Superheroes are cool. I don't think anyone can deny that fact. Whether we're talking about Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Thing, or any one of the thousand other gifted comic book heroes, each one has a special ability that we wish we had. In their latest game, EA think they have special powers too, as they've created a number of new 'superheroes' to fight with some of Marvel's greatest in 'Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects'. Sadly, 'Imperfects' couldn't be a more suitable name.
It sounds like a solid idea for a videogame. Take a selection of the best superheroes, create a few originals, and let them fight each other in 3D environments, with their full array of special abilities at their disposal - visions of a Powerstone-like 3D brawler no doubt come to mind. Then imagine how this can be played online and the vision is even better. Now, think how great that game would be if you could also play as evil versions of these superheroes - that would be smashing, I'm sure you'd agree.
It's somewhat of a mystery, then, how EA has managed to make such a car crash of a game out of such a top idea. Even though it's a beat 'em up there is a 'story' mode to play through, and in time honoured tradition, this must be completed to unlock the entire roster or characters. The problem, as you might have guessed, is that playing through the story mode isn't much fun. You often have to replay the same section with a different character, fighting the exact same enemies as before. Had this been a standard fighter, with a solid fighting engine, this would have been no problem. Sadly, the combat is more flawed than the 'Evil Doctor who has created a new set of superheroes' storyline.
Whoever you're playing as, you'll have the same basic set of moves: attack, special attack, jump and throw. Fighting consists of little more than repeatedly hammering attack, using special moves when your metre is high enough and occasionally hitting your enemies with a thrown object (I say occasionally as it seems very hard to throw objects with any accuracy). It's the very definition of basic. AI controlled enemies don't help things, with their 'I'll wait here until you come and attack me' philosophy and a tendency towards suicide. It's as if they know what game they're in and have had enough.
So, once you've played through the story mode and unlocked all the characters, you can get in some two-player versus action (four players would have been a little more entertaining, but it's not an option). Against a real-life opponent the AI problems are eliminated, but the shoddy fighting engine still can't be overlooked. It just doesn't feel like you're a superhero. The camera doesn't help things either, often giving a zoomed out view that makes control a bigger problem than it already was. If you've got some mates who are into comic book superheroes you'll get some short lived fun out of playing together, but the flaws will come to the surface pretty quickly.
To be fair, the game has some solid online play (PlayStation 2 and Xbox), a great musical score and pretty sharp visuals - with some excellent character modelling - but when the game is almost no fun to play, technical achievements don't matter. They just highlight what a good game Marvel Nemesis could have been had some time and effort gone into developing a game where you felt like you were playing as a superhero. EA can make entertaining brawlers, as seen in the two Def Jam games, but this just doesn't cut the mustard.
Marvel Nemesis is a big waste. Given the Marvel licence and EA's generally solid production values, the end result is rather surprising. The lure of big name superheroes due to the current interest in them (It appears that every other summer movie features superheroes) may well see this sell enough copies to green light a sequel, but I just hope they take a long look at what they did wrong and develop something that can match the series' potential.