The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 13
DC and it's imprints are all enjoying some great (or at least good) adaptations of their franchises into games. Batman Arkham, The Darkness 1-2, The Wolf Among Us, and Gotham City Imposters all stand as testament to a growing trend in playable comic characters. And yet, we could really do with some new faces amongst their games.
This is an OPINION piece. That means it might not agree with you to a T.
The present proposed line up for the main DC games is Batman, Batman, and some more Batmans (he's even the biggest character in my header image!). Let's consider for a moment though, if they actually -weren't- to portray the caped crusader. With a treasure trove of characters, settings, and power sets -- they could effectively make almost any game. However, some heroes and villains are better than others. Here are my recommendations.
1. The Joker. This has already been barely attempted with the Become The Joker downloadable content for Mac And PS3 (and through a little modding, PC.), and it as a laugh riot. The Joker is possibly more iconic and psychologically interesting than Batman, and the easiest to spin off into a game. Obviously if you tried to make it tied into the Arkham series, you'd be limited in what you could do because he's very well defined, as is the gameplay. But why would you do that?
The Joker is a very flexible character. Mark Hammil's version was more comical yet also far more intimidating and sometimes downright disturbing while remaining appropriate for kids (at least in the animated series). Jack Nicholson's character was more self-aware and oddly grounded in that he just loves being a vicious sociopath who makes jokes. Heath Ledger went further into this sort of mindset, creating a demented genius who wants nothing more than anarchy while chuckling in your face as you try to stop his master plans, knowing full and well that the only person who can stop him won't dare touch him more than to incarcerate him. These are just the most well known ones. There was the monkey like Rastafarian variant, and the dry (in more ways than one) Young Justice version. You can do so much with him that you shouldn't pin him down to a style already done.
Instead, let's come up with something NEW for him, or take one of the classics. Don't tread on Rocksteady's work, just make another game universe. It's a world through Joker's eyes and ears that we'll be playing. That is such an equal parts unsettling and awesome prospect. It could be done like a black comedy horror game, it could be a crazed third person shooter with some brawling and stealth tossed it, or you could even make it a Telltale style adventure game. He's proficient with hand to hand combat and weaponry. He can be committing crimes or just breaking out of Arkham Asylum. You can take reference from any of the story arcs relating to him. You've got almost the entire DC universe as your oyster, because we all know Gotham isn't the only place Joker visits. He could team up with other famous villains like Lex Luthor, Poison Ivy, Count Vertigo, Scarecrow, Sinestro, Harley Quinn, and hell, let's throw a really funny section with him fighting alongside Solomon Grundy to boot.
It can be done in a twisted comedy tone to the tune of Deadpool or more serious, with just Joker being a dark sociopath finding humor in the malevolence. I mean, let's face it, if GTA V can get away with it, why not the Joker?*
2. Green Lantern (let's pretend the tie-in game never existed). This one is right up there with the Joker. This is incredibly easy to do. You could even reuse some of the assets and animations from Injustice. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps. are ripe with some fantastic stories and great characters. The Parallax Arc, however controversial it may have been, is still a better Darth Vader origin story than the Star Wars Prequels! And the gameplay possibilities!
It could be a fully 3D shooter like Descent of way back when. It could be a Dragon Ball Z-style melee game with a multiplayer focus like Powerstone for the Dreamcast. It could be an episodic series of adventures with ever shifting mechanics as you swap between various Lanterns, culminating in a finale like out of Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. A hub based sandbox game with quests and adventures handed out like in KotOR. A moral choice -create your own Lantern- game that would let you choose between the various Lantern colors. Maybe a game about Sinestro that can build him up as a character. Or make a game set on earth about Jon Stewart and make it an open world game with an African protagonist who is actually a hero and a fairly popular character in his own right.
There's only one thing you need to be sure to NOT do. Do NOT base it off of that gosh awful movie. Do not make it some God of War clone. Do not just make it a Halo clone either. If it has to be a shooter, takes notes then from Descent, Dark Void, and Mass Effect 3. Don't make us take cover -- make us fly around and manage our ring's power levels. You'd have one of the freshest multiplayer offerings on the AAA market just with a zero-G third person shooter that isn't built around Gears of War style fighting. It could have some call backs to old arena games with power ups and varying health bars. Characters would have unique abilities and stats (and perhaps a unique special move). Just anything besides that game you already did, and DC, you'll have our interest.
