Comics and Cosplay
5 Video Games That Played Like Comic Books

Marshall Lemon | 12 Jun 2014 16:00
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infamous screenshot

There's no shortage of open-world games that let you use powers in a major city, although few offer a "comic book" styled experience. The Batman: Arkham games are great, but a little too cinematic. The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction was an absolute blast, but its chaos is strictly in the realm of "GTA with the Hulk". Crackdown comes pretty close to a comic book tone, but I'd say Infamous is a much better fit. Between the varied powers and legitimately insane supervillains Cole encounters, Sucker Punch's universe could easily be transferred to a comic book medium. Even the moral choice system, however flimsy the execution, is well-suited for a character coming to terms with his newfound responsibilities, like if Spider-Man could shoot lightning instead of webs.

Not enough for you? Look at the various gangs of Infamous 1, each styled after supervillain henchmen. You've got the Reapers, who are weak but definitely took the coolest name. Then there's the Dustmen who have literally constructed costumes out of garbage. Finally there's the First Sons, who are well-equipped with armor, weapons, and even deployable drones. Throw in the a small percentage of superpowered Conduits in each henchmen encounter, and Empire City isn't looking so different from Marvel's New York during a crossover event.

xiii screenshot

Most readers will be more familiar with 2005's XIII than the original French comic book, but Ubisoft certainly didn't hide its graphic novel roots. Comic book elements are built directly into XIII's visuals: The entire game was cel-shaded to provide a comic book art style. Dialogue is presented through caption bubbles instead of ongoing subtitles. Loading screens were replaced with comic book panels. Most pleasurable however were the sound effects, which were almost always accompanied with appropriately chosen captions. Enemy footsteps could be tracked by the "Tap Tap" text appearing on screen, while gunfire, explosions, and even knife strikes were signified by Adam West-inspired text. (Speaking of whom, Adam West was one of XIII's voice actors, yet another reason to check out this game.)

The comic-inspired visuals were even a big part of how XIII relayed information to the player. As first-person sequences played out in real-time, comic book panels and captions would periodically appear within the screen. Sometimes these panels replaced cutscenes, showing what was happening in other areas of the facility. Other times they pointed out where enemy reinforcements were arriving from, or simply illustrated especially skillful headshots you'd made. Sure, cel-shaded games have been made since (Borderlands and The Walking Dead being great examples) but few embraced comic book experiences as gameplay mechanics.

But there's still one game that went even further...

comix zone

Comix Zone
No other title on this list screams "90s" like Comix Zone, but those growing up in the Sega Genesis era will remember it fondly nonetheless. This game follows Sketch Turner, a comic book artist and freelance rock musician (again, 90s) who is imprisoned inside his own book when his villain, Mortus, manifests in the real world. Hailed as a prophesied chosen one who will save the fictional universe, Sketch fights his way through mutant forces and various post-apocalyptic landscapes, hoping he'll find an escape along the way. It's all pretty standard video game storytelling, but Comix Zone is the most literal example on this list of a comic book experience. Each level is designed as a comic page, with glimpses of other panels along the screen's edge that Sketch can move to upon clearing his current obstacles. At certain points, Sketch can physically tear open the page to attack enemies or reach hidden items, and occasionally transforms into a powerful superhero who deals damage to all on-screen enemies. Unfortunately Comix Zone was notoriously difficult (once again, 90s) but it's genuine charm and novelty went a long way to softening that blow. And having a catchy soundtrack didn't hurt either.


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