No doubt taking a queue from last year’s Batman: Vengeance game, which was also based on a animated series of the same name, Superman: Shadow of Apokolips blends stylish action with stirring cut-scenes to create a game that puts you in the shoes of the ultimate superhero as you play through an interactive episode. Also like Batman: Vengeance, the experience can sometimes be hampered by clumsy play-mechanics and unclear objectives, but Shadow of Apokolips is a vast improvement in this regard. In fact, other than the sometimes-unresponsive gameplay, this title manages to do something that no other Superman game in recent history has been able to pull off: be fun.
The story in Shadow of Apokolips revolves around Superman’s arch-nemesis, Lex Luther. His plan, not surprisingly, is to take out the caped crusader once and for all. Despite the fact that Lex has constantly attempted to kill Superman decade after decade and has constantly failed, he is now convinced that an army of robots equipped with powerful weapons supplied by Darkseid will do the trick. These weapons are alarmingly powerful, but Superman will be able to take quite a bit of hits before he’ll have to start worrying about funeral arrangements. At least the uber-powerful weapons give justification to the fact that an otherwise invincible Superman can even be hurt without the use of kryptonite.
The in-game action is fast, frantic, and fun. Superman is able to perform a wide assortment of moves that are both easy to pull off and an integral part of progressing through the game. (With the exception of his X-ray vision, which is rarely used.) For example, Heat Vision can disarm far-away security systems, neutralize enemies, and destroy super-armored vehicles with its Heat Blast function. Hitting the circle button allows Superman to use his Blast Breath, which works similarly to the FLUDD device in Super Mario Sunshine, and can literally blow away enemies and quell raging fires. Other abilities include Speed Dodge, Super Vision, and Speeding Bullet. Superman can be maneuvered in all three dimensions, including vertically by using the R-analog stick. Flying speed can be attained by holding the R2 button, and changing perspective is assigned to the L-analog stick for both ground and air maneuvering. Play control while flying is very responsive, allowing you to get from point A to point B quickly while dodging obstacles with ease.
Most of the scenarios involve performing a point A to point B task while disposing of hordes of baddies. For instance, in one area you must protect a group of rent-a-cops as they make their way through multiple enemy ambushes until finally reaching the safety of their vehicle. Every level introduces a new style of objective, most of which are surprisingly fun. The experience feels fresh all the way through. The exception to that rule is found in a few instances in which stealth maneuvering is necessary. While the control system is precise enough to take care of brute force tasks, it isn’t quite up to par for Solid Snake-style escapades. These sequences offer up a few moments of entertainment but are, for the most part, ham-fisted and too slow-paced in contrast with the normal run-n-gun gameplay of the other stages.
Some events in the game are time-based, meaning you must accomplish what it takes to complete an objective before the time runs out, like acquiring four coolant tanks located in far away storage rooms to cool down an overheating reactor core. While these scenarios usually require a few attempts to accomplish, they tend to be some of the cooler levels in the game. While some levels can be pretty challenging, at least you won’t have to replay the same scenes over within a level; instead you start from the last objective that you failed to accomplish. Not having to replay sequences that have already been beaten is an appreciated addition indeed.
A cool part about how this game handles health and special-moves is that each has its own gauge-representation and they both slowly regenerate on their own, which effectively does away with having to pick up various items to stay healthy. On missions where time is not crucial, you can just fly away from danger and explore areas without enemies while your health replenishes. It’s a pretty handy function.
Superman can pick up various objects and use them as weapons by standing next to it and holding the X button for about a second. There is a wide assortment of objects that you can use as weapons but in the heat of a hectic battle where you are constantly being targeted and shot at, you’ll find that the system for actually picking these items up is very ineffective. You’ll often be shot to the ground before the clumsy targeting system locks on to the object that you want to pick up.
Having to wait for each scene to reload every time you die can grow very tiresome. Why the developers opted to reload each scene when you die instead of using the already-loaded data is beyond me. But it tends to really screw up the pacing of the game when you’re watching more of the loading screen than you are of the actual game.
Visually, Superman: Shadow of Apokolips is an impressive recreation of the animated series on which it is based, thanks in part to clever use of cel-shaded graphics. The cut-scenes set up the objectives flawlessly and feel like they were ripped right out of the animated cartoon. Aurally, Shadow of Apokolips manages to cover all its bases with stirring, superhero-ish orchestrations and interesting, believable dialogue. Voice-syncing is dead-on precise. The overall attention to detail in the presentation of Apokolips helps to put the stamp of approval on the quality of development that this game received.
Basically, Superman: Shadow of Apokolips is a surprisingly entertaining title that I initially assumed would suck, as licensed-personality games tend to do. While it can be most closely compared to the underwhelming Batman: Vengeance, it is similar only by technicality, and in actuality is much better than that game in almost every conceivable way. Critics will undoubtedly lash out at Apokolips due to its somewhat cumbersome ground-based gameplay, but the reality of the situation is that 90% of the time, you don’t even need to be on the ground to conduct your business. In fact, it’s probably more efficient to avoid ground-based combat altogether since Superman is less of a target when he is in the air. The pacing of this game feels very natural, the stylish and varied missions are a breath of fresh air, and the graphical presentation makes it seem like you are participating in an impressively detailed animated cartoon. Do yourself a favor and check this game out.