And once again -- FEEL FREE TO MAKE A NEW SETTING! You already have infinite earths. Use that to your advantage! Take some risks with the plot. Maybe kill a guy and DON'T bring him back to life in that series. DC Animated never had Hal Jordan save for about five minutes, and that was a ballsy move at the time. You can still do stuff like that. We like it when you do stuff like that. Really! That's why we got excited for Injustice: Gods Among Us' story. That should tell you more than enough.
3. Harley Quinn. Probably my favorite villain from Batman, even if DC clearly has no idea how to use her when Paul Dini isn't at the reigns (save for Arkham City where even he couldn't fix that mess apparently). Well, here's one idea. Make hero the protagonist in a game. It'd be a harder thing to do than Joker or Green Lantern because she's just such an odd ball. She does kill people, but we know that's usually at the Joker's bidding or in his name, instead of by her own wish. She's a redeeming character BECAUSE we know she's not actually that bad a person underneath the costume, it's just that she's a tragic victim of an abusive relationship taken to an extreme. So instead of the standard game, let's roll with that. Let's make a game, about dealing with the Joker, and working for him.
Yeah, that's hard to sell in a pitch, now isn't it? A game where you aren't guaranteed a win and will be repeatedly abused. I mean, Spec Ops: The Line certainly managed that. And you don't -have- to have her with Joker 24/7. Let's include the Gotham City Sirens set up into the mix. She can be on her own at times, or with Poison Ivy, or maybe Catwoman. She's capable in a fight, but also an acrobat that knows how to be stealthy. She's got a wide variety of tools, and often takes surprising choices in life. She's practically built for a Deus Ex: Human Revolution sort of game. Gotham could be done in similar hubs and stealth could be highly the same, with a morality system like Dishonored, and action could take notes from Zeno Clash, Shadow Warrior, and id's Rage.
Her gadgets and fanciful weapons would open up unique combat scenarios that standard first person games would lack. Our actions and choices would be specifically shown in our treatment by the people of Gotham, and by our closest confidants -- Joker, Catwoman, and Poison Ivy. Add in the ability to actually choose when to dress up as THE Harley Quinn in a Payday: The Heist meets Oblivion's Gray Fox mask sort of way, and you could see the world shift and change with your actions. Maybe even a chance encounter with Batman and/or one of his allies? Imagine a scenario where they'd actually have to team up but you need to keep an inch ahead of the world's greatest detective so you don't get sent back to prison.
The hardest aspect to carry across would be the attachment to Joker. You'd need to specifically weave the narrative and choices so you're always tempted to go to him and to work with him, even though you know he's the worst option. It needs to be like torture to both work for him and even worse without him. But if you actually do resist him, and you do grow to depend upon yourself and true allies, then in the end, you'd be rewarded and finally be able to reject him once and for all. That's going to take a very talented game designer and writer team to work out, but if you could actually translate that to gameplay... that would be amazing.
4. Wonder Woman. She's basically Super-Man, but with weaknesses. And actually okay with killing if necessary. And she's got an epic backstory. And she's unique. And she manages to fit that sweet spot of being confident about herself and being empowered while also being attractive that so few female characters in both comics and gaming fail to get. WHY HAVEN'T YOU MADE A GAME ABOUT HER? She's perfect for one. Make it World War II with that secret agent she has a romance with in DCAU. Have her traveling the globe in either the past or the present fighting mythical creatures, villains, and actual natural threats. Imagine how much material there is there, plus the popularity of the Percy Jackson series at your back that will attract those fans to your comics. This basically writes itself.
