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Games: The Hidden Gems of the Superhero Genre

For way too long, Superhero games (or, more specifically, movie tie-in ones) were a bit naff and not worth your hard-earned money. The Superhero Genre really struggled.

Games based on the earlier Marvel cinematic universe movies like Iron Man, Thor and Captain America were all extremely average. Sure, you might be able to squeeze a couple of hours of dumb fun out of them, but that’s about all you would get. This wasn’t something new either, as going back further, there were loads of other lousy comic and superhero games littered through gaming history.

More often than not, games like this work best when they don’t need to contend with releasing around the same time as a movie and being able to tell their own story and not being a rehash of what’s on our cinema screens.

More recently, the movie tie-in game has died, and we have had some tremendous stand-alone experiences in their respective heroes’ more vast universes. As I look forward to upcoming games like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, Wolverine, Iron Man and Captain America and Black Panther, here are six from recent history that stood out as great.

There are way more than the seven games listed here that could have been recommended, but to make this list shorter, I’ve only picked one game for each feature character. Batman (the Arkham games) and Spiderman (Ultimate Spider-Man and Spider-Man: Web of Shadows) could have filled this list on their own.

Spider-Man 2; 2004

Let’s start with a GOAT, shall we?

Spiderman 2 delivered an incredible experience considering the hardware it was made for, with players finally feeling like Spidy swinging his way through a huge open-world Manhattan. The city’s verticality was unreal, with Spiderman able to travel as he wanted via the rooftops or even the streets below.

Although its story loosely followed the second Toby Maguire movie, many more of Spiderman’s enemies were featured here and not on the big screen. Rhino, Mysterio, and the Shocker help add something different to it’s story.

It’s an excellent game and still plays quite well via emulation, should you want to try it. Just make sure to stay away from the terrible Windows and PlayStation Portable ports which were completely different games than its console namesake.

The ageing game gets the nod ahead of Insomniacs’ more recent masterpiece, but only because it laid the groundwork years earlier for them to refine and expand on.

The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction; 2003

A fun Hulk game should be easy to make, but outside of Ultimate Destruction, few have managed it. The game nailed what makes the character so much fun and what players want to do as him.

Destroy stuff.

Released in the middle of a five-year period that would see us get three different Hulk games, Ultimate Destruction lets the player run wild through a semi-destructible open world. It could have been a better-looking game, but it deserves to be commended for offering the number of deformable objects and effects on screen, even if they are a bit blocky at times. You could even bring down some buildings!

The game’s story felt very much like it had been taken directly from the Hulk comics but was a bit of a strange place as it was noted to be a stand-alone sequel to the 2003 Hulk game (which in turn was based on the non-Marvel Universe Hulk movie by Ang Lee).

One other point I remember loving was the collectable comics that unlocked different Hulk skins to play as and some artwork too. Developers Radical Entertainment made this such a fun destruction simulator. It even flexed some of the muscles that would later be shown off in Prototype four years later (another excellent Superhero/Antihero game).

Batman: Arkham City; 2011

Arkham City gets the nod ahead of the other games in the Arkham series, but all of them are outstanding experiences. The 2011 release was a considerably bigger game than the original and let the player explore freely around Arkham City prison.

Featuring a sumptuous mix of combat and stealth, Arkham City featured an engaging story and plenty of side content to keep players busy. One of the other reasons the sequel felt like such an upgrade over the original was other campaigns, such as DLC featuring Catwoman and Robin, along with Nightwing in the games challenge maps.

Everything about the game was bigger and better than before (and Arkham Asylum was already a great game). Although this is my personal favourite of the series, go back and play any of the fun if you haven’t already; every game is a great experience.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine; 2009

Soon Insomniac will have a go at bringing Wolverine to PlayStation gamers (mostly likely in 2024, but it could be even later) as they hopefully add to their already sterling work with Marvel. However, if you have access to a PS3 or Xbox 360, you can already play a fantastic Wolverine game.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine was an action-adventure video game based on the 2009 film of the same name. The game’s release coincided with the movie’s release on May 1, 2009, for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Windows, Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PlayStation Portable by Raven Software.

Although it was relatively short, the combat and visuals were great, even featuring Wolverine’s body getting increasingly damaged in real-time before his regenerative healing ability would see wounds covered up with freshly grown skin. If that sounds brutal, it was. The game took an ultra-violent approach to combat, much more in line with what many fans of the character would like to see in the movies (at least until Logan).

The game didn’t follow the exact plot of the movie and was all the better for this. Unfortunately, like a few titles on here, it’s not the easiest to pick as it was de-listed and removed from all digital storefronts on January 1, 2014. If you want to jump into and give it a try, you’ll need to shop the second-hand market.

Deadpool; 2013

Deadpool has few games to his name, and if you look at critic reception alone, you might think this isn’t worth a look. Look a little closer, and you’ll find that the 2013 High Moon Studios game is a fan favourite.

It has everything you would expect from a Deadpool game, breaking the 4th wall and crazy and off-the-wall humour. This game is not afraid to take the piss out of itself.

You’ll get to meet and play alongside a few notable members of the X-Men in a pretty straightforward 3rd person action-adventure game. This isn’t one of the greatest games of all time, but the writing is actually funny, the combat is good, and you’ll have fun during any play-through.

Here is an excerpt of the plot… “When Deadpool’s pitch for “the most awesome game ever” starring himself is rejected by High Moon Studios, he sets off explosives at the studio, forcing them to cooperate. He even hires Nolan North as his voice actor. When the game’s script is delivered to him, Deadpool, finding it boring, draws all over it with a red crayon.”

That sums up the game; if you see it preowned, give it a try, and you’ll have a great evening of play.

The Punisher; 2005

The Punisher is a third-person shooter in which the player controls the Marvel Comics antihero, the Punisher. The game was developed by Volition and published by THQ, and it was released in 2005 for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 2, and the original Xbox.

It used elements of the Punisher movie featuring Thomas Jane from 2004 and some of the earlier comic book stories. The game was well noted at the time for featuring some graphic interrogations of enemies, so much so that the developers had to make a new censored version to avoid an adults-only rating.

Imagine part Max Payne and part Manhunt, and your getting near to what’s on offer here. The Punisher has always been one of my favourite marvel characters, purely because of the darkness surrounding him. The game showcased this in style and featured an excellent 3rd person shooter underneath this all.

I’d love to see someone look into a remake or reboot, and someone like The Coalition could take a B-tier movie game into AAA direction. Sadly this is unlikely, but if you have an older console (or a PC for some emulation), The Punisher is a game worth playing.

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