Moving into 2012, comic book video games were coming off a pretty good year. “Batman: Arkham City,” Rocksteady Studios’ critically-acclaimed video game, had just released to cap off a year that also included “Marvel Vs. Capcom 3.” Little did comic fans realize what kind of a ride the next year would be. 2012 was undoubtedly one of the most eventful and significant years for comic book video games, owing to a number of incredible and well-received releases with news throughout the year both good and bad for fans of comic book video games.
THE WALKING DEAD BITES BACK
Robert Kirkman’s zombie survival series experimented with alternative forms of gaming this year, including “The Walking Dead: Assault,” an iOS game in the art style of the comic that allows players to take on the roles of the comic’s main characters on virtual missions, and “AMC’s The Walking Dead Social Game,” a Facebook game where players get the opportunity to play their own survivor in the world of the popular AMC show. It even allows Facebook users to shoot zombified versions of people on their Friends list to invite them into the game.
Although it wasn’t technically a video game, Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead Escape” at this year’s Comic-Con International certainly gave fans a taste of what it was like to actually be a survivor in a game-like obstacle course, turning Petco Park into a zombie-filled arena with fake news reports on the outbreak playing on the closed-circuit televisions.
However, the uncontested sleeper hit of the year was Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead.” The episodic original story set in Kirkman’s comic book had an incredible cultural impact — not just on games based on comic books, but on the whole landscape of video games. “The Walking Dead” allowed players to control a survivor named Lee Everett during the initial outbreak of the undead plague and forced the player to make difficult, nearly impossible decisions that would affect their individual play through of the game during the course of five episodes. Gamers and critics worldwide found it so compelling the series won Game of the Year for multiple lists, including the 2012 Spike TV Video Game Awards — an accolade not even accomplished by the lauded “Batman: Arkham City.”
“The Walking Dead” presented the perfect form for a comic book adaptation. Although it will be remembered by gamers for its unique approach to episodic storytelling and its strong script and voice acting, comic fans will no doubt remember it for its mash-up approach of comics and video games. The entire game is considered canon in the world of “The Walking Dead” and players get a chance to see interactions with some survivors from the comic. No other game to date has adapted a comic so well, and the episodic format felt more like issues of a comic than any other game to date.
MARVEL EXPANDS ITS SCOPE
In years past, Marvel Comics has maintained a healthy console presence, and while the year’s end brought the “Avengers: Battle For Earth” motion fighting game, the publisher mainly focused on its online game presence this year, launching the addictive social game “Avengers Alliance” on Facebook. With a storyline written by fan-favorite “Avengers” scribe Brian Michael Bendis, “Alliance” allowed Facebook users to form their own squad of Marvel Heroes to take on super villains in a number of different chapters. The game continues to receive tons of support from Marvel, and the publisher experimented with timely updates — including an “Avengers Vs. X-Men” tie-in event with the Phoenix Five and alternate “The Avengers” movie costumes that could be purchased with in-game gold for a limited time during the film’s theatrical and home video release. In fact, “Alliance” was the closest thing Marvel had to a video-game tie-in to the blockbuster film.
Perhaps even more impressive about Marvel’s approach to social games was the implementation of Marvel XP, a service that unites many of its social games in the same universe — including “Avengers Alliance” and “Avengers Initiative,” a series of iOS games that allow players to control key members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In fact, iOS was a big part of Marvel’s gaming presence, with “Marvel: War of Heroes,” a card game/RPG hybrid, launched in the fall from Mobage, which allows players to collect cards that can evolve and change during specialized missions.
Beyond the Marvel XP and iOS games, die-hard fans of Marvel’s long-in-development MMO got some much needed steam this year as David Brevik, the man behind “Diablo II,” started revealing more and more about “Marvel Heroes,” the free-to-play online game that Brevik stated is the spiritual successor to “Diablo II,” but with Marvel characters and a story also written by Brian Bendis. The game went into closed beta testing earlier this year and is expected to launch in 2013.
Although Marvel’s console presence was more limited this year, it was hardly nonexistent, with “Avengers: Battle for Earth” and a video game based on Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man” film that allowed players to suit up as legendary creator Stan Lee.
CITY OF HEROES CLOSES ITS DOORS
Before Marvel or DC seriously entered the realm of video games, “City of Heroes” was the place to go for comic book fans. The Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game launched in 2004 and offered players a chance to design their own hero (and in expansion packs, villain) to help save the world. It was so popular among comic fans that Marvel actually sued the game’s developer, Cryptic Studios. While the game survived that lawsuit, buyout from NCsoft and the change of name to Paragon Studios, “City of Heroes” announced in August that they would be shutting the game down before 2013. It was unfortunate news for fans, especially following the company’s difficult decision to move to free-to-play at the tail end of 2011.
