Featured Columns

December 9, 2010

The Comics Console: Superman: The Man of Steel

Before we get into Superman, there’s a new Batman: Arkham City teaser that dropped yesterday, featuring Batman taking out some special forces agents who appear to be hunting the Dark Knight. If you haven’t seen it yet, see it here, and for those of you counting down the seconds for more Arkham City anything, a new full trailer is confirmed for this Saturday’s Spike TV Video Game Awards, along with the first full trailer of Thor: God of Thunder. Be sure to tune in on Saturday, or check them out the next day online!

It’s no secret that Superman has a less than stellar reputation with video games; one of the worst video games ever made was the infamous Superman 64. If you can believe it, in 2002, a sequel to Superman 64 was developed for the GameCube and PlayStation 2 as Superman: Shadow of Apokolips. Like Superman 64, Shadow of Apokolips resembles the look and style of Superman: The Animated Series. But while Superman was taking on Darkseid on the GameCube and PS2 in a kid friendly environment, the Xbox was receiving an entirely different Superman game with a design more loyal to the comic books.

Superman: The Man of Steel

Publisher: Atari
Developer: Circus Freak
Released: Nov. 19, 2002
Platforms: Xbox
ESRB: Teen

I can’t blame anyone for rolling their eyes at the idea of a Superman game, or purposely overlooking anything involving the Man of Steel in video games, or, in my case, just being down right terrified at the thought. But the bright side to a game like Superman 64 being so bad is that there is nowhere to go but up from there. I could go on and on about all the different ways Superman: The Man of Steel is an improvement over Superman 64, but there are only so many hours in the day, and the only thing in common between the two games is the Superman license. Other than that, Man of Steel is a brand new, built from the ground up Superman game that is light years better in every way, but, sadly, that’s still not saying much.

In many ways, Superman: The Man of Steel is arguably one of the best Superman games of all time, but it is still far from being a great pure video game. The first thing fans will notice that the developers got right was not borrowing from any TV show or movie for the game. The look of the Last Son of Krypton and his surroundings comes from the comics story line Superman: Y2K, during the turn of the millennium, when Metropolis was “upgraded” by Brainiac 13.

Though The Man of Steel‘s style comes from the comics, the story doesn’t pull from anything specific, but still works well for a Superman game. Basically, Lex Luthor has come across a serious bit of Brainiac tech, and B13 comes back to Earth to reclaim it, leaving Superman no other choice but to intervene in the shoving match between his two greatest foes. Though a simple set up, the story does have its many twists and turns, and was even penned by current WildStorm editor, Scott Peterson, who would also go on to write the story for Batman: Dark Tomorrow.

The next thing Circus Freak got right in this game is bringing the full Superman experience to life for the player. All of Superman’s staple super powers are used in the game in some way. Everything from super strength, flight, super speed, super hearing, heat vision, freeze breath, and X-ray vision are here. The super power you’ll be using the most is flight, and it is probably the best part of the game. Unlike previous Superman games, the flight mechanic isn’t broken and frustrating. It’s a real joy to be able to fly at super speed from one location to the next.

More great highlights of the game are the many different environments where the story takes you. From Metropolis, to Earth orbit, to an asteroid field, to inside the Brainiac mother ship, and even to War World. The best part about these environments are how big and well detailed they are. Though the cityscapes may be lacking a few million citizens walking around, it’s still fun to go exploring through each map.

Of course there is no such thing as a great comic book superhero game without great comic book supervillains. Aside from the aforementioned Lex Luthor and Brainiac, Bizzaro, Metallo, Hank Henshaw (a.k.a., Cyborg Superman), Mongual, and Mr. Mxyzptlk are all giving you more reasons to be superheroic.

The hardcore comic book fans will also appreciate the unlockable costumes like classic 1938 Superman, Kingdom Come Superman, Black Suit Superman (No, that’s not Superman with the Venom symbiote), and more. Unfortunately, that’s where all the great parts about this game end, and the bad begin.

