Oh, God…could it be? A Superman 64 sequel? Could the universe possibly punish Superman fans with more rings to fly through? Thankfully, no. The Bruce Timm styled Superman gracing the cover of a video game will forever give me chills after quite possibly the most infamous video game cartridge of all time, but the one touch of relief Superman: Shadow of Apokolips would offer is the subtly placed Atari logo on the side of the cover.
Platforms: Game Cube, PlayStation 2
Released: Sept. 25, 2002
Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s better than Superman 64! I’m not sure it could have been possible to create a worse video game than Titus Software’s Superman for the Nintendo 64, and fortunately, with Atari and Infogrames now behind the Superman license, Superman fans are treated to their first coherent 3-D Man of Steel video game. There’s actually a lot to like and even be excited about when Shadow of Apokolips first loads in your PS2 or GameCube. The brilliant Superman animated series comes to life in beautifully cell shaded and exquisitely animated graphics, the opening cinematic shows off a deep rogues gallery for you as Superman to overcome, and nearly the entire voice cast of the show reprise their roles for this video counterpart. Sadly, it doesn’t take long to see through the game’s inspiring presentation.
The most exciting prospect of a modern Superman game is taking advantage of his most popular super power: his ability to fly. Titus Software did a great job of shattering the dreams of many who couldn’t wait to take flight above Metropolis in 1999, but three years later, the dream was finally realized. Your first task in the opening tutorial mission is to go up, up and away, and, after getting use to the specific controls, it’s quite well done, and as exhilarating as fans in 2002 could have hoped. Metropolis is rather bare, but still nice looking, and Superman’s cape flutters with so much grace. Experiencing it for the first time is a great moment. A moment that is quickly spoiled by the entire rest of the game.
Shadow of Apokolips is a perfect example of a game being more frustrating than fun. The game’s biggest flaw is its extremely poor collision detection. Everything from clobbering the hordes of generic robot enemies, picking up objects, and simply targeting is often glitchy, over sensitive, or just doesn’t work. This is especially irritating during timed missions. When you have only minutes to defeat henchmen, find a key, defeat more henchmen, then fly the key up to its lock, precise movement is essential. Several times during this specific mission, I couldn’t pick up the key because, as I eventually learned, I was standing too close to it.
Compounding the frustration is the lack of excitement for every challenge you’re faced with. Saving the day feels more like a chore than a heroic accomplishment. Protect this, save them, destroy this, take that from here to there, blah, blah, blah, why should I care? The story is actually not bad, worthy of the animated series at best, though I was eventually disappointed. The title of the game is Superman: Shadow of Apokolips, implying heavy conflict with the baddest man in the universe himself, Darkseid. It’s not until the end of the game that you realize Metallo is this game’s main nemesis, with top villains like Darkseid and Luthor appearing only in cut scenes. Metallo, Livewire, and Parasite make up the game’s top bosses, and you don’t even face them until the last three levels of the game. Though the wait could have been worth it if any of the fights were the least bit fun, even the boss fights aren’t exempt from annoying “save them, protect that” chores stuck in the middle of the action.
The game goes back and forth on difficulty with simple drones dealing ridiculous amounts of damage, and bosses putting up no challenge what so ever. Heat vision, super breath, a “super smash” attack, and your fists of steal are your weapons against your many foes, but your heat vision is really the only ability you need to take down any threat. The game tries to balance Superman’s superness with a super power meter, but all it really does is make you wait an extra few seconds between enemies for the meter to refill. Far too often are you flying around avoiding enemy fire just for the means to eliminate them. It’s very disengaging, and not the least bit super.
The developers try to change the pace of the game by throwing in somewhat of a stealth-like mission where you, as Clack Kent, navigate Lex Labs. I appreciate this effort, but the pace is far too slow and hardly interesting.
With a great voice cast, and impressive graphics and animation, so much of Shadow of Apokolips is good, but it’s still not enough for casual or hardcore Superman fans to spend the five hours running through it; most of that time being spent struggling with the game’s mechanics and replaying failed missions.
Around the same time, Atari also released Superman: The Man of Steel for the Xbox, which took a more comic book approach, but suffered a lot of the same problems as Shadow of Apokolips, though without the outstanding presentation.
Ten years later, the Atari Superman games are still the closest we’ve been to a decent solo Superman video game, and that’s a real shame. Though I still have faith we’ll eventually see the Superman game that will blow us away like Batman: Arkham Asylum once did for the caped crusader. But until then, I don’t see any more Superman discs going into my game consoles.
For more of The Comics Console, click here!