Hey, it's not that bad!
Poor old Clark Kent hasn't had the easiest of experiences where video games are concerned. Indeed, in terms of the quality of his games the man actually has far more in common with his weak-willed alter ego than the normally triumphant Kal-El. That being said, Superman is generally regarded as something of a 'tough nut to crack', and no we're not just talking about bouncing bullets off his groin. Think about it, no right-minded studio would ever dare pitch an IP in which an invincible hero engages in colossal fisticuffs by way of all the powers in the world and almost zero vulnerabilities.
Suffice to say that realising the Man of Tomorrow is no easy task, though if anyone is up to the challenge of redeeming poorly served superheroes, it's Rocksteady. Fresh off the release of its third and final Batman title, rumours abound that the British studio will soon turn its attentions towards the bright blue skies of Metropolis. Well, either them or their Arkham series understudies at Warner Bros. Montreal. But could it work? Absolutely. The pieces are already in place - heres how to make them fit.
Ah Superman, the Swiss army knife of the DC comics roster, a man much too pretty and far too perfect to suffer any sort of sustainable peril. But where comic writers must surely baulk at the challenge of testing this nigh-infallible creation, 'this Deus Ex Machina made flesh', game designers should see only opportunity. Rocksteady's Arkham practically rejoiced in setting up obstacles for the player to surmount via a utility belt full of gadgets. The same could be done here, only with Superman himself being the belt.
Simply swap out Detective Mode for Kal's X-Ray Vision. Give us superhuman hearing instead of radio broadcasts. Let Supes follow his superhuman nose to track down enemies and objectives. Then there's superhuman breath, able to quell fires and obliterate eardrums. And heat vision, capable of scything through solid steel. Of course, all of these powers would also be worked into combat, proving vital against certain enemies and completely ineffective with others. Just think of the endless possibilities. Or don't. It's your call.
Here's where the 'gadgets to powers' trade-off starts to look a little bit suspect. You see unlike the Bat, Superman really has no good reason to be learning new abilities over the course of a single night. Instead we'd need to be introduced to these powers over time, say through the use of a *gulp* origin story. By setting the first third of the game in Kansas and following Clark's Smallville-esque adventures, players would be able to pick up his powers as he does, taking flight for the first time, saving school buses, and of course, shaving a sleeping Lex Luthor bald as part of a comical highschool prank. After that, it's off to Metropolis for a sort of Superman: Year One, with Kal-El progressing from battling ordinary street crime to facing off against more powerful foes.
As for Clark's troublesome invulnerability, Rocksteady/WBM could easily use the origin format to upscale his immunity progressively - hey if we can accept Batman's repeat excuses for emptying the city, we can let that slide. Remember, Superman draws his powers directly from the sun, meaning a teenaged Kal would've had far less time to absorb that lovely empowering radiation. You could easily turn that into a delayed regen system, balanced against a faster pace of fight. It's either that or arm every single opponent with kryptonite batons and magic staffs from the off, and I know which game I'd rather play.
Challenging the champion
Now I know the thought of setting a game in a fully operational city - y'know, the kind without contrived emergencies keeping the citizens away - might cause the good folks at Rocksteady to begin violently retching, but just hear me out. There are advantages to that. After all, every building fire, every police chase, every solitary call for help presents its own particular problems. Playing them off against each other would be a great way to deal with Superman's invulnerability.
Say there's somebody falling off a bridge and you have just 10 seconds to retrieve them, and there a gas explosion that's trapped an entire family. And you hear another cry for help along the way. Maybe the only way to reach them all is to use your various abilities to remove rubble and bypass obstacles, in a three-way race against time, fail conditions based on the fates of the victims, not Supes himself. That'd be a great, fresh spin on Batman's gadget-based problem-solving, and utterly fitting Superman's status as put-upon, lone space messiah.
Come fly with me
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It's Superman clipping through a building, caught behind a rock, and executing a series of painstaking seven-point turns. Pah! When did human flight become such an encumbrance? Prior Superman titles have always tended towards 'swim through molasses' of 'judder like a junkie', and that needs fixing.
Where then, can Rocksteady succeed where so many others have failed? Well for starters, how about combining Arkham Knight's gliding and Batmobile mechanics into one brand new 'super system'. Of course, all the core elements would be borrowed from the former, while the latter would lend its instant stop targeting and penchant for churning up the concrete. Just imagine it. Blasting through skyscrapers as the batmobile does city streets, swooping, and diving at roughly double the speed of the Caped Crusader, and all before stopping on a dime to mete out oodles of juicy justice. Interested? Yeah you are.
With his godly physique and flying techniques, it can be all too easy to forget that the Last Son of Krypton lacks for any formal fighting style. But then, why would he need training anyway? One good punch is all that it takes to turn most foes into a pink and putrid jelly. Still, everyone loves the Batman: Arkham combat system, so why not simply tweak that to accommodate a newly super-powered brawler?
Instead of gadgets, have Kal-El exercise his laundry list of abilities, perhaps supplementing his regular blows with chargeable special attacks (anyone who's played as Ciri in The Witcher 3 will know how that works). Where Batman moves like a blur after totting up his combo meter, have The Man of Steel start out there, becoming more and more intense as he strings together strikes. And you could combine all of this with the aforementioned 'dead stop' flying mechanic to allow Kent to enter city-sized scraps even while airborne, at which point a scaled up version of Batman's ability to unerringly zoom in on targets (and clear out space with a hefty boot) would make even more sense.
While it's true that Superman lacks the absurdly strong rogues gallery of his Gotham-based buddy, there are still numerous big names worthy of inclusion. If we're sticking to the aforementioned origin plot, then Rocksteady/WBM could do much worse than focus on the likes of Zod and Lex Luthor - two men with equally strong ties to Clark's childhood. After that there's Darkseid (a tyrannical conqueror bent on galactic domination), Brainiac (a vastly intelligent android), and Doomsday (a rabid monstrosity responsible for the infamous 'Death of Superman' story). And those are just some of the biggest hitters...
Mix in Metallo, Bizarro, Ultraman and Black Adam... hell, you might even consider switching Mister Mxyzptlk in for the Riddler. What's more, Rocksteady and WB Games have both illustrated their willingness to play around with and reinvigorate established and often under-utilised characters. Could it be that Nuclear Man's time has come again? No, probably not.
Given the monstrous success of the steadily growing Marvel movie universe, you may've expected the peeps at DC to simply follow along in kind. Instead, Zack Synder and chums have elected to put the cinematic cart before the horse, presenting us with numerous team-up flicks prior to further individual outings. Will the same tack be taken with the next Superman game? It's certainly possible, though it's perhaps best to follow the Arkham series' example at first.
Should the likes of Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter opt to appear, it may be best to restrict them all to small cameo roles, a la Robin in Arkham City. Or, failing that, the development team could choose to build upon the exciting dual play system introduced in Arkham Knight, but again, only in certain scenarios. This really should to be the Superman show - the rest of the League can wait for later. Let's get the big blue boyscout established in style, and then we can build out.