2011: The Year in Comic Book Video Games

Tue, November 29th, 2011 at 12:28pm PST

Video Games
Robert Workman, Contributing Writer

2011 was inarguably a fantastic year for video games, bringing a number of great new games for casual players and comic book fans alike to enjoy. And no, we don't just mean "Batman: Arkham City." A number of comic book-inspired games ended up making an impact this year, and even a couple of movie-licensed products ended up being better than expected. And judging by some announcements we've already heard and seen, 2012 is shaping up to be just as good.

But until we past from this year into the next, without further ado, let's look back at the highlights of 2011!

One Batman To Rule Them All

When "Batman: Arkham Asylum" came out a couple of years back, many gamers thought it was the ultimate comic book-oriented video game experience. Between a cohesive storyline, brilliant voice acting, deep, involving gameplay and an exquisite presentation, it was going to be impossible to top the Batman game.

Or so we thought. WB Games and the developers at Rocksteady Studios released "Batman: Arkham City" on October 18 and blew gamers away even further. Featuring an even larger world to explore, with more side missions and secrets, even more compelling graphics, more awesome voice acting (nothing can top Mark Hamill as the Joker -- nothing) and the inclusion of great side characters (namely Catwoman, Robin and Nightwing), "Arkham City" took the experience of being the Dark Knight to a whole new level. What's more, the game brought a new group of villains for Batman to take on, ranging from Ra's Al Ghul to Clayface to the elusive Deadshot. And Mr. Freeze? How awesome was his role in this game?

"Batman: Arkham City" has sold incredibly well, with 1.5 million units heading out the door and into homes during October alone. With those kind of numbers, you can bet that the Caped Crusader's video game adventures will continue, with Rocksteady firmly at the helm. For now, we eagerly await to see what downloadable content the developer has in mind for the game. (We've already confirmed a Challenge Map pack coming out on December 20.)

A Different Side of the X-Men

2011 was a fairly good year for Marvel's X-Men, even if it wasn't quite busy for the familiar characters populating Marvel's comic book line. Wolverine and his friends did make a return in "X-Men: The Arcade Game," which came out for Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and various iOS and Android devices, but the real focus was put on an all-new adventure in the series, "X-Men Destiny."

In the Activision-produced game, players took control of three new mutants, choosing sides between the X-Men and the Brotherhood as they battle familiar villains, as well as all new foes that want to crush mutant-kind entirely. Mike Carey, the writer who has spent the last several years helming Marvel Comics' "X-Men: Legacy" series, penned the game's script as Silicon Knights handled game development.

While "Destiny" featured a variety of Chromosome Upgrades and abilities for each of the characters, many gamers were turned off by the repetitive gameplay and slightly lackluster graphics. As a result, the game didn't perform as well as Activision had hoped, and Silicon Knights ended up laying off a percentage of its staff later in the year.

Still, if you're an "X-Men" fan, it's worth a rental, and interesting to see a different side of the story -- rather than the one Wolverine usually walks along.

Spider-Man Still Swinging Strong

With the announcement of "The Amazing Spider-Man" film, set for release next summer, it appears that next year will be an even bigger year for the webslinger than 2011. Nevertheless, Beenox, the developers behind last year's awesome "Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions" game, gave us a new game with a futuristic twist with "Spider-Man: Edge of Time."

Focusing solely on the interaction between the Amazing Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099, "Edge of Time" introduced some clever balancing that had you perform acts to keep both characters alive throughout, as well as the familiar webbing abilities and wall-crawling that fans have gotten used to.

Thogh fans felt that "Edge of Time" was a little more linear than previous Spidey games, the title ended up selling better than expected, setting the tone for an even bigger game next year. Beenox is already working on a game based on the "Amazing Spider-Man" film property, featuring a more open world environment. It's set to come out Summer 2012.

Green Lantern and Captain America Soar, Thor -- Not So Much

Movie-licensed games were commonplace in 2011, with three titles coming out alongside their big-budget films over the summer. The first one out of the gate was Sega's "Thor: God of Thunder," an action game featuring 3D compatibility, a number of locations taken straight from the film and the voicework of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, who played Thor and Loki in the movie, respectively. Unfortunately, the game didn't live up to its potential, mainly due to lackluster gameplay and poor level design.

