The latest entry in the massively successful Batman video game series, Batman: Arkham Knight, was just released to rave reviews and caps off a trilogy of fantastic superhero games developed by Rocksteady. The return of the Dark Knight to the gaming space seems like a perfect launching pad to take a look at some of the best superhero games that have come along over the years. Video games allow us to live out our wildest superhero fantasies better than any other medium, but outside of the continually impressive Batman games, the superhero genre has largely not lived up its potential (we’re still waiting for an Avengers game that can match the quality of the Arkham series). Still, there have been a number of outstanding titles, with the following 10 representing arguably the best superhero video games ever made.
10. Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions
The Spider-Man games have fallen on hard times as of late. Developers Beenox, a subsidiary of Activision, were handed the reigns to the series in 2010 and have come up short with almost all of their games since, with the exception of their first crack at it with Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. The game was a major departure from the previous Spider-Man games, eschewing an open world design in favor of linear stages. While some were put off by the absence of a fully-rendered New York City to swing around in, Shattered Dimensions was actually a very good entry in the series when judged on its own merits. Featuring four different Spider-Men across a variety of timelines, the gameplay varied dramatically from character-to-character and the boss battles (featured in every stage) were very impressive. Unfortunately, Beenox hasn’t quite known what to do with ol’ webhead ever since.
9. X-Men Legends
While it’s pretty rough around the edges by today’s standards, X-Men Legends was nothing short of a revelation when it came out in 2004. Developer Raven Software, who unfortunately have since been moved to working exclusively on Call of Duty games, came up with the ingenious idea of marrying the X-Men universe with a top-down action RPG style popularized by games like Diablo. It turns out that this was the perfect match for a franchise with a cast of characters as large as the X-Men, as the four player co-operative gameplay mimicked the team-oriented atmosphere of the comics. Disappointingly, there hasn’t been a new entry in the series since the 2005 sequel, X-Men Legends II: Rise of Apocalypse.
8. Lego Marvel Superheroes
It says a lot about the state of superhero videogames when the best one to have featured the Avengers since that franchise exploded in popularity (thanks to the films of course) is a Lego game (although, to be fair, the free-to-play action RPG Marvel Heroes 2015 is surprisingly good). Lego Marvel Superheroes still adheres to the reliable, but increasingly stale Lego formula, but it’s a game of complete Marvel fan-service. It not only contains a staggering 155 playable characters, it recreates an entire Marvel-themed New York City for players to tool around in. While it would be nice to see a real Avengers game that reaches the cinematic quality of the Arkham series, it’s still nice to have such a charming love letter to Marvel’s universe in the form of Lego Marvel Superheroes.
7. Injustice: Gods Among Us
While it’s arguable that Ulimate Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 is the best superhero fighting game of all time, it’s not a pure superhero game, so naturally that honor must go to the DC Comics-themed title Injustice: Gods Among Us. Developed by NetherRealm Studios, who also made the more recent Mortal Kombat games, Injustice is the first fighting game to truly do superheroes, well, justice (again, barring the MvC series) and a lot of that has to do with its excellent fighting engine. While it’s not as nuanced as something like Street Fighter, Injustice has a fully fleshed-out combat system that excels at showcasing the various powers and abilities of the all-star cast, which features favorites like Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman, among a host of others. There’s also a pretty good storyline to boot, to the point where DC ran a successful comic book series based on it.
6. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
The Marvel Ultimate Alliance games were a spiritual successor to the X-Men Legends games, but featuring heroes from across the Marvel Universe. The second game in the series was arguably the best and is still the greatest Marvel video game that lets you play as multiple heroes. Ultimate Alliance 2 kept the same basic beat-em-up gameplay of the first game, but improved upon it in almost every way. The level design was tighter and didn’t feature any awful underwater segments, the selection of playable characters was better overall (Thor and Hulk make an unstoppable combination), and the story was much-improved, based on the popular Civil War comic book story. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a new entry in the series since Ultimate Alliance 2 was released in 2009.
5. The Incredible Hulk Ultimate Destruction
Before The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction came along, the Hulk was never really given a game worthy of his oversized fists. Fortunately, all that changed when Radical Entertainment were given the keys to the angry green giant and produced a game that put players in control of the Hulk the way he was meant to be: angry and destructive. Released in 2005, Ultimate Destruction took a cue from the success of the previous year’s open world game Spider-Man 2 and applied it to the Hulk. The Hulk could run and climb on walls, leap over huge distances, and most importantly, cause a lot of destruction. Like most good superhero games, Ultimate Destruction‘s successes have been virtually ignored, as no one has been able to make a better Hulk game than this.
4. Infamous 2
The Infamous series has become the most popular brand of superhero games not based on an existing comics license and for good reason. Developer Sucker Punch nailed the superhero (or villain, as the game gave you the choice of being good or evil) origin tale with the first game and improved on it in almost every way with the 2011 sequel. Protagonist Cole McGrath’s electrical powers are an absolute hoot and the open world traversal was second-to-none, making players feel like a superhero surveying the city for crime. While the sequel, last year’s PS4-exclusive Infamous: Second Son did a good job of showing off what the console’s hardware could do, Infamous 2 remains the pinnacle of the series.
3. Spider-Man 2
It’s mind-boggling that no other Spider-Man game has matched the accomplishments of 2004’s movie-tie-in game Spider-Man 2, but such is the world we live in. There has never been a video game before or since that has come as close to representing what it would be like to be Spider-Man. Much of that has to do with the game’s web-swinging mechanics, which were revelatory at the time (and have inexplicably never been replicated in the many Spider-Man games released since). Admittedly, the combat system left something to be desired and the game could get quite repetitive at times (if we never have to rescue a snot-nosed kid’s balloon again, it will be too soon). Still, this is the Spider-Man game that every new one is compared to and there have been none that eclipse Spider-Man 2, even eleven years after its release.
2. Batman: Arkham Asylum
“You’ve changed things, forever.” So says the Joker to Batman in the iconic interrogation scene from the 2008 film The Dark Knight. That line can easily be co-opted when it comes to 2009’s Batman: Arkham Asylum, which not only changed the way we look at superhero games, it had a dramatic effect on game design from that point forward. Before Arkham Asylum, Batman’s video game track record was atrocious. Thankfully, British developer Rocksteady Studios took a crack at the character and delivered a complete knockout in the process. Where countless others had failed in the past, Rocksteady succeeded by sticking to one simple design philosophy: make players feel like Batman. It also helped that the story, sound, and level design were all top-notch (having Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill reprise their roles from the Batman Animated Series lent an air of authenticity to the whole project).
1. Batman: Arkham City
Arkham Asylum introduced the template for which all other superhero games are judged, so naturally the only game that could truly top it was its sequel. There was enormous pressure for Rocksteady to strike gold twice with their 2011 sequel, Batman: Arkham City, and the ace developers did not disappoint. Arkham City improved and expanded on almost every facet of Arkham Asylum‘s design. As the title implies, Batman is given the run of a sizable chunk of Gotham City, allowing players to truly recreate iconic Batman moments like silently swooping in on a group of thugs from the rooftops. In retrospect, the only negative thing about Arkham City that comes to mind is its ending (it doesn’t make sense that Batman would mourn the loss of a certain character over another); in all other aspects, it’s easily the best superhero game of all time. Only time will tell if Arkham Knight can challenge that title.