E3 06: Superman Returns first look

For comic-book fans, the name "Superman" means many things: selflessness, hope, indomitable strength. For gamers, though, it simply means "run." As in, "run away from the video-game store until the menace passes safely into bargain bins."

So as you can imagine, Superman Returns has a tough row to hoe. Not only does it carry the stigma of being a movie-licensed game, but it also bears the name of a hero who hasn't produced a decent game since 1988's Superman arcade game. Even so, what we've seen of Superman Returns so far has gotten our deflated hopes up.

Like Spider-Man 2 and The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, Superman Returns doesn't force players into a linear structure. Instead, you're given free rein to explore the great big city of Metropolis, with all of Superman's powers at your disposal. There's a storyline that ties into the movie (as well as creating plenty of its own scenarios), but you can spend as much time as you want between missions just flying around and doing Superman things.

From what we've seen so far, just that by itself is pretty impressive. Metropolis is truly huge, and Superman can go from walking around on the ground to soaring above its skyscrapers in a matter of seconds. You'll be able to use his ice breath, heat vision and super strength however you see fit, even to the point of destroying property and tossing around cars. You can also use it to fight enemies, of course, and that's where Superman Returns sets itself apart.

Because you're not flying around some under-powered version of the Man of Steel, the developers wanted to make sure that Superman faces appropriate challenges. So instead of being constantly hassled to stop carjackers or purse-thieves, you'll be called on to battle aliens, supervillains and other foes worthy of taking on Superman. Also, because Supes in indestructible, the only way for him to "die" is to fail to save the people he's trying to protect.

In any case, flying around a gigantic, seamless city with free rein to use Superman's powers looks like a lot of fun. Assuming EA doesn't choke on the follow-through by giving us a bunch of boring missions where we have to fly through rings, this could be the game that finally gets Superman right.

May 11, 2006