ugly.  The city looks great (given how shitty it could be), the character models look great (again, given an alternative), the draw distances are good, pop up isn’t too bad but beyond that you run into problems.  Problems that we just accepted as part of the package back in the PS2 era.  I don’t remember the issues being that bad but going back and playing games that I remember being really good on the PS2 reveals that they pretty much all had this issue, it’s just it was so common it was unremarkable.

            I’d say if you are a super fan of Superman and you NEED a video game experience then this is probably the best bet out there.  There is an Xbox game that I have but I need to get my Xbox (which is in another state) to play it as it’s not backwards compatible.  My hope is I’m going to put in that game and it will be some kind of lost gem, the perfect Superman game, but if it were I’d probably already know that so it’s probably safe to say that this is the best we’re going to get.  Combine that with its bargain basement price tag on Amazon (or even Gamestop) makes it a low thresh hold for investment.  At its usual price tag even if you get 2 hours out of it would probably pay for itself.  Check it out if you must otherwise I’d avoid this game for something more satisfying.

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