Superheroes have always been a part of the public consciousness, but in recent years, they’ve become something of a pop culture phenomenon. From the panel to the screen, nothing gets our blood pumping like a new superhero adventure – and there’s no better time to be a fan of comics and video games.
With recent gaming successes like Batman: Arkham City and modern classics like Marvel Ultimate Alliance, we can’t seem to get enough of our favorite heroes and villains on our consoles. But what is it about these superhero’s stories that makes them so darn enjoyable in the gaming medium? We think we’ve got their secrets figured out - here are the reasons why we all love superhero video games so much…
They let us play as our favorite characters…
First and foremost, superhero games let us play as our favorite heroes. When we were kids, every single one of us, at one time or another, tied a towel around our neck and pretended to fly around the living room. Thanks to advances in modern technology, we no longer have to imagine that we’re Superman or Spider-Man with the aid of janky DIY costumes. We can step into their shoes anytime we want at the press of a button.
Now that we’re grown-ups, it’s become strikingly less acceptable to run around the house in our underpants. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about social etiquette since we can just fire up our 360s and PS3s, and be instantly transformed into Batman as he swoops through the grimy alleys of Gotham City. We’ve all dreamt of having great power, and being greatly responsible with it, but only recently have we truly been able to achieve these lofty aspirations.
Of course, well-known heroes aren’t the only game in town. Sometimes it takes an outsider, an original thinker, to inspire us. Characters like inFamous’ Cole and Prototype’s Alex are just a few recent characters who’ve been imbued with extraordinary powers, then given the choice of what to do with them. Whether you decide to be the noble savior, or the calculating mastermind, being there on the ground floor when a set of powers is inherited is an incredibly inspiring moment.
But let’s not forget the greatest new heroes of all – us. Though there have been more than a few different create-your-own superhero video games over the years, the recent success of DC Universe Online has not only given us the chance to create our own alter-egos, backstories, and power sets, but also to battle good or evil side-by-side with some of comicdom’s most recognizable names. We’ve always wanted our own shot at the caped big time, and DCUO and games like City of Heroes give that to us in spades.
They give us super powerful abilities
Who hasn’t dreamt of slinging webs up and down Broadway, trying to beat the gridlocked traffic by taking your own shortcut high above the hustle and bustle of everyday life? When we fire up a Spider-Man video game, we can do just that. It’s tough to beat the thrill of recklessly flinging our bodies from high atop a skyscraper to the ground below, only to flick our wrist at the last second and fire off a webline to send us soaring back skyward. It may not be possible in the real world, but it sure is sweet to be able to recreate that feeling in our living room.
That’s nothing compared the exhilarating feeling of blasting an enemy into the stratosphere with a well-timed uppercut, or leaping across a city block in a single bound. We’d never be able to take out our frustrations with the world the same way the Hulk does, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy that brief, fleeting moment of picking up a taxi cab and smashing it into the first enemy’s face we see. That’s what they get for refusing credit.
They let us reenact some of our favorite comic moments...
Some of the greatest fictional stories of the last thirty years have been told in comics. While we’re free to reread those tales as often as we want, it doesn’t quite feel the same as enjoying the story for the very first time, being captivated by every turn of the page. But when those stories are adapted into video games, the rush of experiencing the slight alterations made by the creative team not only breathes new life into the original material, but also our interest in the source story itself.
And it’s not just the major storylines that get our attention. Hallmark moments in a superhero’s career bring about the same feelings. Whether it’s finally being able to take down each and every last villain of Batman’s Rogues Gallery on the way to a final confrontation with the Joker in Arkham Asylum, or teaming up with other Avengers to battle Dr. Doom in Ultimate Alliance, it isn’t just enough to play as these iconic characters. We want to share in their most memorable moments too.
...or experience familiar worlds with a new perspective
Since comic books and superheroes have become such a mainstay in popular culture, there’ve been a wide variety of different takes on some of our favorite characters. Batman has had a variety of animated series, and the live-action Smallville based on Superman’s teenage years was chock full of cameos from other DC heroes and villains. The point of interest wasn’t just that these massively popular heroes were starring in their own show, but that they offered a wildly different take on the respective characters.
The same can be said about many of the video game adaptations of our favorite comic book characters. Gaining a new perspective on what makes a hero or villain tick makes their story more appealing. Superhero games like inFamous, Prototype, and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows offer us a choice in how we’d respond in a given situation, which adds even more depth - now we’ve got to make the same tough choices that the respected heroes made themselves. Do you do what’s right, or do you do what’s easy? It’s all up to the player to decide.
