The lights are on
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One would think that in an age where electronics and digital media reign supreme and people yearn for darker and more complicated narratives that superheroes, once confined to print and one-dimensional tales, would be a dying breed. Those people would be wrong.If anything for a variety of reasons, Marvel and DC's beloved heroes and villains have soared to newfound levels of popularity in recent years. In the case of Marvel, it's largely due to a succession of quality superhero films with stunning special effects and gripping character performances in a film industry that is otherwise suffering from a drought of great movies. Of course, the fact that Disney, one of the wealthiest mega-corporations of all time purchased them helps too... On the other hand, while Bats and Supes are the only DC heroes that enjoy widespread mainstream popularity, fantastic films like the Dark Knight trilogy, some entertaining and campy television shows, and a wealth of new stories and animated movies have helped age-old mascots like Batman and Superman and more continue to be household names for years to come.
Marvel and DC have successfully managed to use the most popular means of consuming media in our age - film, television, and e-books - to keep their franchises and characters relevant and in the minds of the public. Unlike say, Blockbuster, they've been adapting with the times, and avoided fading nto obscurity as a result. However oddly enough, there is one particular form of digital media they've been grossly overlooking to leverage their brands. And since your'e reading this on Game Informer, I should hope you know exactly what media form I'm talking about. Otherwise, you might want to get that noggin of yours checked out. Seriously.
While there have been a number of entertaining LEGO Marvel and DC games in recent years, the number of proper video games starring these heroes have been few and far between, and most of these were total dumpster fires. That is, with the exception of the Batman: Arkham Trilogy.
Licensed games are synonymous with poor quality, since they often sell on name recognition alone, regardless of how fun, original, and polished the video game itself is. It's surprising then that the Batman Arkham games manage to not only be capable games enjoyable to both Batman and action game fans, but arguably some of the greatest video games of all time.The Arkham games succeed on two levels; on the one hand, they boast stunning visuals, a free-flowing and polished combat system that never grows old, a wealth of side content and unlockable upgrades, and engaging environmental puzzles. In other words, they're damn good video games. However, the Arkham games also pay loving homage to their source material. Rather than take advantage of the Batman brand to move more units, the Arkham games actually use the Batman series' iconic locales, faces, and themes to their advantage. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, widely regarded to best the best voice actors for Batman and the Joker respectively, give their voices to their respective characters once more in this trilogy for example. Moreover, unforgettable villains such as the terrifyingly schizophrenic Two-Face and deranged, Joker worshiping Harley Quinn are depicted with stunning accuracy to their portrayal in other Batman media. Popular locations like Arkham Asylum and brought to life and made all the more real since they can be explored, and by being thrust into the Batman's shoes, fans of the series can gain a newfound appreciation for the characters' abilities and the internal struggles he faces.
The success of the Arkham trilogy begs the question - why hasn't DC made more video games starring some of their other massively iconic mascots? While Marvel may be dominating the superhero market at the moment, there's certainly a demand for a proper Superman, Wonder Woman, or Green Lantern game in the vein of the Arkham series. And with Rocksteady rumored to be working on a new title starring another one of DC's icons, I've decided to brainstorm which of their many famous faces would benefit most from a proper video game with them as the lead. And I've ultimately decided upon...
Some comic book fans bemoan The Flash as being a relic of the past - with superheroes being a dime a dozen these days, being able to run at superhuman speeds alone isn't enough to really stand out among the likes of more fleshed out heroes like Batman and Green Arrow. However, those naysayers don't realize that The Flash is more than just a fast guy wearing tights. In a world full of heroes that grow increasingly gritty and edgy by the day, The Flash has always been more of a lighthearted and campy hero. He's the buttmonkey of the Justice League, easily its doofiest member and the one most picked on. And with the advent of the DC Cinematic Universe, and the character starring in a successful CW show, I think the time is ripe for the red blur to star in a proper video game of his own.
After all, video games revolving around super speed always come out great, right?
Clearly, we've got our work ahead of us. If blue hedgehogs have taught us anything the past ten years, it's that games revolving around running really fast have the potential to be catastrophically terrible. The Flash deserves better, so today, I'd like to describe a hypothetical video game that would do justice to the original speedster, and my personal favorite superhero. So strap on those running shoes and let's get to the meat of this blog as quick as we can!
