The Superman franchise on video game consoles has been a complicated state of affairs since gamers first guided some crudely animated sprites on the Atari 2600. The task of creating a video game that captures the essence of one of the most recognized and loved comic book characters has always posed a formidable challenge to game developers. Some have been up to the task, while others have clearly not been, since what works in a comic book hasn't always translated into a good game. Considering the most recent entry from the franchise on the Nintendo 64, it looked like the man of steel was in need of a rescue. Enter Infogrames developer Sheffield House, which has taken on the daunting task of restoring the last son of Krypton's good name with gamers in its upcoming game for the PlayStation 2--Superman: Shadow of Apokolips. A 3D action game set in the universe of the Warner Bros. animated series, Superman: SOA looks like a step in the right direction. We traveled to Sheffield, England, and got a chance to check out an early build of the game.
The game's plot, developed and written in conjunction with DC Comics, finds perennial Superman nemesis Lex Luthor trying to find a way to best use the alien technology he's discovered to destroy the man of steel. One of Luthor's first attempts sees him freeing the deadly kryptonite-powered cyborg, Metallo, and arming him with the alien weapons in the hopes that he'll take out the mighty one. However, there's more to the alien technology than meets the eye. As you work through the game, you'll find out the nature of Darkseid's involvement and his relationship with Luthor. The game's story, worthy of a story arc in the animated series, is a nice touch that keeps things interesting.
Fans of the Warner Bros. animated series will recognize many of the sights and sounds found in the PS2 game. The main cast in the game will include Superman, Clark Kent, Metallo, Lex Luthor, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Professor Hamilton, Angela Chen, and Maggie Sawyer, while some of the other villains will include the Interbots, Livewire, Parasite, Kanto, and Darkseid. The various characters will be voiced in the game by the voice talent used for the animated series, including Tim Daly, Clancy Brown, Malcom Macdowell, Lori Petty, and Michael York. In addition, any sound effects used in the series will be used in the game to stay as true to the cartoon as possible.
Fans of the series will also be pleased with the game's look, which is faithful to that of the cartoon. Superman: SOA uses a graphics style similar to the cel-shading technique seen in Sheffield House's Dreamcast game Wacky Races, and it features a slick art style that is extremely impressive. We were able to check out a few of the game's environments, which were made up of roughly 25,000 polygons each, including Metropolis, Manheim Warehouse, Lex Dam, Lex's Office, the interior of Stryker's Island Prison, and a mountain base. Though the early levels lacked objects such as pedestrians in the street and enemies, they all captured the look of the series. The city of Metropolis is rendered in a combination of pastels, and it features extensive layering of highways and buildings, which give the city an impressive sense of size. Lex Dam is also impressive, thanks to the huge leaking dam in the background that you'll eventually interact with over the course of that particular level.
In terms of the character Superman, the man of steel has never looked or moved better--he looks quite heroic thanks to his 5,500-polygon model and an animated cape that casts shadows on him. The cel-shading technique used to render him captures his animated look perfectly and works well with the various other special effects thrown in to reflect his powers. You'll find a variety of effects such as objects that become transparent when he uses his X-ray vision, wind animations for his super-breath, a motion blur that appears around him when you trigger a speed dash to accelerate or dodge right or left, and a seismic wave that spreads out in concentric circles when he slams into the ground at high speed. And the game's impressive particle system will make objects burst into flames when Superman uses his heat vision. In addition to the flashier effects used to show Superman's powers, you'll find more subtle ones as well, such as the real-time deformation of the various vehicles you'll find in the streets of Metropolis. Sometimes during a battle you may find yourself slammed into one, which will dent it significantly.
As for control, Superman is still being tweaked by Sheffield House, which is striving to keep the game accessible yet make all of Superman's various abilities available to you. A lock-on feature will help you target objects to fire your heat vision at, as well as target objects you'll be able to lift and use thanks to your super-strength. Unlike in previous Superman games where you had to collect items to gain access to Superman's powers, in this game you'll be able to use all of his abilities from the start. The only limiting factor will be a meter that tracks how much solar power he has stored up, which will affect the use of some of his abilities.
Gameplay in Superman will be story driven and will feature scripted events and multipart missions within the game's 15 levels that will include rescuing civilians, battling bosses, solving puzzles, and exploring. You'll even get a chance to play as Clark Kent. We were able to get a taste of how it will work in the dam level we played, which had us facing off against Interbots and rescuing civilians by carrying them to safety or by clearing a path for their escape using Superman's breath to extinguish fires. Once everyone was safe, a new part of the level opened up with new objectives to complete. It worked well and flowed together nicely thanks to cutscenes that used the in-game graphics engine.
So far Superman is showing a lot of promise. It has the look and feel of the cartoon down pat. We're very curious to see how it all comes together. Look for more on the game in the coming months. Superman: Shadow of Apokolips is set to ship in the fall for the PlayStation 2.