Over the years the zeitgeist for popular superhero games has changed dramatically. If you were to ask someone what the best superhero games were in 2013, they probably wouldn’t mention anything Marvel. Back then Marvel Games was mainly putting out movie tie-ins like Thor: God of Thunder, or an endless series of middle-tier Spider-Man titles. Even games like Marvel Heroes or Marvel: Ultimate Alliance weren’t upheld as prime examples of superhero experiences. Original titles like Infamous or Prototype might get mentioned before Iron Man 2 would. Rather than mention Marvel titles, you’d probably be more likely to mention a DC game first.
Of course, what everyone would naturally gravitate towards in this conversation would be the Batman: Arkham games, beginning with Rocksteady Studios’ Batman: Arkham Asylum in 2009. There are four main titles in the series, most of which are critically acclaimed. The series high point, 2011’s Arkham City, sits at a 94 on Metacritic. But, if you asked someone what the best superhero games were in 2023, the answer wouldn’t be in the DC universe. Unless they’re nostalgically referring to the Arkham games. What went wrong with DC’s last decade in video games, and how has Marvel come out on top?
The Last Decade of Marvel and DC in Video Games
The first game to show that Marvel Games could make some solid decisions was Marvel’s Spider-Man, the first Insomniac Games-developed Spider-Man title, which was released in 2018. A PlayStation 4 exclusive, the game is sitting at 87 on Metacritic. Of course, Insomniac went on to make two more Spider-Man titles, and are currently working on a Wolverine game. 2023’s Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 was received more favorably than the first game, with a 90 on Metacritic. Before 2018, the Marvel market was flooded with movie tie-ins, mobile games, and the occasional Lego game.
While there are still mobile games, modern Marvel titles feel more thought out. For example, Marvel Snap (Second Dinner), is a competitive collectible card game that won both The Game Award for Best Mobile Game and Mobile Game of the Year at the D.I.C.E. Awards. Marvel’s Midnight Suns (Firaxis Games) and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Eidos-Montréal) were both well-received too. Marvel’s Avengers, on the other hand was panned for a buggy launch and repetitive gameplay, and the live service title was delisted earlier in 2023. It received a Metacritic of 67, like a recent DC title, Gotham Knights.
A co-op experience where you can play as Red Hood, Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing fell short compared to the developer’s previous game, Arkham Origins. Of course, DC began the last decade in gaming by finishing the Arkham series, with Arkham Origins and Arkham Knight. The popular fighting game Injustice 2 was also released in 2017. The NetherRealm Studios title received an 87 on Metacritic. Yet, other than Gotham Knights, and a smattering of mobile releases, we haven’t seen much from DC lately.
The Future of Superhero Video Games
There is no denying that DC is falling behind with game releases. The upcoming Rocksteady title, Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League has been delayed multiple times. Fans reacted negatively to gameplay footage for the game after it was shown at the PlayStation State of Play in February 2023, which you can see above. Marvel, on the other hand, seems to be thriving. Not only was Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 received exceptionally well, but Marvel Games has four upcoming titles set to be released. Insomniac Games is working on Wolverine, and there are games based on Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Panther in development as well.
The only other announced game DC has in development is Wonder Woman by Monolith Productions. This seems like it’ll be a step in the right direction. Whether intentional or not, DC or Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment is following Marvel’s lead by giving relatively unmined characters to developers with a track record. This doesn’t always work – see Marvel’s Avengers and Gotham Knights – but it’s a good start. If anything, DC should outsource titles to game developers not in the Warner Bros. family.
Although, if DC fans were given a new Batman game as good as the Arkham games, there probably wouldn’t be many complaints. One thing is for sure, though: DC needs to have more of a presence in the gaming space. It’s good that there’s a Wonder Woman game in the works, but what about Superman, The Flash, or Aquaman? It’s not as if DC will fade from the minds of the audience, but because of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, it’s hard not to think of what we could be getting from the DC side.