With Batman: Arkham Knight now in the hands of players (at least those on consoles), speculation about what developer Rocksteady might be tackling next is sprouting up all over the place. Unsurprisingly, fans have jumped at the idea that the studio’s next title will see players take control of the Man of Steel.
Mind you, this isn’t the first time rumors of the studio developing a Superman game have done the rounds. Similar rumors surfaced back in 2011 when Arkham City was released. At that time, spokespeople from Rocksteady did acknowledge an interest in the character but conceded that the most compelling aspects of Superman aren’t well-suited to games as a medium.
They do have a point here – it’s not easy to find a way to challenge the player when they’re controlling one of the most powerful fictional heroes ever conceived. However, it wasn’t all that long ago that the idea of someone making a Batman game that was any good – let alone one that captured the essence of the source material as Arkham Asylum did – felt similarly impossible.
Rocksteady’s loyalty to the complexities of such source material has been one of the saving graces of their games and a factor which distinguishes their Arkham trilogy as the Batman games. The aesthetic, mechanical and narrative components of the Arkham series all contribute to capturing that fantasy of what it’s like to be The Dark Knight – and a similarly comprehensive and polished approach to Superman isn’t without its merits.
Rocksteady’s Arkham games strike this really satisfying balance between capturing that experience of “being the Batman” and playing a fun video game. It’d be really interesting to see them tackle the technical and design challenges that a playable Superman would present. While it’s easy to imagine the Man of Steel’s X-ray vision filling in nicely for Batman’s “detective-vision”, the large-scale nature of Superman’s powers would pave the way for some more dynamic additions to the their style of game.
All this said, the biggest complication facing a potential Superman game will ultimately be finding a way to both let the player experience the power of the last son of Krypton and maintain and engaging level of challenge for said players. However, this may be less insurmountable than it first appears.
Superman’s whole identity deals with his ability and desire to save and protect people so perhaps the best approach to gamifying his source material is to shift Rocksteady’s combat mechanics to a more defensive place – making it less about whether Superman can survive combat encounters and more about whether or not the people of the city he is protecting will.
WB used the successes of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy as template when it came to adapting the rest of their comic-book universe to film. Could it really be that hard to imagine that Rocksteady’s Arkham series could fill a similar role when it comes to games?
Their success with comic-book licenses is almost unprecedented and while there’s a danger the studio could be locked into making these kinds of games, Superman is just the right license to help them break free of the action-adventure mould they’ve more or less perfected in Arkham Knight.