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Saturday, July 30, 2005

2005-2007: The Year(s) of the Comic Book Video Games

Ok, so here's the deal: The reason I got into voice acting in the first place was because of video games (like Dungeon Master on the Atari ST), comic books (all of 'em), and action cartoons and anime (Akira to X-Men).

So though comic book-based video games have had a checkered past at best (ahem, Batman), the next few years are looking to explode with high-caliber, solid comic book games that are going to create an earth-bound nirvana for those of us who are fans of both mediums.

So, here's a snapshot in time for the exciting entries into this crossover genre. I may have to give this post some additional stickiness ...

2005-2007: Years of the Comic Book Video Games

  • OK, at the beginning of 2004, I said 2004 was going to be the year of the comic book video game, because of The Red Star, 100 Bullets, The Incredible Hulk, X-Men, Batman, and others.
  • So I was arguable a little off, because Acclaim tanked, taking The Red Star and 100 Bullets with it. Bummer, but The Red Star build I played sucked big time, and despite some gorgeous 100 Bullets assets by the stellar local boys at The Animation Farm, I saw nothing that hinted at the quality of gameplay. Hulk was passable, Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu continued the industry's disrespect of the franchise. Daredevil was canceled.

    But, X-Men Legends from the superstars at Raven Software? By itself, made 2004 the year of the comic book. Mix the X-Men with a solid RPG? And add co-op (albeit offline co-op)? Brilliant.

    And I've got to give a nod to the Austin contingent for NCsoft's City of Heroes, the first fully (and well-realized) super hero MMORPG. And they launched a comic-book tie-in via Top Cow Productions, the dudes behind The Darkness (see below). Plus, the boys and girls of NCsoft's keep on giving, with expansion packs, addition of player-versus-player (PvP), and more (keep reading)
  • So, what makes this year and the next two good for comic book geeks? Read (and drool) on:

    • Batman Begins (June 2005; Multi) -- Decent, if linear take on the Dark Knight.

      SCORES: 6.7 (XB); 6.8 (Ps2, GC) 7.6 (GC); 6.8 (XB, PS2)

    • Fantastic Four (July 2005; Multi) -- Solid, fun romp (even if it misses the mark a bit).

      SCORES: 5.8 6.5

    • The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (August 2005; Multi) -- The game that let's you destroy everything. Awesome boss battles. A cast of previously missing (or miss-presented) Hulk stalwarts like the Abominiation, Devil Hulk, etc.

      The September issue of The Official Xbox Magazine has got a playable version of The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction. It's a timed demo, which I hate (unless it's relevant to a well-implemented mini-game), but it gives a taste of the forthcoming carnage.

      Pre-order (at least at Gamestop), and get a free re-print of the Incredible Hulk #1 comic book. The re-print also features updated cover art tributes from current hot artists.

      SCORES: 8.2 (Ps2, GC) 8.4

    • Ultimate Spider-Man (September 2005; Multi) -- Spider-Man games have probably had the most success in the video game world. This new title will let you play as Spider-Man and nemesis Venom. The game story is being written by super-scribe Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by Mark Bagley (the guys behind the comic book), and continues the story where the series left off. It also promises a unique "3D Comic Inking Technology" that makes it look like you're actually playing a comic book. It also promises "More Spider-Man universe characters than ever before."

      The September issue of The Official Xbox Magazine has got new video of the game.

      Pre-order (at least at Gamestop), and get a free "Making of" CD, which includes developer interviews, concept art and animation, Screen shots, and game trailers for Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic 4 and X- MEN Legends II.

      SCORES: 7.1 8.4
    • Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (October 2005; Multi) -- OK, I'm a big fan of comic books, and of well-done co-branding, and Nemesis is both. Born from a partnership between Electronic Arts and Marvel, this is a game and a comic book, using the stable of Marvel heroes and villains, and new EA entries. Character designs are being done by Jae Lee, and other heavy hitters Mark Millar and Terry Dodson were recently announced for backstory and interface/character design, respectively. What am I pissed off about with this game? My boy Captain America will only be on the Sony PSP version! Yeargh!! C'Mon, EA, make him unlockable or a later download for Xbox! C'Mon! Please?

      6.4 (PS2, XB); 6.3 (GC) 5.1
    • X-Men Legends II: Rise of the Apocolypse (Fall 2005; Multi) -- Take what worked in the first game and make it better? Make the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants playable? Add online co-op ("Online co-op is the new hotness" -- freaking finally, and you heard it here first!)? Yay! And, Raven Software, the folks behind the first-round, and helming it again!

      The September issue of The Official Xbox Magazine has got new video of the game.

      SCORES: 8.1 8.5
    • City of Villains (November 2005; PC) -- As if NCsoft's City of Heroes wasn't enough! This full-on sequel to CoH puts you in sinister super sneakers with new powers and nefarious plans.

      SCORES: 8.2 8.0
    • The Darkness (2006; Xbox 360) -- Here's a game I mentioned before, so I'll just repeat: "Are you kidding me? Freaking awesome comic from Top Cow that is looking very slick in the trailer -- no gameplay, yet, but this is being done by Starbreeze Studios -- the genius studio behind The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay."
    • DC/JLA RPG game (2006; Xbox 360 and PS3) -- From Warner Bros. and possibly developed by Sony (huh!), the game will include super heroes like "Superman, Batman, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, and Zatanna". The game will feature customizeable skills and cooperative multiplayer (hopefully the new hotness of online co-op).
    • Marvel MMO game (2007; Xbox 360) -- Microsoft announced in July it negotiated exclusive rights to develop and publish massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) using Marvel's characters for the Xbox 360, published by Microsoft Game Studios.
    • Marvel RPG (2007; PC, Next-Gen) -- A few weeks later, publisher Activision (folks behind X-Men Legends, X-Men Legends II, and Ultimate Spider-Man) announced it extended its already heavily-used licensing with Marvel for a non-persistent role playing game (RPG).
    • The Red Star (TBD; TBD) -- Yeah, this was supposed to be out last year. Sure, the demo was lacking. Bummer, publsiher Acclaim tanked two weeks before release. Anyway, creator Christian Gossett was on-hand at last week's Comic-Con International, and said the game had been picked up by a major publisher, and "we should expect a major announcement soon." Hmm .. Majesco? Possibly THQ?
    • Darkwatch: Curse of the West (August 2005; Multi) -- OK, this was also on my list for last year, but High Moon Studios -- which was a US studio formed as part of the Sammy/Sega merger -- broke from the parent company to form their own studio, so they get a bye. Anyway, it gets included in this list because I've been watching and talking about this game for a while, and when I first read about the efforts going into it, I wrote about it becoming a multi-channel franchise. And so it is. Besides the game launching this August 5 (wonder what my weekend will be like?), Heavy Metal Magazine published a story that leads directly into the game in the July issue, and a graphic novel and series are rumored in the works. This thing looks seriously cool, so check out the new single and multi-player demo in this months Official Xbox Magazine, and a great write-up in the August Play Magzine. As far as the gameplay and story, think Jonah Hex meets Blade, with the frenetic pace of Painkiller.

      SCORES: 7.9 7.9 (XB); 7.6 (PS2)
Pick up napkin. Dab. Re-read. Repeat.

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