Wonder Woman almost never uses a gun, so yes, she'll be melee focused. She's also smart, and diplomatic, so instead of just, yet another stupid God of War clone, let's make it something more like Kingdoms of Amalur: The Mass Effect Edition. You can explore, upgrade your abilities, and venture around in various sections of the globe in either primarily linear or hub-style open world sections. She could find new hidden areas by interrogating opponents with her truth-revealing whip. She can survive ranged attacks thanks to her gauntlets. Her invisible plane could be used for flight sections, or you could just have her FLY. In fact, if you did that, and included a free flowing combat system somewhere between Arkham and God Hand... I wouldn't know what game to compare it to, it'd be that distinct. It'd have all the right elements of an adventure game, but have them fit on their own. Plus add in some DmC juggling and whipping around of enemies to make that physics engine actually feel useful.
If you set it in a world where the Justice League is already established, you can send her on missions with other heroes. And not always do they have to be combative. You can also just do puzzle platforming, like fixing a jet engine aboard a plane so it doesn't crash. We could see Diana as a diplomat, and have some Heavy Rain/Mass Effect dialogue trees and have them impact both the mission itself and the overall story. And don't get me started on how insane the boss battles could be. Ares. The Cyclops from The Odyssey. Hercules (if you really want to see her pissed). We could even have an appearance of the Witchblade and make a reference to that crossover. And at that rate, the Darkness. A gun toting, demonic, corrupted, crimelord against a melee focused paragon of feminine virtue? I can get behind that!
That all said... this is one of the few games where I say -- DON'T TRY MULTIPLAYER. Just make it replayable as a singleplayer game. Make the missions connected but too much so, so we can even do some out of order. It's just for the best guys. Make some post-launch DLC if you really want to get as much cash as you can. Think Minerva's Den DLC.
5. Green Arrow and Artemis. You're probably thinking. "Who the hell is Artemis?" Well, fear not, for here's the brief explanation: one of the many strong characters from Young Justice that you should go watch right now and yes it is annoying that they cancelled season 3. There, now that you're back from watching it, you know who Artemis is, and why a co-op game with Green Arrow would be a good idea.
They're both agile archers with tons of weapon armaments. The combat options are there, but the genre will too easily be selected as just a generic third person shooter. Instead, what should be done is a stealth game. -This- is where we start thinking about Rocksteady's Arkhamverse. This is a game you set there. Except you can't just zip around like Batman. You're limited to skulking around like Solid Snake, only getting a vantage point when you're lucky. At it's worst and most basic, it'd still be a step up from Uncharted's stealth attempts, but feel similar to it in concept. You'd have the cowls, and ways to escape opponents, but you wouldn't necessarily need to get up and close with opponents.
Imagine it like a non-lethal sniper stealth game. A game where you and either an AI partner (or perhaps just one of the pair) or a human ally would skulk through various buildings, rooftops, and open areas. You prey on criminals and villains, preparing for the mission beforehand Hitman style, except you aren't supposed to kill. I might argue that you could try a Dishonored approach to killing, but it shouldn't really be an option. If it is, it has to have drastic moral implications and dramatically effect the story. If you do it by accident, that's one thing -- accidents happen, even Batman was once forced into doing a killing act (he was psychically controlled by another being, but still) against his will and intent.
This would also let Artemis grow as a character again. We could even see her potentially branching off as Tigress for some more action packed sections, and Green Arrow could make way for Arsenal to go along with her in these more fast paced gameplay moments. They'd be able to break up the flow with more Batman style brutal melee combat and Arsenal could allow for some more directly violent attacks. As long as the story provides context to show the morals going on to motivate it all, it can still keep everything in perspective, because this is the sort of game that could get dicey very fast with what is right and wrong. And they should, if they are daring and willing, play with that concept. Arsenal and Green Arrow could be working towards the same goal but with opposing approaches and Artemis is caught up in the center. In fact, by default, in singleplayer, lets just have the player play Artemis. Unlock Green Arrow and Arsenal like you do Paxton Fettel in FEAR 3 for replay value, but let us see the whole story through her eyes. The eyes of a being already plagued with tragedy, thrown into a plot that could bring her Young Justice origin story to light in a far more toned down, grounded manner.
And please, do not make any stupid turret sections. And if you're going to do a moral choice twist, make it in the MIDDLE of the game, not the end. Make us decide who we follow to the end, and see that ripple and impact over a long period so we have reason to see the good and bad in our choice. And let there be good and bad in both choices, if not equal, then as close as you can.