Perhaps you noticed I haven’t mentioned much of the actual gameplay of Superman: The Man of Steel. Well, gameplay is simple. Too simple, maybe. Gameplay consists of about four basic missions.

1. Destroying robots/henchmen
2. Putting out fires
3. Defusing bombs
4. Lifting and relocating large objects

Your first mission in the game as Superman is to fly to a building being attacked by robots, take out the robots, take out the generators producing these robots, and put out the fires they’ve caused with your freeze breath. A simple, and fun first mission as Superman, right? Sure. It just sucks that this same mission is repeated throughout eighty percent of the game. At least the robots offer some diversity. There are three types of drones in the game: Robots who are beaten with freeze breath, robots that are beaten with heat vision, and robots that are beaten with pure fisticuffs.

Putting out fires is pretty basic, you just use your freeze breath, and you even do the same when defusing bombs, but lifting and relocating large objects is pretty cool just because when you lift a massive object, the physics of the game change so that it’s more difficult to fly with this giant object in your hands.

So you basically you play through these same missions in different combinations, in different environments through the whole game, and yes, it gets insanely repetitive, and eventually boring. This is the worst part of the game, and it is a big flaw to over look. I agree that in a video game, presentation never outweighs how fun the game is, and even though The Man of Steel‘s presentation is a Superman fan’s dream game come true, the gameplay keeps it from being a great video game.

The graphics are pretty good for the era, even if character design leaves a bit to be desired, and the voice acting is at times hilariously bad. Imagine the most exaggerated Christopher Reeve Superman impression ever, and that’s your Superman for this game; and though the description sounds bad, it works, because, in my opinion, one of the best parts of Superman is that Gee-Whiz quality his persona has radiated throughout the decades.

Superman: The Man of Steel is not a perfect game, but it’s still a good Superman game if you play it right. The ideal way to play Man of Steel is with one of the many cheat codes activated. A big argument against the Superman character is that he’s too powerful, and while parts of that argument may be true as far as the literature involving Superman, as a video game character, he can’t be powerful enough. I mean, if you want a real Man of Steel experience, why not be as invulnerable as the character is perceived to be? Along with your health meter is a “city meter,” meaning not only can you die as Superman himself, but allowing the city to die results in a mission failure, meaning you’ll have to restart. So why not activate a simple cheat code and be the best Superman you can be, right?

If you’ve never been a Superman fan, you really don’t have much reason to play this game, but simply flying around Metropolis is still a lot of fun, and one of my favorite parts about this game is that it exudes an urgency in its missions that really makes you feel like you are a superhero. And if you are a Superman fan, this is definitely a game you want in your collection, but only if you have an original Xbox, because, sadly, there is no update available to play this game on an Xbox 360.

So until Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment make the call to develop an “Arkham Asylum” equivalent to the Superman franchise, The Man of Steel is as close to a great Superman game as fans will get for now.

For more segments of The Comics Console, click here!

Andrew Hurst



  1. I’m wondering when will a great Superman game come along and will I even care when it gets here.

  2. I think a really well done Superman game could be just as well received, if not more, than a game like Batman Arkham Asylum. Superman is a massive character with massive powers, and he needs a huge scale game to compliment that. And just being able to actually feel like Superman would be awesome.

  3. I just don’t think the time has been taken to actually put out a quality Superman game. Every main villain in a Superman game needs to be a threat like Parasite, Doomsday, Darksied, etc. Not a slew of street thugs wielding pipes and trash cans. And maybe they can get a little more creative about the use of his powers that won’t end up being boring and repetitive.

  4. I agree. There is no such thing as a great Superman game. Like I said, if done right, it could be amazing. WBIE just needs to put some real energy and effort into it like they did with Batman AA.

  5. […] because it wasn’t ready for the theatrical debut, and it was still a recycled version of Superman: Man of Steel released for the Xbox in […]

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