As a whole video games based on comic book franchises have met with more critical success than games based on cinematic franchises. Part of the reasoning behind this is that comic books have a natural affinity with the transition to gaming: bold characters, super powers that can empower the player, the rich environments, and story lines that can be drawn on. All these things can help bring exciting and fun gameplay experiences.
Comic book narratives are something I love; the integration between written narrative and illustrative depth has always fascinated me. Every time a video game based on a comic book franchise appears, I buy it. Sometimes I've been stung by that, but most times I have a satisfying and immersive gaming experience.
So here are a few of my favourite games in this genre.
Voliton's The Punisher is a grisly game where you can torture enemies in order to gain information. One of the most satisfying and surprising elements of this game is how utterly faithful this adaptation is. It's also a satisfying shooter with some innovative techniques which vary the gameplay. The violence in the game is graphic; in fact, this is one of the goriest titles on this list, heads being blown away and arms and legs being torn off by the blasts of your powerful shotgun. The interrogation techniques are what this game is mostly widely known for, taking an enemy and threatening them by applying just enough pressure to the analogue stick. Once you find out what you need to know, you then brutally execute them.
The interrogations are contextual to the environment, allowing you to smash the target's face against glass windows of a high-rise building, threatening to throw them through it, or immersing a villain in the hot oils of a deep, fat fryer in a kitchen. The facial animation of the victim displays their mounting horror and it brings a form of empowerment for the player when assuming the role of this viscous Vigilante from Marvel's finest comics. Although this is a fairly old title - having been released in 2005 - the recent and excellent series of The Punisher on Netflix has shown that perhaps this title deserves an HD rerelease.
The Walking Dead
This modern game series developed and published by Telltale Games is based more on the comic book franchise than the TV series that was spawned from it. It's an adventure game which is emotionally devastating and powerfully told. It focuses on a group of survivors who are desperately attempting to stay alive in a world occupied by the undead, and sometimes trapped by ruthless people willing to stay alive.
The first season of this series builds up the characters and their relationships to one another. It creates a sense of atmosphere, and when the player has to make a decision which will branch the story line later, it truly means something.
A follow up to the successful one-on-one beat-em up by Netherrealm Studios, this Mortal Kombat influenced series includes the chance to fight as some of the most popular characters from the DC universe - as well as some of the more lesser known individuals in its mighty roster. Arguably, this title tells a better Batman vs Superman story than it's filmatic counterpart. The narrative sees Brainiac, destroyer of Krypton, come to earth in an attempt to kill the last Kryptonians (Supergirl is present in this game) and destroy Earth. Superman has been imprisioned after the events of the first game and some characters are attempting to free him, including Black Adam and Wonderwoman. Others, like Batman, see him as a threat to all life on earth and want to keep him locked up. This creates a fantastic tension within the DC Universe and a compelling plot in single player mode.
The Multiplayer aspect also shines, offering players loot boxes filled with random goodies, experience points, and better armour to genuinely affect gameplay. Additionally, the fighting mechanics are solid. The environmental details are amazing and evoke famous moments in DC comic book history with small incidental memorabilia present for the eagle eyed. It's great to see the DC franchise having a game of such quality, and crafted around the characters rather than just shoehorning them in for revenue's sake.
Lego Marvel Superheroes 2
The Lego games have a very special place in my gaming heart. They bring amazing authenticity to whatever franchise they riff off, interesting moments, stellar co-op gameplay, and a multitude of playable characters. One of the biggest draws in Marvel Superheroes 2 is the personality that bursts through in the game, whether it's jamming to Mr Blue Sky with Guardians of the Galaxy's Star Lord and his awesome mix tapes, or enjoying the quips that Spiderman utters with trademark ease. You will always find reasons to smile while playing this game. I've had moments playing with my nephew where he doesn't always get each of the clever references to Marvel's history which cleverly make it onto the screen as homages for the dedicated fan. Other times, he doesn't know who some of the more obscure characters are. I get to pause the game and explain some of their powers and origins and he will play as them to 'try them out.' This game gives us the ability to test-drive Superheroes (and Villains!)
The strength of this game is the ability to reach into the annals of Marvel and embrace all aspects of the company's comic book history. You will see the influence of the movies - with Chris Pratt and Zoe Salanda present from the Guardians of the Galaxy movie - but also delving into the comics with villains like Black Knight and Kraven the Hunter. There's so much time spent on each of the character's unique abilities and alternative costumes. You can play as the camera wielding Peter Parker, or a medieval Captain America complete with sword and shield. These variations are fun and add more depth to this action puzzler. Lego Marvel Superheroes 2 is a unique, fun family game with depth and that's fairly rare.
Rogue Trooper Redux
An HD re-release of British comic's popular character Rogue Trooper came to our next generation consoles and PC in October. This third-person shooter captures the story of a genetically engineered soldier from the future who is bred to fight an ongoing war in a toxic environment. These cloned soldiers have one unique ability; when they die, the computer chip which houses their personality and experiences can be slotted into another trooper's equipment, namely the helmet, gun, and equipment bag. The main character, Rogue, is an all-out guns blazing kind of marine, tough and capable. He finds three of his comrades dying and extracts their chips and inserts them into the empty slots in his equipment to save them for re-cloning. They each assume the functions of that piece of equipment that they are bonded to. For example, Gunnar who controls the assault rifle can be placed on the ground and act as a turret against oncoming enemies.
It's a faithful, fun adaptation of a comic book creation by the legendary Gerry Finley-Day and its release in HD shows that Rogue's ongoing adventures still resonate with fans of 2000AD today.
These are just a few of my favourite games that are based on comic book franchises. There's a wealth of them out there and most of them are great representations of the franchise they are based of.
Let me know if you agree or disagree or if you have any particular favourites of your own?