Despite the astronomical success of Marvel’s Cinematic Universe, there hasn’t been a single great licensed game to come out of it. Sure, we’ve got Disney Infinity, but that’s not really a proper superhero game. WB’s Arkham series broke the mold for licensed games, combining elements from Batman’s many incarnations to create what could be the best superhero game series of all time. That’s got me wondering: Why hasn’t Marvel made a similar move? If Marvel were to emulate the success of Arkham on the PC and console markets, what should they do?
Should It Be an Arkham Clone?
Well, probably. Of course that sounds lazy, but what does “clone” mean now? As gaming formulas continue to improve, most AAA titles in the same genre share so many mechanics that “cloning” has become an accepted reality in gaming. Nearly every FPS has a bow and arrow now, for some reason. The new Tomb Raider games are great, but you can’t deny their similarity to the Uncharted franchise or Gears of War. So, practically speaking, a hypothetical developer would be smart to capture what works so well about the Arkham games. It has to be more than just imitation — the key is understanding why the Arkham games have been so successful.
Why the Arkham Games Are So Successful
Each of the four main Arkham games (yes, I’m including Origins) has a tightly focused central narrative that smartly limits the scale of the open world. The gameplay is varied. The combat is easy to learn, but difficult and rewarding to master. The grapnel/glide mechanic is slick and fun. The games have a signature look, with great art design. And even with loads of gadgets at his disposal, Batman rarely feels too powerful. The games have great villains (Batman’s got the unfair advantage here), and the voice acting is top notch. Now, which MCU characters would the best candidates for an interesting and fun action game?
Who wouldn’t want a great Iron Man game set in the MCU? Tony Stark is a quippy and magnetic hero with near limitless options for gadget upgrades and amazing suits. His abilities would provide the game with varied combat and a killer flight mechanic. But making an open world Iron Man game would present some huge, huge challenges. Tony Stark is a public figure. He’s recognized worldwide as Iron Man, so he can’t operate with impunity. And now, with his arc leading into Civil War, his loyalties no longer lie with The Avengers. Every public action he takes could damage his reputation, the reputation of the American government and The Avengers, and the reputation (not to mention the stock price) of Stark Industries. Imagine a mechanic where you have to manage what the global media is saying about you. That could be fun, but it feels fundamentally cynical and would detract from the central conflict of the story. What’s more, Tony is so powerful that an open world wouldn’t seem like a challenge. You could get around all this by presenting a new origin story that takes place outside the MCU canon, but a new origin story at this point would be a big misstep. But what if you put Iron Man in a place where he isn’t known; where he didn’t have to operate with regards to his Earthly fame?
There was a rumor before the release of Iron Man 3 that Tony would leave Earth at the end of the film. Now there’s an idea for a game: Iron Man on Xandar. I’d play the heck outta that.
Here, I think lies the best opportunity for Marvel to create a unique twist on the open world superhero game. Yes, due to the many similarities between Batman and Black Panther, it would likely end up being somewhat of an Arkham clone. The Arkham formula is tried and true, but the right developer could really do wonders with the Panther. Central Wakanda‘s futuristic architecture and African setting is worlds away from gloomy Gotham, and would be well suited for an open world game. We don’t yet know if 2018’s Black Panther film will be an origin story, but a game like this would present a great platform for the T’Challa’s first steps.
We could see him take on S’yan, accept the mantle, get the vibranium trade under control, upgrade his tech, fight White Wolf, and defeat the Hatut Zeraze (Wakanda’s secret police). There’s so much potential for this lesser-known character right now — the terrific Ryan Coogler is reportedly in talks to direct the 2018 movie, and the upcoming comic revival will be overseen by acclaimed author Ta-Nehisi Coates and artist Brian Stelfreeze. Being a relative newcomer to the greater Marvel canon, I don’t know much about Black Panther. I’m very curious about how T’Challa, as the king of Wakanda, shoulders the enormous responsibility to his country and its people. Like Iron Man, his identity is publicly known, but the character’s abilities are much better suited for an open world game series. And hey, a sequel could see T’Challa relinquishing his powers and traveling to Hell’s Kitchen to team up with Daredevil, like he did in the comics. Sign me up!
Gamora & Nebula
The rivalry between Thanos’ adopted daughters would be a great conflict to explore in a video game. By exploring their history prior to Guardians of the Galaxy, the game could allow the player to switch off between Gamora and Nebula, GTA 5 style, as they zip around beautiful alien environments. By giving them different playing styles and unique upgradable skills, this could be the most immersive way to explore the colorful, crazy galaxy we saw in Guardians. This game is the most ambitious and open idea I’ve presented so far, but it’d be a fascinating way to explore the dynamic to between two great female characters.
It would also allow Marvel to strengthen Thanos as a character, just in time for the Guardians sequel and the upcoming Infinity War movies. And hey, you could even bring back Djimon Hounsou as Korath in the game! Having this cast of rogues as the game’s central characters would make for a morally complex narrative. Nebula would be a likely choice for the more villainous arc. And while Gamora’s certainly no saint, she is one who eventually joins the Guardians, so the game could explore her heroic potential. This could be a great way to explore her misgivings about being a killer for Thanos, and how she’s made so many enemies.