One of the best parts of modern day video gaming is the ability to really immerse yourself in an escapist fantasy where you’re strong, agile, intelligent, and good looking, with perfect teeth, no zits, and things always work out in your favor. You’re the hero (or sometimes the villain, whatever works for you) and the world bends itself around your will. Not surprisingly, the superhero/comics genre has been fertile ground for vicarious video game adventuring over the years. I had considered making a list of some of my favorite comic book video games and why they are my favorite comic book video games. But I think I want to approach this topic a little differently, in that I’d like to discuss games that come closest to making me feel like what I imagine it would feel like to be a superhuman.
Sure, lots of games allow you to be a badass, swinging swords and killing dragons with mystical burps, or a super soldier laying down thousands of rounds of warning shots, but not every game allows you to experience actually being a human that the natural laws and physical limitations of being human simply don’t apply to. Granted, there are some comic book video games that actually make you feel like a superhero and I have a few of those on the list, but there are games that aren’t specifically of the superhero genre that can still elicit that same feeling of being a hero with powers and abilities beyond those of mortal man. These are six of my favorites.
6. Mirror’s Edge (XBOX360, Playstation 3, PC)
This game takes a little getting used to. Its extreme first person point of view locks the player into the persona of Faith, a messenger delivery person in a future dystopian society. If you’ve ever seen really good Parkour free-running, you know you need to be a little more human than human to pull that stuff off. Mirror’s Edge captures the dynamic of Parkour free running perfectly, really making you feel like you’re jumping off rooftops, doing wall-runs and sliding down tow lines threaded between skyscrapers. When this gameplay style was combined with Faith’s bullet time combat abilities, Mirror’s Edge really made me feel like someone who could jump off skyscrapers and live, and did so believably enough to come in at number six on my list. If guys like Nightwing, Daredevil and Spider-Man actually existed, they would be the ultimate Parkour free-runners.
5. Spider Man II The Video Game – 2004 (Gamecube, Playstation 2, XBOX)
Based on the movie (which I think is the best of the three), this was one of the first games that really nailed sandbox play for me. Unlike the first movie based Spider-Man game which left me cold, this game actually made you feel like Spider-Man! With killer gameplay, precise controls and cool combos, plus lots of stuff to web swing from; it all added up to a game that really made you feel like the Web-slinger. The other Spider Man games since this one, while nicer looking (some of them), have never quite perfected the combination of elements that made Spider Man II – The Video Game special, in my opinion.
4. The Matrix: Path of Neo (PC, Playstation 2 and XBOX)
Regardless of thoughts and opinions on the actual movie trilogy, this game was really good at putting you into the role of Neo, with his unbeatable kung-fu skills and physics bending powers. Neo could definitely have been a superhero, and the game was great at making you feel like one, too. Once fully leveled, the abilities you could use were impressive, and they were lots of fun to use. It was preferable to beat up your enemies as opposed to shooting them with guns because it was just such a blast to slap around entire SWAT teams, and endless legions of unarmed opponents barehanded. That’s pure superhero, baby.
3. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins (Playstation 1&2, Playstation Portable, XBOX&XBOX360, WII, Nintendo DS)
Let’s be honest, ninjas might as well be superhuman. Not even counting what Western culture has turned them into, expert practitioners of traditional Ninjutsu are capable of some pretty cool feats. Tenchu: Stealth Assassins had a really intuitive gameplay style that was accessible right out of the box, and it was really satisfying. In addition to looking very stylish for the time, and having a great soundtrack and a fairly decent story, Tenchu made you feel like you had extraordinary powers that allowed you to disappear, move huge distances in seconds with a grappling hook, and silently kill 2, 3 or even more targets at a time and vanish again, without any of them being aware you were ever there. Okay, contract murder is not very super-hero-ey, but you get my point. You felt distinctly superior to the NPCs and targets from the word “Go” and it made a fantastic superhuman gamer experience.
2. Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind GOTY Edition (XBOX, PC)
This game was amazing; I still play it on PC with lots of mods. I love all things Elder Scrolls and even better, I get paid to write about the immense universe the Elder Scrolls continuity exists in. I first discovered ESIII: Morrowind in 2004 on my friend’s XBOX, and it didn’t take long for me to get completely hooked. I’m an old-time RPG geek, so the idea of leveling, success probability percentages, high level characters and areas meant solely for high level characters but which were accessible from level one was second nature to me, and the graphics were amazing for the time. Even now the graphics are tolerable when the overall look and feel of the game is factored in. It was also one of the first times I remember the concept of UBER being a principle of a game. After a few power gamer sessions you were unstoppable and very few of the natural laws the NPC mortals of Morrowind were bound by applied to you. When you combined the ability to fly (there were several ways to get flight capability) with the capacity to both absorb and deliver gross amounts of damage in an open world environment where you could go anywhere and do practically anything, you got a full superhero experience. This was especially true for the downloadable content; Tribunal, Bloodmoon, etc, where you started the games at insanely high levels. The other games in the series have been enjoyable, but I never felt as superhuman as I did when flying into one of the cities of Morrowind or over the Ghostfence around Red Mountain.
1. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Playstation 3, XBOX360, PC, Mac)
This was a superhero game, made for superhero geeks. Moving and fighting as Batman was hugely satisfying, and it was easy to enjoy the world from the viewpoint of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego. While Bats isn’t technically superhuman, if a guy can whup Superman, I say he can call himself pretty much anything he wants. Once you mastered the combat system, and acquired most, if not all of the special perks and abilities that came with leveling up, you got into some serious superhero escapism. The franchise has moved on to build on the core game elements and improve the gameplay experience to make you feel even more like someone who could conceivably whup Superman. I thought Batman: Arkham City was more like Grand Theft Batman and I love the game, but Batman: Arkham Asylum will always hold a special place in my heart.
So there you go, these are the games that have scratched my deep and unscratchable fanboy itch to be a great and mighty superhero. Any of these are fairly easy to find, and will let you spend all the time you want running around being all super-hero-ey…have fun!