Great Unlicensed Comic Book Games

June 9th, 2009 by | Tags: , ,

Matt Jett is a guy I know who I talk about games with. He expressed an interest in writing about games a little here on 4l!, so I figured I’d give him a weekly on Tuesdays.

It’s not much of a secret that licensed tie-in games usually suck. The vast majority of them aren’t given much of a chance to succeed, their budgets low and their development cycles rushed so they’re released at the same time as a film or new television show. Games based on comic books tend to suffer the same fate, coasting on their licenses instead of quality to generate sales.

So, what about the other kind of comic book games? Ones that aren’t based on any existing superheroes, that invent whole new settings? Some might argue that to be a “comic book game,” a game necessarily has to be based on a comic book, but I disagree. To me, any game that adopts a comic book feel in its design choices is a comic book game, no matter who the game stars. Many of these games have been forgotten by the current gaming audience, or aren’t known as comic book games at all. In the interest of correcting this grievous oversight, here are two that I really like, games that have enough crossover appeal to make both comic readers and gamers happy.

freedomforce2Freedom Force & Freedom Force vs. the Third Reich: The PC-only Freedom Force games are the most blatantly “comic-book-style” games I’ve ever played. The series puts you in charge of a fictional superhero team and has you fight supervillains in a very straightforward manner, using a clicking interface similar to Baldur’s Gate or Diablo to make controlling a team of characters intuitive. The things that make Freedom Force stand out are its presentation and its attention to detail. The art style, while still using 3d models, looks like it’s straight out of a comic book. Loading screens are even fashioned to look like comic book covers from the Silver Age, with the game’s fictional superheroes replacing the likes of Superman and Batman. Characters’ dialogue is put in speech bubbles, and sound effects are put on the screen just like they are in an issue of Greg Pak’s Hercules or the old Batman TV show. The games are available as a bundle through Steam for $7.50.

infamousInfamous: Infamous is the best example I can give of a comic book game that hasn’t, to my knowledge, been recognized for being one. The cutscenes are crafted to look like pages from comic books, with caption boxes and different “panels” of action on the screen. The protagonist, Cole, is clearly patterned after a superhero, his electricity powers eventually granting him the ability to float around, almost flying like the prototypical superman, and his character arc follows a clearly defined pattern that goes back to Peter Parker being bitten by a radioactive spider. Beyond its comic book pedigree, Infamous is just fun. The controls are solid, the story is interesting, and the open-world gameplay allows you to play for hours or for 20 minutes and still feel like you’ve made significant progress through the game’s content. It’s a solid recommendation for anyone with a PlayStation 3 (all ten of you).

I’m not saying licensed comic-book games are universally terrible. I played Marvel: Ultimate Alliance until my thumbs cramped up, after all. There are just so many other games to consider when looking for a superhero fix, so why not go outside the safe zone of Wolverine and Batman? Try one of the games I recommended, or if I missed a great one, tell me and I’ll try it out.

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5 comments to “Great Unlicensed Comic Book Games”

  1. Well here’s kind of an obvious one given the day, but Prototype. It was made by the people behind Hulk: Ultimate Destruction (one of the few good licensed games) and the powerset is essentially Venom/Carnage. Just shipped today so you can’t exactly run and pick it up, but between its pedigree and the early reviews it should be up here.

  2. Comic Zone
    Max Payne


    thank you for bringing this to my attention

  4. Freedom Force and its sequel really are amazing games. The create-a-character mode is extremely robust, and you make damn near any idea for a character you can think of. And I haven’t seen anything outside the comics themselves capture the style of Silver Age Marvel so well.

  5. City of Heroes is where I go to get my comic fix. It’s even one of the reasons I got more into comic in to the first place.

    And NICE Freedom Force 1 and 2 for the price of the 2nd one on Steam. Thanks!