Gotta Go Fast!
Running is kind of The Flash's thing. He's no stronger nor more durable than the average human being, but depending on the source material, he can run from either 700 miles per hour to the speed of light. That makes NASCAR seem like a game of golf by comparison. Naturally, a game starring The Flash would have to be an adrenaline pumping affair revolving around blistering speed. Just as the F-Zero games have historically showcased each console generation's ability to process more frames for second, so too could a theoretical Flash video game be a demonstration of the PS4 or Xbox One's processing power.
That being said, if year after year of abysmal Sonic games have showcased one thing, it's that letting players move at ultra fast speed on its own does not equal a quality gaming experience. Most Sonic games revolve around moving really fast in a linear path and having a great time, until you come to a dead stop due to poor controls or crashing into enemy, killing all of the built-up momentum - and fun.. Even worse is that many Sonic games break the speed for tedious combat or wonky platforming that destroys both the flow and the thrill of the experience.The Flash could avoid this by utilizing one unique aspect of the trademark hero's speed. The Flash moves so quickly that he perceives his surroundings slower as a result. Gunshots and cars seem to move a at a crawl when you're moving at 1,000 miles per hour after all. Moreover in certain outings, The Flash has been seen moving so quickly that he can run on water, up buildings, or even completely phase through obstacles. This last bit is particularly important. Unlike Sonic, who comes into a screeching halt when making contact with an obstacle of any variety, The Flash could theoretically move right through it, preventing the momentum breaks that make Sonic games so frustrating to play.
Of course, if players could do this for EVERY obstacle they faced, any semblance of challenge would be removed from the experience. As a result, I resemble the basic running system of a supposed Flash game running on a parkour system; players could use the terrain to their advantage, often running up the buildings and across the lakes of The Flash's home, Central City. Cars and other obstacles would pose a threat and could cause damage, but could be avoided due to their perceived slower movement speed. And most importantly, with a well-timed button press, players could phase through a limited number of obstacles to prevent taking damage, being forced to slow down, or even shaving a few precious seconds if speed-running were to be a factor. Of course, running isn't all The Flash can do, and a game solely with a running engine incorporated would be rather dull...
The Flash actually has the ability to run through walls. Because reasons. This could lead to a great mechanic in a Flash video game to aid in maintaining player momentum and fun, but it should probably have limited uses to maintain the game's challenge.
Who Needs Super Strength?
The sky is blue. Peanut butter is infinitely superior to jelly. Final Fantasy XIII is a bad game. And superheroes beat up bad guys. Some things are just common sense.
As a superhero, The Flash naturally needs to tackle some adversaries, and a theoretical game starring him would need to incorporate some kind of combat system. The combat system of the Batman Arkham series was one of its greatest strengths - it flowed well and made you feel like Batman, as choosing when to attack, when to counter, and when to pull of special moves, all while avoiding hits and trying to string together combos was thrilling and never got old even a dozen hours after your first fight. It's essential that a theoretical Flash video game had an equally satisfying and addicting combat system to keep players engaged.
As I said before, aside from his super speed, The Flash is a bit limited in the super power department. Fists and bullets still do a number on him, and he's certainly not the paragon of super strength that Superman and Wonder Woman are. His lightning reflexes are ultimately his greatest asset in fights. I ultimately envision a Flash game's combat system not being radically different from that of the Arkham games, with an emphasis on avoiding getting hit while landing dozens of hits on dozens of foes consecutively. However, there would be a few key differences. The Flash would have lesser offensive and defensive prowess than the Bat to make up for his lesser physical strength. However, as he can when free-running, The Flash could move so quickly that he perceives enemy attacks as slower. This makes zipping between foes much easier, and stringing together literally hundreds of punches in mere seconds a possibility. Of course, in order to offset potential player over-poweredness (that's totally a word), the game would have to balance this by tasking The Flash with fighting powerful enemies, hordes of foes, and dealing with complicated environments and enemy A.I. Taking on three dozen enemies armed with lethal rifles that fire bullets (which are perceived to travel slowly) while avoiding other environmental hazards sounds like my idea of a good time, and a welcome break from the massive amount of running that a theoretical Flash game would likely contain.