Sega fared better later in the summer with its game adaptation of "Captain America: Super Soldier," which came out in late July for various platforms. Featuring the voice talents of Chris Evans, who portrayed Cap in the feature film, the game actually followed a different route than you normally see in movie-based games. Rather than ape the film's storyline, you undertake a mission from Cap's WWII career, battling through Baron Zemo's castle while trying to stop the villain's heinous plot. The game sold fairly well, thanks to free-flowing combat and accurate shield throwing, though some of the physics-based platforming left a little bit to be desired. Still, it managed to be way better than "Thor."

Not to be outdone, WB Games released "Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters" for multiple systems, with a focus on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Similar to the Captain America game, "Rise of the Manhunters" presented a completely original storyline, rather than following events from the somewhat middling film. Featuring a mixture of third-person action (similar to "God of War," but featuring ring-generated constructs) and on-rails shooting segments, the game turned out to be very good. Plus, it benefited from solid voice acting by Ryan Reynolds, who also played Green Lantern in the movie.

Two out of three ain't bad, and with more movie adaptations-to-games coming next year (namely Marvel's "The Avengers" and "The Amazing Spider-Man"), it'll be interesting to see how 2012 ends up.

"DC Universe Online" Opens Up

In January, Sony Online Entertainment kicked off the year with the release of "DC Universe Online" for both PlayStation 3 and PC, offering players the opportunity to fight in a huge massive multiplayer online world. Featuring both original and classic locations taken straight from the comic books, the game did provide a ton of content in terms of powering up your character and giving them a personality. Unfortunately, huge membership fees and questionable bugs left some players turned off.

But as 2011 continued on, SOE made several improvements to "DC Universe Online," as it certainly runs better now than it did in previous months. New expansion packs have been introduced, including a Green Lantern-specific "Fight For the Light" pack and an upcoming one based on the Flash, due in December.

Perhaps the most significant addition, however, came in the form of a free-to-play membership. Though it doesn't offer the kind of benefits as a paid membership, it does give players the chance to battle alongside others without paying a hefty monthly fee. And better still, it applies to both the PC and PlayStation 3 versions.

Though not nearly as popular as, say, "World of Warcraft," "DC Universe Online" has seen an increase in players, with over a million more signing on since the introduction of the free-to-play option. You can bet that SOE will think of bigger and better additions for the game come next year.

The "Marvel vs. Capcom" Rivalry Lives On

Introduced last year, Capcom released its long-awaited crossover sequel "Marvel vs. Capcom 3" for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in February, bringing a number of familiar favorites back, along with several new ones. The game became a huge success, with millions of fighting fans learning tactics with everyone from MODOK to Arthur (from the "Ghouls n' Ghosts" series) to Thor. Furthermore, the debut of Galactus -- as the game's final boss -- introduced quite a challenge, as he uses every tactic he can muster to dominate the Earth.

Not satisfied with just one game, however, Capcom announced an expansive sequel that would come out nine months later with the title "Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3," also for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The game would introduce twelve new combatants, including Nova, Ghost Rider, Strider Hiryu and Phoenix Wright, along with eight additional stages to fight in, a mode where you can play as Galactus and better fight balancing. It also featured a lower price point -- $39.99 -- making it an easy buy for comic book readers and fighting fans everywhere.

Next year, the series will live on through portable means as Capcom is working on a version for PlayStation Vita, set to debut alongside the system when it arrives next February. If you ever wanted to beat up someone on the go, you'll soon have your chance.

Flipping Out With Marvel

"Marvel Pinball," initially introduced back in December 2010 for Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network, saw its popularity flourish in 2011 thanks to the addition of several tables. Zen Studios introduced new downloadable pinball tables based on "Captain America" and "Fantastic Four," priced at $3 apiece, attracting millions of gamers and challenging them to get the highest scores possible through the use of online leaderboards.

At Comic-Con International in San Diego, Zen Studios announced that it was bringing a new four pack of tables, under the name "Vengeance and Virtue," to various platforms in early 2012, including Xbox Live and PlayStation Network, as well as additional systems, including the Nintendo 3DS, the Wii U, the PlayStation Vita and iPad/iPhone devices. Three of the four tables have since been revealed, featuring Ghost Rider, Moon Knight and the X-Men.

There's little question that Zen Studios will maintain their full-tilt speed with "Marvel Pinball" as it heads into what should be another successful year in 2012 -- but is it too much to ask for a Squirrel Girl table?

TAGS:  batman arkham city, spider-man, batman, marvel vs capcom, marvel pinball, x-men

 
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