There have been comic book characters cropping up in video games for years, pretty much since the inception of the gaming console. And comic creators have been helping out the game industry for a while now (Warren Ellis wrote the storyline to Hostile Waters while Paul Jenkins worked on titles such as Legacy of Kain, Twisted Metal Black and the exceptional God of War, and Grant Morrison wrote the storyline to Predator: Concrete Jungle for example). However it’s only with the current generation of games consoles that things have really hotted up – more processing power and storage space have lead to a very different gaming experience that goes some way to capturing the exiting, ever evolving world of comics. I’ll stick with what is actually available at your local video games emporium and the more interesting asides in the cross pollination between the two disciplines.
Perhaps the most interesting collaboration in recent years has to be Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects. There was a five issue mini-series leading up to the launch of the game. EA are the biggest games developer in the world so no wonder the had the clout to get Marvel to jump on board in a big big way. The comics were ok, nothing special but far from rubbish and with Mark Millar working on the back stories of the new villains ‘The Imperfects’ as well as the single player story mode and with artist Jae Lee providing concept designs it had all the makings of one of the greatest comic video games of all time. The comic whetted our appetite, but then the game failed on most levels. It wasn’t a complete disaster but was full of glitchy flickering graphics with overly simplistic button mashing gameplay. It was hard to spot any input from Millar as the story was so simple. It could have worked well as a one on one beat ‘em up if they hadn’t reduced all the characters to having essentially the same moves and special powers (and let’s be honest the best thing about Marvel’s roster of superheroes is their varied powers, that Storm, Spider-Man and The Thing essentially play the same was such a missed opportunity). A shame, but the far older, far more basic, hyper-kinetic, 2D brawler Marvel vs Street Fighter from Capcom was far more fun and captured the superheroes and their powers more succinctly.
As I mentioned before there are tons of comic to film to video game conversions such as Batman Begins, Constantine and Fantastic 4 (which is particularly bad). Most are pretty basic, average games that just scrape by and buoy up their sales simply by the fact that they have a nice juicy movie license. The only game that really bucks that trend is Spider-Man 2, a huge free wheeling action adventure taking in elements of Grand Theft Auto with extra webbing. And interestingly the newest X-Men game that came out with the wave of marketing for X3 is a prequel, set between movies, featuring Iceman, Wolverine and Nightcrawler, and explains why Nightcrawler is absent form The Last Stand. You switch between the three characters (all voiced by the appropriate actors) and to be honest I didn’t mind it at all, it got a total kicking in the gaming press but that was a bit unfair. It’s no great shakes but the three varied characters and their very different special moves mean you can happily kill a few hours on this game. Shame the cut scenes are so appalling especially when you consider it was co-written by X-Men: The Last Stand screenwriter Zak Penn and Chris Claremont.
Marvel seem to have been far more pro-active in engaging the gaming world than DC. And while on the subject of Xavier’s team of spandex clad heroes, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse is a great action RPG. With 11 playable characters as the X-Men and The Brotherhood team up against the aforementioned uber-villian. Taking control of Magneto, as you’d imagine, is a total blast but the likes of Wolverine, Colossus, Juggernaut, Storm and even Toad are great fun as well. Add to that online multiplayer on PS2, PC and Xbox and you have a rich, well designed game that pays appropriate homage to its roots.
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, is a game of (much like it suggests) total destruction, and really does the angry green behemoth justice as you level buildings and create havoc on an exponential level. Great game, great license, totally frenetic gameplay and loads of great touches as you battle Abomination, various Hulk-Busters and more besides. The roster of special moves you can build up make the not-so-jolly green giant a walking one man army. Again written by Paul Jenkins, it’s one of the best comics to videogames licenses out there.
Garth Ennis and Jimmy Palmiotti worked on The Punisher from THQ with a story that very closely echoes “Welcome Back Frank” and intriguingly the game also stars Thomas Jane, from the recent movie, as the voice of The Punisher (although the character still looks like the classic comic incarnation and wasn’t modelled on the movie). Violent and bloody third person action shooter, its only real weakness was THQ were reprimanded by censors, got scared and switched all their brutally inventive interrogation scenes into grainy black and white obscuring all the blood and gore. What could have been a great game packed with cheap visceral thrills was again relegated to the decidedly average bracket.
Games developers Rebellion went as far as buying 2000AD outright just to have complete control over all video game incarnations of its characters. And the latest product of this acquisition is Rogue Trooper. Getting Gordon Rennie, who has written the character for the last five years, on board was a great start. For the uninitiated Rogue is a genetically engineered soldier fighting a future war on Nu-Earth. The game starts off with an exhilarating Saving Private Ryan style decimation of your brethren, and the rest of the game is spent trying to track down the traitor who sold out your squad. This really captures what made the comic great, but even if you’d never read a panel of the source material it’s a great third person shooter. It might add nothing new to the already burgeoning genre but what it does it pulls of with panache. Whether you have read the comic or not this is a literal blast, the back story is far more involving than most hastily constructed storylines featured in many video games. The action is frenetic and intelligently designed and this is a faithful adaptation for the fans.
Though perhaps the best video game/comic crossover yet has to be Ultimate Spider-Man. Every word of dialogue was written by USM writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Mark Bagley provided pencil designs for the characters. Ultimate Spider-Man is the most authentic comic-book game around. A great story that really captures the comic with a real sense of the characters involved. It’s also great fun to play, with the ever nimble Spider-Man’s web slinging and wall crawling leading to ambitious, yet brilliantly executed, gameplay dynamics.
This is only a selection of the comics based video games out there and with what sounds like the most ambitious comics based videogame yet, Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, on its way for Xbox360, PS3 and PC, things can only get better as the technology improves.