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Superman Returns Review

Developer: EA Tiburon Publisher: Electronic Arts
Release Date: November 20, 2006 Also On: PS2 and Xbox

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. They failed on current-gen consoles. Electronic Arts would have served gamers well if they had put a sticker on the PS2 and Xbox versions of Superman Returns. “Warning: This game is crap.” The Xbox 360 version at least provides some hope for the future of Superman video games.

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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 of the current-gen version though, I found out that it was a mistake to assume the best for a game that I did not get a chance to play. While the 360 version suffers from some of the same problems that the current-gen does (repetitive missions), it improves things in such a way that the experience can be enjoyable.

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. Overall, combat is done well and made better on the 360 with smoother animations and fighting responses. Essentially the controls on the Xbox and the 360 are the same, but now the right shoulder button is used to speed through the sky.

One of the biggest disappointments that I had with this game is that in-between the boss fights are nothing but filler-missions. 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. One of the optional mini-games is a racing mini-game where you fly around the city on a set path trying to beat a top score, which I thought was pretty fun. Still, there needed to be a lot more to do in Metropolis to keep gamers interested.

The most engaging parts of Superman Returns are by far the boss fights. The boss fights, while limited in number, are good. They can get just as repetitive as the filler missions, but they can at least be pleasing. 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 versions of the game. I am impressed that EA Tiburon managed to squeeze Metropolis, an 80 square mile city the size of Cleveland, Ohio, with nearly 10,000 buildings and no load times onto a single disc. Remarkably, there was little sacrificed involved, unlike that of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions. The mundane looking buildings and cars of the current-gen Superman Returns are replaced with shiny skyscrapers, bustling city streets, clouds and some impressive lighting. The entire city of Metropolis is a vast size and scale that has not really ever been seen before in a game like this.

As far as replay value and game length go, there really isn’t much to talk about. I was told that this would be a 15 hour game when I was at EA Tiburon, but I ended up clocking in at a measly 5 hours or less. If you are desperate enough to get some extra game time out of this, and you probably will be since you spent $60, you can collect all of the kittens that are hidden throughout Metropolis or play as Bizzaro, as well as race in the few races that are offered. Other than that, there’s not much else to keep you playing. The initial “wow, this city is huge and beautiful” factor fades off within a couple hours and you will likely be trading this in once you complete the game.

Superman Returns for the Xbox 360 is a vast improvement on the current-generation version of the game. I was excited about the release of this game, and despite being disappointed with the current-gen, the Xbox 360 version comes close to living up to what I expected. If only the game were longer and had a greater variance of missions, I would recommend this. It may sound superficial, but the experience is improved just by the graphical capabilities of the 360. For those of you that are fans of the Man of Steel, Superman Returns brings Metropolis to life on the Xbox 360 and should not be passed up.

Graphics: 8
Sound: 8
Gameplay: 6
Creativity: 6
Replay Value/Game Length: 4
Final: 6.4
Written by Kyle Review Guide