reviews\ Nov 22, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Superman: The Man of Steel - XB - Review

Superman has always been something of an American icon since his introduction during the Golden Age of comic books and has somehow still managed to be a well-loved character that not only inspires television programs and films, but also video games.  Many games have been made but none have ever really touched the true depth of this visitor from another planet who can leap tall buildings in a single bound and is faster than a speeding bullet.  Now it’s the Xbox’s turn and Superman: The Man of Steel is here to save the day--or is it?


Based more on the comic books than the Warner Brothers cartoon like the PS2’s Superman: Shadows of Apokalips, The Man of Steel’s story is interesting.  A long while ago, the villain Brainiac 13 planned to enslave all of Metropolis by turning the city into a giant supercomputer, only to be foiled by Superman.  However, in the process the city was somehow upgraded by nanobots and turning it into a futuristic “city of tomorrow.”  Now, mysterious robots appear and are attempting to erect a monstrous colossal Brainiac 13 robot.  Once again, it is up to Superman to stop them as he goes up against new and old enemies such as nemesis Lex Luthor, Bizarro, Mongul and Brainiac 13.


Superman, of course, comes complete with most of his powers which includes super strength, x-ray vision, freeze breath, heat vision, telescopic vision and flight.  While his powers are remarkable to use, flight is where Superman really falls apart.  Using the thumbsticks, Superman can rise up and down and strafe from left to right or forward--he can even accelerate to move more quickly.  That sounds easy enough on paper, but actually trying it is another story.  The trouble is that the flight controls are not smooth at all and are, in fact, extremely tough to handle when you need to make some sharp turns or face a target.  This is especially frustrating when you’re under a time limit.


When a mission objective is brought to our hero’s attention, a cone-shaped icon points gamers in the right direction.  You can use your telescopic vision to show you the threat from a great distance to see exactly where it is since the cone can be a bit hard to follow.  The missions objectives would have been actually quite enjoyable hadn’t the controls messed things up.  You are asked to put out fires in several locations, rescue people in danger or place things such as antenna towers back in their places. 


You must also fight several enemies in Metropolis, deep space, Warworld and the Phantom Zone.  You can target and enemy to either use freeze breathe, heat vision or your fists depending on the weaknesses of your enemies.  The problem is that the targeting system can sometimes play against you be targeting enemies farther from you rather then the one much closer to you.  If an enemy moves out of range, the targeting icon disappears, leaving you to target another enemy.


The next disappointment is the fact that for an Xbox game, The Man of Steel is at best an average looking game.  The grand city of Metropolis is indeed the most impressive sight in the game with its magnificently designed buildings and futuristic transports that hover about this massive area.  However, Superman and other characters don’t look so good during animated cut-scenes.  For a game not based on the WB cartoons, this Superman comes off more as a wooden caricature--stiff and without any grace.  Still, it is exciting to see his powers in action such as his freeze breath or x-ray vision.


While the graphics do very little to hook gamers, the sound at least deserves high points for an original and dynamic score.  The score is everything you might expect from a super hero title--it builds up dramatically when the mission objectives change and it marvelously blends in with the cut scenes.  If the score doesn’t move you, however, you can add your own score copied to your Xbox hard disc.  There is also some really good sound effects featured in this game, especially when Superman uses his freeze breath that crystallizes an enemy--you can hear the ice cracking when an enemy is being frozen.  The only bad part about the sound is the weak voice acting.


A disappointment from the very start, Superman: The Man of Steel just does not have what it takes to capture the appeal of this classic superhero.  Although many of the missions are indeed quite fun, the action is ruined by the frustratingly awkward controls that will probably annoy gamers to the point of not caring about finishing the rest of the missions at all.   


#Reviewer's Scoring Details


Gameplay: 4.0
The game’s controls are just one of the game’s biggest flaws and thanks to the gracelessness of the flight mechanics, The Man of Steel is just too frustrating to put up with.  For one thing, it is extremely difficult to make sharp turns when sharp turns are direly needed.  Secondly, facing a target--such as a roaring fire--requires you to spin around to get a true lock on it.


Battle can be a bit of a struggle as well since locking on to an enemy is not as great as it should be.  You rarely do lock on to the nearest target, which makes things a little complicated since some enemies are more powerful than others.


Graphics: 5.2
This is not the best looking game the Xbox has to offer but at least it’s not the worse either.  The city of Metropolis looks amazing and massive with huge futuristic buildings, some that seem to be made out of glass that reflects everything (except, oddly enough, Superman).  Hovering crafts float overhead or land in platforms and make the city seem alive despite the fact that there are no visible pedestrians down below.


Superman’s powers also look great.  Whether its looking through building to look at the targets or using your heat vision to burn a hole through a drone, the effects are done rather nicely.  Unfortunately the character models are not at all that stellar, especially during a cut scene.


Sound: 7.2
The score actually makes the game sound better than it really is and it does a great job of establishing the intensity of a situation.  My only complaint in this department is that there are not enough tunes in the score.  Well, at least gamers can add the Superman film’s score by copying it to the Xbox hard disc.


The game’s sound effects are okay, but nothing really exciting enough.  When Superman accelerates his flight, it sound almost just like the old 50s black and white television program (okay, so it was before my time, but BBC television stations still ran the re-runs in the mid-eighties).   The voice acting, however, is not very good at all.  Most of the dialogue is delivered awfully, especially Superman who sounds as stiff as he looks.


Difficulty: Hard
You would think the game is difficult because of the challenges found in the game, but that is not the case here.  Thanks to the awful controls, gamers have to put up more of a struggle trying to keep Superman on the right track.  It’s often easy to miss the exact location of a mission objective and even harder when the mission requires you to do things before the time limit runs out.  For somebody that is suppose to be faster than a speeding bullet, Superman is not fast enough to beat the clock.


Concept: 4.0
With a great storyline and an assortment of excellent villains such as Brainiac 13 and Lex Luthor and friends like Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen, the game’s main theme is not bad at all.  Add The Phantom Zone to the mix and a collection of costumes to unlock and the game is still an unfortunate mess.


Overall: 4.9
The extremely awful controls keep Superman: The Man of Steel from being an enjoyable game worthy of the hero in red and blue.  Gamers take heed, if you’re looking for a good comic book-based game or love the Superman character, this is not the game to buy.

Below Average

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