6. The Flash. There actually was a canned The Flash video game in the works for present gen ( you can find some footage here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HrtwUQXuSXY ), it looks to have been a fairly standard open world brawler just with the same speedy sort of fighting we'd expect from a Spider-Man game. To be honest, the last thing a game about The Flash should be is pure action. We have fast paced action games. What would be more impressive, is if we could see Barry Allen using his skills in less traditional manners. Racing ahead with speed is a must, but what about using his ability to see time differently to solve a lot of puzzles? What if he was in a war against the combined wits of Gorilla Grod, The Riddler, and The Brain?
He'd certainly fight opponents, but most of the game would be stopping the villain's plots already in motion. Boss fights could also be more intellectual in nature, requiring you to think outside the box to stop a criminal. Combine that with Crackdown style collectables to boost your powers. Platforming and such would also be key. Besides that... well, there's not much more you need. The Flash's game wouldn't be the most amazing game on the planet, but it could at least offer a more mentally visceral game than some other super hero games of note.
7. Black Canary. This is probably the oddest one of out of the bunch. Canary by herself is an awesome character, and would no doubt appear in a Green Arrow game, but she really feels like a character worth doing a standalone story of. Why? Because she's the leader of the bloody Justice League, last I checked. Her vocal chords are her only real super human strength besides great endurance and agility, so she's not exactly Super-Man. She's also a member of the Birds of Prey, and the combat instructor of the Young Justice team. She's got a lot of weight on her shoulders, even dealing with the main three (Batman, Super-Man, and Wonder Woman) constantly pressuring her to follow their agenda without them actually being in charge of the League anymore. That opens up a lot of interesting ideas, and leads us to the most unused genre for super heroes in gaming: Strategy.
Black Canary the fighting brawler would be basically an Arkham reskin. A strategy game where you have to choose what teams you serve with at what times as multiple villains threaten the world, and who you send on the teams you don't directly control, along with the threat of real losses and a dynamic world, plus tons of story choices and narrative branching... that'd be epic. It'd put you right in her position and give us one of the few female super heroes shown in a role that is neither sexualized nor light in terms of subject matter. This would also be one of the few western strategy games with a specific main protagonist, and her ability to change the course of events in the DC universe would be particularly intriguing to long time fans. What would you do if Batman died on your watch? If Super-Man went rogue and tried to take over the world? When Blackest Night occurred? These are the kinds of questions that should be asked in a game like this.
What makes Black Canary a perfect fit for this -is- the fact that, despite her super-human powers, she is human -- a lot more than other members of the League. She's got hang ups, issues, a complicated love life, a difficult past, and most importantly of all -- she responds like anyone else would under the same circumstances. And depending on the version of her character, she has some shoes to fill from her mother, and the distrust of those around her as they worry about her too much. Right up there with Harley Quinn, she's the most interesting to investigate in a game because of not simply gameplay, but with character.
And hearing her reactions to the outcomes of events would help color things for newcomers. In fact, if you really went all out and included most major DC story arcs for the major continuity, the League, and the Birds of Prey, all leading up to the New 52, you'd finally be able to catch new fans up to speed, and make it feel personal to them as well. Since New 52 wipes the slate clean anyway, worries about canon aren't that big a deal. You can do what is fun and enjoyable without hampering yourselves.
I hope you enjoyed my suggestions. It's been a while since I tossed around game design ideas in a blog, and it's nice to do so again. I'll take this moment to mention some honorable mentions:
8. Zatana (platforming puzzler action game)
9. Aqua Lad (open world under the sea adventure game)
10. The Teen Titans (four person co-op first person brawler or turn-based squad strategy game)
11. Madame Xanadu (episodic adventure game)
12. Hawkgirl (similar to Wonder Woman game in concept, but with less, if any, content about the League and diplomacy, with a new focus on exploring her people's ancient marks on our planet).
P.S. To my review readers -- I'm now going to be able to cover Bioshock 2: Minerva's Den now thanks to a recent turn of events on PC thanks to GFWL's shut down. Expect it to come after Iron Brigade, if not before.
Trivia – A lot of what I learned about DC has been through their animated features and studying their wikis for several RPs.
*Oooh I can smell the s**t I'm gonna get for that comment.