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Superman Returns Review

Developer: EA Tiburon Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 20, 2006 Also On: Xbox 360

Superman has a long, ugly history with video games. Superman 64 is known by many as the worst game ever made. Atari tried to revitalize the franchise this current generation with the release of Superman: The Man of Steel on Xbox and Superman: Shadow of Apokolips on GCN and PS2, but failed as badly as Superman’s foes. Now that the largest publisher in the world has control of the franchise, Electronic Arts hopes to turn this thing around. But just as a Navy cruiser or an airline jet, not all big things turn around fast.

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The basic fighting mechanics in Superman Returns is a collision of three games: Grand Theft Auto (size and scale), Tekken (hand-to-hand fighting) and Crimson Skies (air combat). They all fit together remarkably well, even if you resort to the same old button press time and again. EA Tiburon gives you the opportunity to string together dozens of melee moves, as well as harness the powers of Superman. Your super powers include breath, fire and ice. Breath plays almost no meaningful role in combat, but combining fire and ice can be affective in defeating your enemies.

At first, from playing Superman Returns hands-on at an EA Community Day, I thought they would pull things together. They got down the basics: a large, bustling city full of life, a super hero ready to protect it, a working combat system and plenty of bad guys to keep you busy. I stand by my impressions of the game that I played in October 2006. After playing the retail version though, I found out that it was a mistake to assume the best for the parts of the game that I did not get a chance to play.

What I did not get to play was the filler missions in-between the boss fights that we were pretty much isolated to during our time at Tiburon. Pretty much you are thrown into Metropolis and left here the whole game, going from one mission to the next. This wouldn’t be a problem if every mission in the game wasn’t the same. Aside from the occasional boss fight, the only thing you do all game is fight robots, ice and fire breathing dragons and various other monster-like creatures. Oh yeah, you also blow out a lot of fires, save a lot of kittens and can run amok in the city with Bizzaro.

The only thing engaging at all are the boss fights. The boss fights, while limited, are good. They can get just as repetitive as the filler missions, but they can at least be enjoyable. You will fight the same bosses multiple times throughout the game, adding to the annoyance of a lack of variation, but compared to the mindless action between these fights, they are actually the only thing that will keep you playing the game. Fighting a giant Metallo and a final boss fight against, of all things, tornadoes are the two most impressive parts of the game. You will also fight Mongul and Bizarro throughout the game.

The storyline and mission structure is nothing but a jumbled mess. The story is linked together by a handful of different cut-scenes. They look good and the voice acting is done by the actors from the movie, but they don’t have any real connection to the game. This may have something to do with the fact that all you do in the game is fight groups of bad guys, but its inexcusable nonetheless. Just as the cut-scenes kind of just pop out of no where, the mission structure has no logical sequence either. Picture in your head Superman fighting Metallo’s minions, then cut to a scene of Lex Luthor ranting something about crystals, now Superman’s putting out a fire, and oh look, another group of Metallo’s robots! It makes about that much sense.

As far as the graphics go, Superman Returns is noticeably better looking on the Xbox 360 than on the current-generation build. I am impressed that EA Tiburon managed to squeeze Metropolis, an 80 square mile city with nearly 10,000 buildings and no load times onto a single disc. It took some sacrificing to make this work. The ceiling is much lower than the Xbox 360 version, and you can bump into it. The sky looks a lot more dreary and the cars are both boxy and lack a whole lot of detail. If it wasn’t for size, scale and the number of NPCs on the screen, the graphics score would be lower than I’m giving it.

As far as replay value and game length go, there really isn’t much. I was told that this would be a 15 hour game, but I ended up clocking in at a measly 5 hours, making it one of the shortest in a long time. In all honesty, I am glad that Superman Returns is not a long game. I would not have played it all if it was a full 15 hours. If you are desperate enough to get some extra game time out of this, you can collect all of the kittens that are hidden throughout Metropolis or play as Bizzaro. Other than that, there’s not much else to keep you playing.

Superman Returns is like a huge firework that speeds into the sky only to land on the ground without exploding. You’ll only remember it because it’s the big dud. The irony in this is that one of the last things that we spoke about at the Superman Returns Community Day is how developers react to the reviews of the games that they create. It was clear to me that they were sensitive to the feedback to their products that people like me write. However, the disappointment that they get from this review will be nothing compared to the disappointment that gamers feel when they put this game in their system.

Graphics: 6
Sound: 7
Gameplay: 4
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 4
Final: 5.2
Written by Kyle Review Guide