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Review: 'Superman Returns' falls flat

By Marc Saltzman
Gannett News Service
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Many game designers believe the first 15 minutes of a video game are the most critical. First impressions are important when a new video game can run as much as $60 a pop.

While Electronic Arts' latest -- "Superman Returns: The Videogame" -- certainly grabs your attention right from the get-go, the excitement of flying and fighting as the Man of Steel slowly fizzles out.

For about the first hour, the game is a superhero-sized success, but you soon realize the game is better on style than substance.

First, the good news: Superman fans will love the open-ended Metropolis created for this game. You can fly anywhere within 80 square miles by weaving in and out of thousands of buildings and over small lakes and islands.

The view from above is gorgeous, especially on the Microsoft Xbox 360 version. Similarly, the orchestrated music and surround sound effects are top-notch.

As one would expect, Superman has superpowers at his disposal, including flight, super strength and speed, heat vision, super breath and super hearing..

In the first few minutes of play you'll be able to experience all of this, whether it's using your breath to blow out a building fire or flying straight up into the sky to ram into a giant meteor before it strikes the planet.

Superman cannot be damaged, but he must protect Metropolis at all costs -- a small on-screen health meter shows the state of the city, which determines whether you win or lose a mission.

And now, the not so great news: "Superman Returns: The Videogame" has little to do with the film, now available on DVD. Sure, it tells of Superman returning to Earth after confirming that his home world has been destroyed, and the game includes voice talent from Brandon Routh (Superman/Clark Kent) and Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor), but this is where the similarity ends.

Superman is kidnapped early in the game and must fight robots and other enemies on another planet in a kind of televised gladiator match. Then, back on Earth, our caped crusader must take on other villains from DC Comics history (including Metallo, Bizarro and Parasite), as well as dragons and other enemies.

New fighting moves are unlocked by completing objectives, such as grabbing a flying robot and then smacking it down onto the ground to inflict damage.

Problem is, it can be tough to toggle between all your powers (using the controller's D-pad) quick enough, not to mention targeting enemies and flying at the same time. Some awkward camera angles can also make it difficult to see around cars and buildings during battles against bad guys.

A storyline not tied to the movie isn't a crime, but repetitive and redundant game play is. Fighting enemies, putting out fires, saving kittens and protecting the city from tornadoes can get mighty boring after a while. The games impressive flight mechanics and enormous, intricate city cannot make up for less than compelling story lines and missions.

"Superman Returns: The Videogame" isn't a disaster, but given Electronic Arts' credibility and a triple-A license like Superman, gamers will undoubtedly be disappointed with the final result. Walk -- don't run or fly -- to your local game store to rent instead of buy this one.


In "Superman Returns: The Videogame," the man of steel must protect Metropolis at all costs.
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