Superman Returns: The Videogame Impressions

We check out the Man of Steel's upcoming console adventure.

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EA showed off an updated version of Superman Returns running on the Xbox 360 at its Studio Showcase event today. The forthcoming game is based in part on the recent film of the same name but beefs up the adventure by adding content drawn from the iconic hero's extensive comic heritage. Though we weren't able to get our hands on the game, we were able to get a look at a sampling of the action you'll experience.

The demo began with a montage of the cinematics that are going to be used to tell the game's story. The cinematics are all being done in the game engine, and thanks to the 360's considerable graphics power, they look very impressive. The key characters are being brought to authentic virtual life because EA was able to secure the rights to the main cast's likenesses and their participation in the voice recording.

Once we had our gander at the cinematics, we were able to see the game in motion. Given the work-in-progress state of the game, the frame rate wasn't completely stable, but the rep demoing the game noted that the goal is to have the final game run at a minimum of 30 frames per second. The first part of the demo showed off the Man of Steel flying around Metropolis and facing the now familiar menace of Metallo, one of the new comic-influenced elements of the game. The Kryptonite-empowered menace did its fair share of stomping around and fired off a rocket that threatened the fair city. The menace to the city forms one of your main concerns because, given Superman's legendary invulnerability, you don't have to sweat dying. Instead, your success in the game hinges on the state of the city. You'll see a health bar in the upper right-hand corner of the screen that reflects the well-being of the city. As Metallo and other assorted menaces do their evil thing to the city and its people, the bar will decrease. If it runs down completely, it's game over.

Though he doesn't have a proper life bar, Superman does have a stamina meter you'll have to be conscious of, since it impacts how much of Superman's abilities you can access. As with any game based on the Man of Steel, the team has had to find a way to make his godlike powers accessible. Fortunately the team has opted to give you access to his full suite of powers from the get-go. The limitations are tied to the stamina meter, which is drained every time you use an ability--you'll have access to his super strength, flight, vision powers, and super breath. Vision and breath are assigned to the D pad, so tapping a direction will call up an ability such as heat vision or freezing breath. Double-tapping affects the range, so, for example, pushing a direction once for heat vision will let you fry a single target in a small range, and double-tapping increases the range of effect. You'll even gain a measure of fine control over Superman's abilities thanks to pressure-sensitive controls on the triggers. The amount of pressure you apply when triggering the ability affects its intensity. The catch to the different ranges and intensities for your abilities is that they drain stamina equal to their power.

One nice nod to the comics is the ability to quickly replenish your stamina bar by flying higher in the sky, which puts you closer to the sun--Superman's power source. Of course, you'll need to make sure you've saved up enough stamina to allow you to fly. Another gameplay element taken from the books is a new minigame-style sequence that lets you play as Bizarro and wreak havoc on the city. Comic fans should also be pleased to see the presence of War World and its evil ruler, Mongul.

The visuals in the game are, as we mentioned early, coming along, but they still have the expected work-in-progress blemishes. The frame rate is in need of some tightening, but there's a lot of potential on display thanks to the massive city created for the game and all its different districts. One nice touch to the game on display was that it was running at 1080i.

The audio has some neat touches aside from the movie-cast participation. The soundtrack will feature more than two hours of original music that's layered and that will adjust dynamically depending on what you're doing. So, for example, when you take to the sky, the strings in the piece will come to the forefront, while horns will be more prominent when you're closer to the ground.

Based on what we saw, there's a good amount of potential on display in Superman Returns. Given the rough road Supes has taken in video games over the years, we're hopeful Superman Returns' approach will live up to our expectations of what a hero game should be. So far we like what we see, but we're eager to dig our teeth into the game and see how it all handles. Superman Returns is currently slated to ship this fall around the time of the film's release on DVD. Look for more in the coming months.

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