Has ever there been a more perilous geekventure than trying to compare the Marvel and DC superhero universes? Hardly. And yet, that's what software publishers wanted when releasing two marquee titles recently.
Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Asylum hit the scene on Aug. 25, followed soon after by the Sept. 15 release of Vicarious Visions' (along with Savage and n-Space) Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2. And while both emulate their source material to a strong degree, the use of their respective licensed characters is no contest.
Superhero games have always been difficult to translate, for some reason. Perhaps it's the general hokiness of the storylines or the implausibility of the action, but very rarely do developers hit the nail on the head. Just play a few rounds of Titus' Superman for Nintendo 64 and you'll see what I mean.
Arkham Asylum scores not because of any particular innovation — despite other critics raving about its originality, it's basically Tomb Raider with a good camera and combat system — but rather because it uses the Dark Knight's rich palette of villains and gadgets effectively. The storyline is meager yet absorbing, with the use of hallmark characters keeping comic dorks slavering for more. The Scarecrow's scenes — in which Batman's perception of reality is altered and he must symbolically free himself — are especially well-suited to the dark tone.
It is here where Marvel fails. While these are two different games, with Ultimate Alliance opting for action RPG-style play over stealth and puzzle-solving, the issue is that the heart isn't there. The game skims through both the "Secret War" and "Civil War" storylines, but plot is secondary to button-mashing through levels with your teammates.
This is ameliorated by the fact that UA supports four-player co-op, making it a blast with friends, but the missing ingredient is the true realization of the Marvelverse; you don't feel like any of the mutants the way you feel like Batman in Arkham. Even the old Justice League Heroes on Xbox did that, albeit with DC characters.
What does this say about the two factions? I'd be tempted to conclude that DC is better than Marvel, but I don't think that's the case. Focusing on one mythos at a time yields a more immersive experience. And while it's fun to team up Iron-Man and Wolverine, games like this should leave your interest piqued enough to call for a sequel. In that case, I can't wait to see how Rocksteady works up something with Two-Face and the Penguin.
— Joshua Gillin writes about video games and entertainment news for tbt* Feel free to challenge his opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.