Superheroes are a major cultural force in the movies, but outside of Batman, few heroes get the video game treatment they deserve. Which is a shame, because there’s a history of fantastic superhero games that grasped what made its source material click. Here are eight examples of video games that really helped you feel immersed in a superhero universe.
Can you think of any we missed? Share them in the comments!
The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction
The Hulk is less of a superhero than a force of nature, one that destroys everything in its path and can only be aimed at villains. So instead of making him just another hero, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction embraced that perspective entirely. While the story was about Bruce Banner trying to find a cure, once you actually controlled Hulk you could smash cars, topple skyscrapers, and fistfight the Hulkbuster robots sent to apprehend you. It perfectly captured Grand Theft Auto‘s spirit in a superhero narrative, and it’s an absolute shame modern games couldn’t explore those topics.
While not strictly a hero, Frank Castle is a fan favorite among comic book readers, and few games captured his essence like 2005’s The Punisher. Despite its linear gameplay, The Punisher‘s cathartic violence, combat systems, and interrogation mechanics were brutal, engaging, and perfectly fit his violent character. It even managed to tell an impressive story that connected the Marvel Universe, with cameos from Nick Fury, the Kingpin, and Iron Man himself. On top of that, Thomas Jane himself voiced Punisher for the game – how can you go wrong with that?
While Infamous wasn’t based on a comic book, it did an impressive job of capturing the journey of a superpowered being. On top of Cole’s increasing powers, its moral choice system encouraged you to rescue civilians or make them fear your powers. Rescuing innocents was no easy task – your powers could just as easily fry them as a villain – but when you pulled if off, it felt like a true accomplishment. It was compelling, reflected the story, and helped Infamous feel like a genuine comic book experience.
Not all comic book characters are lone heroes – many fight alongside a team. That’s a feeling X-Men Legends captured wonderfully. You had a home base in Winchester, a complete roster of mutant characters, and a huge roster of villains to defeat. The story was comprehensive as well, taking you from mutant prisons, to outer space, to psychic realms controlled by the Shadow King. You’d be hard-pressed to find another game covering the entire X-Men universe in this way, let alone helped you feel like part of the action.
City of Heroes
For eight years, City of Heroes set the bar for a massive online superhero game, and we’re still waiting for someone to take that claim. This was an MMO where you created an original superhero who defended Paragon City from supervillains, alien invasions, supernatural beings, and more. Expansions allowed you to create your own villain characters or explore parallel universes, and you could form your own superteams to take one challenging raids. Later MMOs like DC Universe Online and Champions Online brought a lot to the table, but few games had the scope or appeal that City of Heroes once did.
If you love the Silver Age of comics, you absolutely owe it to yourself to play Freedom Force. This series is a wonderful reflection of Stan and Jack Kirby’s comics, where ground-level pulp henchmen and cosmic supervillains could live side-by-side in the same universe. Each new team member had their own origin story, battles with villains were epic and deadly, and story arcs came with comic book covers that seem to belong in the 1960s. It even got a fantastic, Nazi-fighting sequel in Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich. Maybe now that Irrational Games has finished with BioShock, we could get that final Freedom Force game fans were hoping for?
Injustice: Gods Among Us
For a long time, fighting games weren’t really known for engaging characters or riveting narratives. Injustice: Gods Among Us was one of the first to change that, telling a DC Universe story of alternate realities that surprised fans and critics alike. But the best part were powers and special moves that fit the comic books – be it Batman’s gadgets, Green Lantern’s ring constructs, or Superman straight-up punching enemies into space. Whether you’re playing for the story, or just goofing around with abilities in two-player mode, Injustice is an impressive superhero game, fighting genre or not.
Spider-Man 2 hasn’t aged well compared to other games on this list, but it will always be a fondly-remembered classic for one reason: Web-slinging. This was the first game that let you swing across a fully-3D New York City, exploring or breaking up street crimes in-between regular story missions. What’s more, the game introduced villains who had never appeared in the original films, including Rhino and Mysterio, expanding the experience for fans of the movie.
The experience was replicated in later Spider-Man games, arguably to better effect – Ultimate Spider-Man being a personal favorite. But for many players, nothing compared to diving into Spider-Man 2 for the first time.