They're accessible to everyone, but full of nods to the source materials for die-hard fans
As the old industry adage goes, “Every comic is somebody’s first.” The same could be said of superhero video games. The general public might not know the exact issue where Spider-Man had to borrow some clothes from the Fantastic Four and run around New York City with a paper bag for mask, but they know Spider-Man. That the costume is included in the game is just a nice touch for those of us who’ve been there since the beginning, awaiting each new issue with bated breath.
Likewise, almost everyone knows Batman. What’s so great about the Arkham titles was the way they reintroduced everyone to Batman and his dark world without ever overcomplicating things. The solid combat and exploration were nice and all, but both Arkham games were filled with dozens upon dozens of references to the character’s comic book roots. Paying homage to a character’s comic history isn’t necessary, but it’s always appreciated. And besides, once these new fans get snared in the trap, they’ll be just as thrilled to discover all the little touches added by the developers.
They feature amazing team-ups of heroes and villains alike
There are few instances in comic books better than a good ol’ fashioned team-up. While most of the video games based on comics tend to follow solo pursuits, there have been a fair amount of games that allow us to team our favorite heroes together. Ultimate Alliance’s massive roster let us cherry-pick our very own super-squads, though we could also force a few bad guys into the mix just to shake things up. The same could be said of Justice League Heroes and X-Men: Legends.
Obviously, Capcom’s Marvel titles give fans a great deal of control over who they want to help save the world. You could put a team of Avengers together, or even the replacement Fantastic Four if you wanted. Other recent titles like Lego Batman 2 offer up the opportunity to team with a number of other heroes and villains. There’s a certain appeal to being able to customize your own super-team, and we can’t get enough of video games that afford us that empowering option.
They star some of our favorite voice actors
No two voices in comic franchise history are as tied to their respective characters as Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are to Batman and the Joker. When Batman: Arkham Asylum promised to reunite the Animated Series alums once more, gamers everywhere rejoiced. These beloved and respected actors transcended mediums to portray the characters they helped ingrain into the public consciousness, and it was glorious.
Conroy and Hamill weren’t the only actors to reprise characters they helped make so memorable. Neil Patick Harris voiced Spider-Man on the MTV animated series, but then made the jump to Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Clancy Brown played Lex Luthor in the Superman animated series, then transitioned to Lego Batman 2 and Superman: Shadow of Apokolips. DC Universe Online included Firefly’s Gina Torres and Adam Baldwin (Wonder Woman and Superman, respectively). And who could forget Nolan North’s turn as Deadpool in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions, or Tricia Helfer’s/Katee Sackoff’s takes on Black Cat in Web of Shadows and Edge of Time? The point is: there are a lot of great and credible actors we love to see playing our favorite characters, and that can happen a lot more often thanks to video games.
They let us explore alternate realities
DC Universe Online. Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Spider-Man: Web of Shadows. Batman: Arkham City. The one common denominator between all of these great games, and undoubtedly a few more, is that they all take place in an alternate reality outside of comic book canon. While the comic’s continuity is considered the true timeline for any of these heroes, video games have the advantage of being able to tell a story that transcends worlds, generations, and even realities with great ease. Because of that, we’ve been treated to some of the most interesting challenges these characters have ever faced.
Even titles like Prototype and inFamous, which feature wholly new characters, take place in an alternate reality of our own Earth, where superpowers are real and giant monsters constantly threaten major metropolitan areas. Our reality, as fantastic as it can be, is boring compared to these brave new worlds. We love exploring what makes an alternate New York City tick, without having to worry about the ramifications inherent in opening a wormhole to another dimension in the middle of Times Square.
Love thy hero
Those are the reasons we love to play superhero games. What about you? Why do you keep donning the cape and cowl, and fighting crime in the dark of night? Let us know why you love superhero games in the comments below – or if you think it’s time they made more supervillain games. Joker: Batcave Vandalism – that sort of thing.
GamesRadar is the premiere source for everything that matters in the world of video games. Casual or core, console or handheld - whatever systems you own or whatever genres you love, GamesRadar is there to filter out what's worth your time and to help you get even more from your games. We deliver the best advice, the most in-depth features, expert reviews, and the essential guides for all the top games.