There’s a scene two thirds of the way through the film ‘Superman Returns’ where Lex Luthor has Superman at his mercy. After doing battle with thugs on Lex’s man-made super continent and being weakened by kryptonite, Superman is on his knees staring into an abyss over the edge of a cliff. Grabbing a shard of Kryptonite, Lex stabs him in the side and before pushing the beaten superhero over the edge, whispers to him sarcastically, ‘Now fly’.
I feel like someone did this to the iOS version of Man of Steel before its release. Here is a Superman game where Superman in all his underpants-over-trousers glory, doesn’t actually fly.
OK, he does fly at certain points, but you have much less control over it than you’d want. If you pick up a superhero game, you’d reasonably expect to do the things that superhero does – Spiderman swings through the city with his webs, Batman spreads his cape and glides through the night, and Superman apparently takes part in a majority ground-based ‘Infinity Blade’ rip-off. Who knew?
So somewhat disappointingly, it’s a straight up brawler. You’d think it was nailed-on that the guy who draws his powers from our sun ( I sunbathe extensively every August and nothing happens by the way), would be able to zoom through Metropolis at will after some of the recent superhero games featured on iOS, but, alas not, it is what it is.
You know what to expect: swipe to attack and perform combos, tap to block and parry, and dodge when you feel like it. If you’ve played Infinity Blade or Avengers Initiative, you’ve played this. The difference comes in some of the dressing; the game follows the plot of the film with brilliantly drawn cut-scenes, wonderfully atmospheric voice acting and the score taken directly from the movie. Now I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, so I can’t be totally sure about the music part, but I did borrow my wife’s headphones and listen to snippets of the soundtrack on iTunes, so…oh never mind.
Combat, like the game as a whole, feels like a missed opportunity. There’s some goodness here – controls are responsive and easy to get to grips with and Knockbacks (attacks on a stunned enemy) exhibit some cool scenery destruction as your foes are sent flying into police cars, tanks and the sides of buildings. When the camera pans out as Superman throws an enemy into the sky, only to beat them back down into the ground, or when he grabs them in mid-air and lands in a new area to continue the fight with screen rumbling as
they both career into the ground, you get a sense of how much more scale the game could and should have possessed. The problem is that it’s all a bit of a paper tiger. The first time you send one of Zod’s henchmen sprawling into a police car with a bone-crunching punch (the sound effects are brilliant with headphones), the impact leaves a massive dent. You’ll like this.
However the same car/ wall of a building/ tank that’s been in the middle of the road since last Tuesday acting as a cushion to your enemy for fifth time in the same fight is something you definitely will not like. It’s a visual trick that’s repeated ad nauseum and most battles play out exactly the same fashion, only with different locales; punch a henchman a couple of times and you’ll be sure to catapult him through a police car, wall or water silo at the same point in the fight. Superman can eventually be defeated (complete with hilariously camp death animation), but those cop cars just keep on getting smashed. It must be comforting for the police force of Metropolis to know that their vehicles can withstand more damage than the most powerful being in the universe.
Having said that though, the fights with General Zod are genuinely exhilarating. As the music swells behind you, Zod manages to give you a stiff challenge, ramping up the epic feel, matching you blow for blow and making you feel as though you’ve come up against your equal instead of identikit cyborgs with all the toughness of someone named Harold.
The rest of the game feels a touch soulless. Never do you truly feel like Superman they way you felt like Spiderman or Batman in Gameloft’s flawed, but enjoyable attempts. Superman is about three things – flying, beating up bad guys and saving the city. They’ve got one of things right, but aside from a mini section where you gain points for dragging enemies into debris just above ground, you never really take to the skies with the ability to control the world’s favourite superhero.
Enemies are all very similar from fight to fight, the environments are completely deserted (where are the people to save?) and the graphics aren’t even that nice – washed out and lacking detail. You can kit out Supes in a variety of suits as you gain XP from your actions, but something about this seems forced; anything other than the iconic red and blue and it just begins to feel like a generic brawler – something else to make you feel less like Superman. It’s also unintentionally funny that your character looks more like Brandon Routh than Henry Cavill.
You can use Superman’s powers too, but only heat vision is on offer, no freeze breath. You don’t really need either though, fists are almost always enough. At least that’s what my dad said when I told him I was getting bullied at school.
In the end, shoehorning Superman into the now-hackneyed ‘Infinity Blade’ template just doesn’t work for me. With the film in theaters after a long layoff, and the fact that this has to be one of the biggest IPs in entertainment, I expected something little more original. ‘Infinity Blade’ did it first, and ‘Infinity Blade’ did it better. Now fly.
Man of Steel is available now for £1.99 on iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch. Get it now on the App Store