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Superman Returns (Xbox 360) artwork

Superman Returns (Xbox 360) review


"Superman Returns is a frustrating experience because the mechanics for a successful take on this mistreated franchise are all in place. It actually feels like you’re Superman because you’re the one hurrying across Metropolis to save people and protect the city. The game doesn’t drop you off at set-points or curtail your powers (save for a stamina bar). You’re allowed to lift and throw just about everything, set fire to cars and perform super-human combos. The enemy encounters may grow tiresome due to the extreme repetition, but the comic, action-packed duels are epic good vs. evil duels. At first. "



The first twenty minutes of Superman Returns are impressive.

Its Metropolis is a daunting, colossal city with dismal industry, gleaming financial districts and grid-locked highways. When you’re a near-invincible superhero the idea of feeling intimidated by anything is laughable (unless it happens to be a green meteor rock). However, even the Man of Steel feels small and insignificant against this epic Metropolis.

You have a bird’s-eye view of this astonishing creation, though! Head for the clouds and you can look down upon the entire city. Glimpse the tiny cars as they drive along roads that twist away behind sky-scrapers. Away to the north lies the distant sight of the industrial district, joined to the mainland by a red suspension bridge. You can stand on the top of this bridge, cape billowing gently in the breeze. Why? Just because you can! I haven’t even worked out how people travel up this steep, mountainous city, but I suspect it has something to do with the massive, suspended super-highway that circles Metropolis.

Superman doesn’t need roads, of course. He can shatter the sound barrier, which is vital if you’re to make it across the city in time -- just watch out for tall buildings! You’re supposed to be protecting Metropolis, after all.

Being able to fly wherever you desire is almost TOO much freedom, though. Once the novelty wears off you’ll only ever ask yourself two questions: Where do I go? What do I do? Superman Returns steals the “sandbox” formula from Spider-Man 2, but it loses the charm. The only diversions are generic races and a tiresome mini-game that has you smash cars as Bizarro. You can hunt down lost kittens, but this hardly provides the light-hearted fun that Peter Parker’s pizza-delivery job did. Metropolis may be an enormous creation, yet it lacks character. Once you’ve seen one sky-scraper you’ve seen them all.

The absence of side-quests pushes the main adventure to the fore, but its formulaic, tired approach wilts under the pressure. To advance through the central story-line you must raise your experience, and this process soon becomes repetitive. All you have to do is fight enemies, over and over again. They appear in clusters, and Superman must use his super powers (ice breath, laser eye-sight, etc.) and brute strength to eliminate them. At first, being able to melt through the defences of a robot from across the other side of the road and then freeze a tree he had set alight feels liberating. Before long it’s little more than a thankless chore, though.

Superman Returns is a frustrating experience because the template for a successful take on this long-mistreated franchise is in place. It actually feels like you’re Superman because you’re the one hurrying across Metropolis to save people and protect the city. You don’t even have a health bar -- instead the city does! Superman Returns doesn’t drop you off at set-points or curtail your powers (save for a customary stamina bar), either. You’re allowed to lift and throw just about everything, set fire to cars and perform super-human combos. The enemy encounters may grow tiresome due to the extreme repetition, but the comic, action-packed duels are dramatic good vs. evil duels. At first.

Tearing into winged demons in an epic mid-air collision is fun. Unleashing an enormous uppercut on an unfortunate robot only to smash it back down into the road is fun. Repeating these exact same scenarios a hundred times is NOT fun, though.

This adventure is not the travesty that Superman 64 was. It isn’t plagued by horrific controls or inane objectives, however it does suffer from limited ambition. Metropolis is an impressive creation, yet it’s just… there. There’s nothing to do other than fight robots and monsters until you earn enough EXP to watch the next cut-scene. These cinematics are entirely unrelated to the action, though! Once you’ve seen them Superman Returns will direct you to an unrelated boss fight with one of Superman’s famous foes.

These typify the malaise that underpins the adventure. Conquering Bizarro involves destroying his minions (who are, of course, robots). This causes him to drop his kryptonite shield, at which point you leap in and smash him with uppercuts. You have to do this for about half-an-hour. Superman Returns may not suffer from control nightmares or camera issues, but it is afflicted by a much bigger problem: boredom-inducing gameplay.

Rating: 4/10

janus's avatar
Staff review by (December 26, 2006)

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