Bullets could destroy The Flash like any other human being, but by running at super speed it'd be possible to outright avoid getting hit due tot their perceived slowness, no matter how many are thrown your way. This could lead to interesting combat possibilities.
World's (Second) Greatest DetectiveSuperheroes have lives too. They've still got car payments to make and cell phone bills to pay. When he's not running faster than sunlight or beating bad guys to a pulp, The Flash, as his alter-ego, Barry Allen, conducts menial forensics work at the Central City Police Department. He enjoys science, but largely does it in an effort to track down the man who murdered his mother when he was just a child. I picture a theoretical Flash game taking place in an open world version of Central City. Being able to run at the speed of light means that fast-travel is a thing of the past, but in order to break the flow of fighting and running which I'm pretty sure every video game in the history of ever has in spades, a Flash video game could benefit from having players conduct detective work, either to progress in the main story in a quest to capture the main villain, or as side quests to break up any potential monotony the experience could suffer from.Forensics investigators are not detectives and don't do detective work, but in a universe where meta-humans are a thing, I'm pretty sure the developers can get a little creative with job descriptions and duties. I'm a big fan of detective games in the vein of L.A. Noire or Ace Attorney, which task the player with using their noggin to track down clues, piece together the details of a crime and catch the culprit. The hypothetical game I've described up until now mostly focuses on good reflexes and speed - it's all brawn, no brain. However, this game could benefit from forcing the player to work their brain as well as their fingers. Stepping out of the Flash suit and into the shoes of Barry Allen, dashing to crime scenes and examining clues or interviewing witnesses L.A. Noire style could be an interesting way to open up plot threads and main story missions that would later be completed as The Flash.
One of the most interesting aspects of superhero fiction is also how these seemingly normal people have to hide their amazing powers and feats, something Telltale Games wants to tap into with their Batman episodic game later this year. I think exploring the dual life Barry Allen must lead - investigator by day, hero by night, could both set up a satisfying gameplay cycle and open up interesting narrative possibilities that haven't been fully explored in Flash fiction up until now.
Just please make the investigations a bit more fun than L.A. Noire's....
Keep it Campy
One thing that has always defined The Flash's character and that especially makes him unique in the modern superhero market is that he isn't a very grounded character. The Flash series recognizes its about a man that runs really fast, acknowledges how ridiculous this premise is, and doesn't try to take itself super serious or have a dark and brooding hero. Whether it's in the comics, television show, or animation, The Flash has always been a humorous hero meant to make fans laugh. He's the scapegoat of the Justice League, often treated like a farce by the other members. He's a bit smug, but in an endearing way, and he's helped put a smile on many people's faces across many forms of media through the years.
If Deadpool has shown us anything, it's that there's still demand for self-aware humor in superhero media. Not every hero has to dwell on their dark past and deliver over-the-top monologues all the time. Sometimes, a self-absorbed goofball like The Flash is just the kind of hero you need. If The Flash were ever to star in his own video game, I would hope the final product would have a whimsical and humorous tone to it. To use existing superhero games as an analogy, I mean less like Batman: Arkham City, and more like The Wonderful 101.
Ultimately, if ever there was a time for The Flash to receive a proper video game adaptation, it'd be now. Superheroes are no longer a stigma of nerd culture, and have achieved more mainstream popularity than ever before thanks to Hollywood movie adaptations. DC has kept the character relevant with a series of excellent animated movies in which he appeared in, as well as a television show as fun and campy as the character himself. But most importantly, the Batman Arkham games have set a precedent for what a quality licensed superhero game can be. We no longer live in an age where Superman 64 is the norm for superhero titles. Gamers expect more, and talented developers like Rocksteady have the means to match those expectations.
The Flash game I've described here, with an emphasis on parkour, lightning-quick combat, light detective work, and loads of camp is just one possible outcome. In reality, The Flash has been around for decades and has found popularity among several generations for a number of reasons. So long as the developers respect why the character is so beloved in the first place and stay true to what makes the franchise great, The Flash could show the world that a licensed game revolving around a super-fast protagonist isn't doomed to failure. And who knows? Maybe that game'll force Sonic into early retirement.
Would you like to see The Flash, or any other DC character star in a new video game? What would you like that game to be like? Sound off in the comments below, and happy gaming!