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'Superman: The Man of Steel' (Xbox) Review

Overall Rating

Watch Wednesday 11/27 at 4 p.m., Thursday 11/28 at 3:30 a.m., and Sunday 12/1 at 3:30 a.m. Eastern.
By Jason D'Aprile
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Superman:  Man of Steel

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Superman: The Man of Steel
Platform: Xbox
Developer: Circus Freak Studios
Publisher: Infogrames
ESRB rating: Teen
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
It would seem that the one battle Earth's greatest hero can't win is the evil of hasty videogame licensing. Shamed to infamy thanks to a truly hideous Nintendo 64 game, Superman hasn't had much luck on newer systems either. In fact, between his lackluster, flawed PS2 game and this new Xbox adventure, you'd think these systems were brimming with killer Kryptonite.

Something old, something new, something red and blue

For more old-school fans of Superman, the world that the "Man of Steel" throws gamers into will instantly manage to seem alien. The setup is that an alliance between Lex Luthor and Brainiac 13 managed to leave Metropolis as a true "city of the future." Nanotechnology has transformed this thriving urban sprawl into something out of a science fiction movie, complete with shiny, mirrored buildings and hovercars everywhere. Since the appeal of Superman was that he was the shining beacon of virtue and squeaky-clean truth and justice in a rough and tumble, dirty, and troubled world, this transformation of the city just seems wrong.

The game itself takes place some time in the future, when robots suddenly appear and start sucking the technology out of the buildings to build a new body for Brainiac 13. As comic plots go, this building-sucking scheme seems plausible enough, but still sounds... well... stupid. The developers have, of course, thrown in a variety of famous Superman villains, ranging from Brainiac and Luthor, to everyone's favorite clone gone wrong, Bizarro.

Super... handy man?

Most of the game takes place in the overly shiny Metropolis, but eventually Superman takes a jaunt or two to the Phantom Zone, Warworld, and even space. This makes much of the gameplay feels more like Superman's taxi service.

Superman:  Man of Steel

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Everywhere you go, people are whining to be saved, or for Superman to put out fires, destroy robots, save more people, put out fires, fight bad guys, and oh yeah, put out fires. Apparently, the city of the future is lacking in civil servants, and Superman is just there to pick up the slack. Frankly, the game has managed to make the existence of one of the most powerful super beings ever seem downright annoying. Basically the many mini-missions are far too repetitive. No wonder he needs the Fortress of Solitude. It's the only place where people aren't yelling out things for him to do.

Faster than a speeding... laser beam!

Admittedly, while the level design sports some fundamental flaws, the things "Superman: The Man of Steel" does right are just as notable. For one thing, even if the old Metropolis would have been a preferable stomping ground for the action, the environments here do look excellent. Without a doubt, the vast levels to fly through, full of traffic and activity, prove to be remarkably engaging visuals for the action. It's a shame that almost none of it is interactive. Indeed, you can't destroy or interact with anything unless it's a specific objective. This inability to crash through billboards, pick up cars or lampposts to use as a weapon, or any of the other comic battle standbys is exceedingly disappointing.

Thankfully, the game showcases Superman's powers right. Superman has at his diposal heat and x-ray vision, cold breath, flight, and super punching power. Superman can even dodge attacks at super speeds to prevent excess damage. There's no power bar to limit your usage of any of his powers. They've countered the potential shortcoming of this by making certain enemies susceptible only to certain attacks. The enemy's lock-on color dictates their vulnerability.

The camera, as usual, proves to be out of synch at times, especially when locked onto a specific target. The save game function is a bigger annoyance, though. Since progress is only saved after completing a level, with no way points at all, the whole game is basically won by trial and error. This mean having to go through the same sections over and over, which is bound to annoy many players.

Super secrets and hearing

As you beat missions, new modes, costumes, and artwork are unlocked. The most interesting bonus is the free flight mode, but it's somewhat dulled because all you do is sightsee. Some sort of random incidents mode would have really spiced things up considerably and given the game better replay value. Rounding everything out, the audio side of the game is pretty good, with decent voice acting, suitably cartoonish sound effects to accompany the action, and a comic book-style soundtrack.

Better luck next time, Supe

"Superman: The Man of Steel" isn't, despite its faults, a terrible game. In fact, in doses, it's a fun if slight romp into the life of the legendary comic book hero. It's just a shame that more care wasn't taken to make his life seem less repetitive and more diverse. Ultimately, fans will probably enjoy the action for the most part, since it does an excellent job of translating Superman's abilities and skills to the TV screen.

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Posted November 27, 2002

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Wednesday 11/27
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Thursday 11/28
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Sunday 12/1
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· 'Superman: The Man of Steel' (Xbox) Review
· 'NHL FaceOff 2003' (PS2)
· 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets' (PS2) Review
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