Hands-onSuperman: The Man of Steel

We check out Superman's upcoming foray onto the Xbox.

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We had the chance to play an alpha build of Superman: The Man of Steel today. The game is the first to be developed by Circus Freaks, a California-based studio made up of former Infogrames employees. The game takes a different approach toward the Man of Steel's adventures than Infogrames' other Superman title, which is based on the Warner Bros. animated series. Circus Freaks' game takes its cue from the comic and draws on the recent Y2K storyline, where Brainiac 13 infects Metropolis with a virus.

The game will initially offer one mode--story mode--but as you progress you'll open up a single mission mode that will let you replay any chapter you've cleared in the game. You'll eventually open up free and bonus modes as well. The story mode is the meat of the game, offering nine chapters broken up into 25 levels set in a variety of familiar and original locales. Fans should recognize Suicide Slum, the Phantom Zone, Warworld, and the city of Metropolis. The game will also feature levels set in deep space and in orbit around Earth. In terms of familiar faces, you'll find the supporting cast from the comic and quite a few familiar villains such as Mongul, Bizarro, Brainiac 13, Cyborg, and Metallo, along with a host of robotic enemies. The free mode will let you take a leisurely flight through any level you've cleared, while the bonus mode will let you check out a wealth of bonus material once you've unlocked it.

In terms of gameplay, Superman takes a tried-and-true approach to its action and features linear objective- based levels. Each level will start with an opening cinema that moves the story forward and sets the tone for what's to come. As you complete objectives, new dilemmas will arise to test your skill. For example, after moving a large piece of equipment to a set point in the city, Brainiac's robot drones will begin attacking the city, requiring you to take them on. Dealing with most enemies is a manageable challenge, thanks to the game's solid control and Superman's arsenal of powers, which are all readily available in the game. You'll be able to dispatch your foes with bursts of icy breath, searing blasts of heat vision, and some high-powered punches. You'll also be able to use Superman's telescopic and X-ray vision to look for trouble. An onscreen pointer, which represents the mighty one's superhearing will point toward your objectives, much like the compass in Activision's Spider-Man games. Control in the game works well. You'll use the left analog stick to change direction, while the right stick will control height, and using both in tandem is key when lifting massive objects. The left trigger will let you lock on to enemies and objects you can pick up, while the right trigger will let you zip to your destinations or close the gap between you and the targeted enemy. The face buttons will trigger your various vision powers and punch attacks. When using your telescopic and X-ray vision to look for trouble, you'll automatically home in on it and be left facing the direction you need to go when you toggle it off. The subtle feature is welcome due to the massive size of the game's levels.

Superman: The Man of Steel has a unique look that blends the comic's style with realism. The stylized end result is easy on the eyes and features a host of graphical effects. The levels you'll travel through are huge and sport quite a bit of detail that makes impressive use of the Xbox hardware. You'll see reflections on the buildings in Metropolis and all manner of lighting effects when you're in the heat of battle. The Phantom Zone offers some weird psychedelic effects that add a nice amount of creepiness. As for Superman himself, the man of steel looks very much like his 2D namesake. Sporting a detailed outfit complete with a dynamic cape that reacts on the fly to his movement, Superman definitely looks the part.

From what we played today, Superman: The Man of Steel is looking quite promising. The game was very playable and offered an engaging challenge. Look for more on the game in the coming weeks.

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