Why 2011 will be the year of the superhero
4th Dec 2010 | 15:30
Superheros are all the rage these days. Over the last few years they've gone from the pastime of choice for a select few, to worldwide multimedia phenomenons.
For movies this surge in popularity can be attributed largely to the Spider-Man and X-Men films, as well as Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight.
However for gaming there's one caped crusader that has single-handedly pulled the superhero video game genre to the top of the pack, Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum.
With Batman: Arkham City and as well as handful of other titles featuring popular superheroes, we think 2011 might just be the best gaming year yet for superheroes. Here's why...
IT'S WOLVERINE VS RYU IN...
Marvel vs Capcom 3: The games industry is officially a 1990s theme park right now. Fallout is a massive deal again. Quake 3 is making a comeback. Bloody Duke Nukem Forever is actually getting released. And, of course, the 2D fighting game is serious business once more.
Street Fighter is the king, but now the crowning jewel of Capcom's old versus mash-up series is coming back. The more we see of part three, the more we conclude that living in the past really does seem a good idea.
Pitting, as the name fairly bluntly implies, the stars of Marvel comics against an almighty lineup composed of Capcom's own pantheon, the MvC series has always been the drunken frat boy of the Capcom family.
And we mean that in a good way. Loud, bright, brash, and utterly out of control, it's the unchained party animal you head to when you just want to enjoy some spectacular carnage as therapy for that 37th failed attempt at finishing El Fuerte's Trial mode.
Less finessed than SFIV, but just as much fun in its own way and with a different kind of accessible depth, MvC is all about ludicrous special moves, borderline-offensively long combo chains and more juggling and aerial madness than you'd find at a self-help group for overachieving circus performers.
Imagine Blazblue without the need for four arms and a physics degree, and you're kind of there.
Multiplying the excess by three, each match is a six man (or woman, or thing) tag-team affair, during which players can chop and change characters at will, either for tactical purposes or to combine two powerful movesets into one insanely huge combo attack.
In MvC3, if it doesn't fill the screen with flames and sink a small country, it has no right to call itself a special move. This is a game where you'll see the Incredible Hulk punching out Chun-Li, shortly before Iron Man turns up to help out, only to be flattened by a hand-painted wolf god and juggled halfway through space.
The Marvel vs Capcom series is notorious for its packed-out rosters, and the latest lot round out the current list to 26. Top Resi bastard and unironic indoor-shades- wearer Albert Wesker is in, and fighting exactly like a 2D version of him should: i.e, like an insufferable teleporting arse.
Also from the Capcom stable are Sir Arthur of Ghouls 'n' Ghosts fame and Nathan Spencer from Bionic Commando. (Sadly, we're talking about the focus-group-trendy dreadlocked Spencer from Grin's 3D reboot.)
On the Marvel side, Spider-Man is now in (surprise, surprise), and just as springy, kinetic and webzippingly unpredictable as he should be. And on the opposite end of the scale, silver age villain MODOK has been confirmed. He's a giant clunky floating head with robolimbs. Yep, it'll be mental.
CHOOSE YOUR SUPER MUTANT IN...
X-Men Destiny: So the superhero MMO's that we were swamped with a couple of years ago have come to nothing, but Too Human delay specialists Silicon Knights are hoping to go some way towards filling the gap with X-Men: Destiny, the latest console RPG to feature the freakish legion.
Despite supposedly being less than a year away (unlikely, given SK's previous) details on the title remain scarce, but the obtuse teaser trailer - "The struggle that is to come will define us all. Each of us possesses a unique strength. This is our destiny..." - makes it clear that this is an RPG in which choice will be your number one weapon.
What also seems likely is that you'll be controlling a brand new mutant, learning the ropes at Professor X's academy, while the old guard - Wolverine, Pyro, Nightcrawler, Cyclops, etc - guide you as NPCs.
With X-Men: Legacy supremo Mike Carey heading things up on the writing side and promising an experience which is "something like a nightmare", we're a bit confident about this. Finding your feet in the Academy in a deep RPG sounds fantastic; the only question mark is over how long Silicon Knights will need to turn it around.
TAKE IT TO THE NAZIS IN...
Captain America Super Soldier: Ask most people what they know about Captain America and they're likely to suggest he's a great big jingoistic meathead flag-waver, who hates Darwinism and probably works for the Klan.
But Marvel's iconic 'patriot' was never the plain old tool of the US government that he seemed to be - and especially in the hands of a development team from Vancouver.
The Captain was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for Marvel's forerunner Timeless Comics a full year before Pearl Harbor, to show the importance of fighting the Nazis back in the day when half of the US were hoping that WWII would just go away, and over the years he's been just as fervently against negative US policy as he was against the Nazis.
Next year's movie version goes right back to the origin story, being set in WWII. And though the idea of a 360 title set in WWII hardly screams originality, with every war FPS shying away from the 40s these days, some superhero Nazi-bashing - with brute strength taking the place of firearms - could be a breath of fresh air.
The narrative of Super Soldier - written by Marvel scribe Christos Gage - expands upon and runs alongside the movie, detailing the creation of the Captain. Basic gist: weedy conscript Steve Rogers is given an experimental serum to turn him into the perfect soldier, and uses his new powers to thwart the despicable antics of Hitler and his mates - especially head of terrorism, the Red Skull.
Some people may be breaking out into a cold sweat at the thought of not having a gun (especially when gangs of goose-steppers have you in their sights), but you will have that famous shield, which acts as an offensive weapon as well as protection - you can ricochet bullets right back at their original owner.
Still, the emphasis is on melée combat, with lots of agile scaling of Bavarian castle walls, PoP-style platforming and uncovering of nasty Nazi plots. There'll also be a fair few references to the likes of Iron Man and Nick Fury, just like in the movie.
Considering the dismal adventures Iron Man's had on the console, let's hope this isn't a bad omen. Further worries could come from the fact that Sega have brought in developers Next Level, whose last superhero offering was Spider-Man: Friend or Foe - definitely the webslinger's nadir on consoles.
At least (inevitably) they're taking the lead from Batman rather than any of the disappointing Marvel lot, by recycling Arkham Asylum's Detective Mode as Tactical Vision. You'll also be able to save up Super Soldier's equivalent of a Rage mode, by building up a showpiece Crippling Strike move during combat.
Still, if a studio with a pretty poor record have decided to cherry-pick some of the better game conventions of recent years, the action does at least stand more chance of holding up - it's being Captain America and punching big steampunk robot Nazis that really counts.
The visuals are still in the shonky region at this stage, but the low-fi old school superhero vibe is definitely a compelling one, so let's hope that over the next nine months Next Level live up to their name and take it there.
Look out for part 2 of our superhero revolution feature tomorrow for a look at Green Lantern, Thor and Batman: Arkham City.