BATMAN AND ARKHAM CITY EXPAND
Although DC was rather quiet in terms of large game releases, 2011’s “Batman: Arkham City” received some major downloadable content support this year with a standalone campaign, “Harley Quinn’s Revenge,” a Game of the Year edition with all downloadable content packs to date and a separate “Armored Edition” for Nintendo’s Wii U console with special features tied in to the system’s Gamepad controller.
DC Entertainment and WB Games also released “LEGO Batman 2,” which was the first game in the LEGO series to feature voice acting and a fully open world. The game expanded well beyond Gotham City and included Cyborg, Wonder Woman, Superman, Green Lantern and more as fully playable characters. “LEGO Batman 2” signaled a major change for the LEGO franchise of games that continued through “LEGO Lord of the Rings” and will extend to next year’s “LEGO City Underground.”
The mobile gaming bug hit the Dark Knight as well, with WB Games releasing an iOS/Android tie-in game for “The Dark Knight Rises”, which was the only widely-released video game tie-in for the highly anticipated conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy.
However, all the good Batman gaming news was not without its dark cloud: “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City” fan-favorite scribe Paul Dini announced he would not be returning for another Batman game set in Rocksteady’s DC Universe.
JOE MAD LEAVES VIDEO GAMES
Fan-favorite artist Joe Madureira made a splash when he left comics to co-found video game studio Vigil Games. The studio’s first game “Darksiders” featured Madureira’s signature art style in video game form and debuted to decent reviews in 2009. This year, Vigil released “Darksiders II,” which found decent sales and a good critical reception. However, despite the success of “Darksiders II,” Madureira announced in October that he was leaving Vigil Games.
Although a huge blow to video games, the game industry’s loss is comics’ gain with Madureira announcing his plans to return to comics, specifically for a series at Marvel, which may or may not involve his “Avenging Spider-Man” collaborator Zeb Wells.
THE DARKNESS II CONSUMES CONSOLES
Image Comics had a very strong presence in video games this year, not only with “The Walking Dead,” but with Top Cow’s “The Darkness II.” The original “The Darkness” video game hit consoles in 2007 and it was nearly five years before 2K Games released a sequel. “The Darkness II” was notable not only for its strong critical reception, but also for a story written by former “The Darkness” comic writer Paul Jenkins.
Perhaps even more significant was the game finally releasing — it had an original release date of July 2011, subsequently getting delayed until October 2011 and then finally to February 2012.
LOOKING TO 2013
2012 marked a giant shift both in the way comic books are adapted for video games and the expansion into other types of gaming. Equally exciting were the future projects announced for 2013 and beyond. The aforementioned “Marvel Heroes” MMO is expected sometime next year (though no official release date has yet been announced), as is “The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct,” a first-person shooter survival game set in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” universe that cast players as Daryl Dixon during the initial outbreak. Norman Reedus and Michael Rooker will reprise their roles as Daryl and Merle Dixon, respectively, for the game.
Perhaps the most anticipated release is DC Comics and WB Games’ collaboration with “Mortal Kombat” developers NetherRealm Studios, “Injustice: Gods Among Us.” The DC Universe fighting game with a story by veteran comic scribes Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray was announced in May and continues to receive periodic updates. The game’s roster includes Batman, Catwoman, Cyborg, Deathstroke, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Harley Quinn, Joker, Nightwing, Solomon Grundy, Superman and Wonder Woman with more to come. The game has a lot to live up to, not only because of the stiff competition from “Ultimate Marvel Vs. Capcom” — DC tried a fighting game before with “Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe” that wasn’t very well received.
Looking even further into the future, reports began to circulate this year that “Batman: Arkham City” developer Rocksteady Studios already has its next DC project in the pipeline for 2014 or 2015: a “Justice League” video game set in the same continuity as “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City.” The game is rumored to be a prequel to both “Arkham” games and will revolve around Batman’s first meeting with The Joker, which occurs around the time of the Justice League’s formation.
While DC explores the fighting end of console games for 2013 Marvel pulled a somewhat hilarious bluff during Comic-Con International 2012 for its video game panel. The company set up a placeholder website for a Hit-Monkey game that was set live and quickly taken down. At CCI, the Hit-Monkey game was revealed to be a fakeout and publisher Activision and developer High Moon Studios revealed they planned to release a “Deadpool” game in 2013 written by none other than longtime “Deadpool” comic writer Daniel Way.
However, the big mystery of 2013 is the status of “Young Justice: Legacy,” a game based on DC’s “Young Justice” animated series announced earlier this year for multiple platforms. Although a website for the game launched earlier this year, little has been heard about the title since October, the last date a developer blog was posted on the official website. Hopefully, more about the game will drop soon, but no official release date has been announced.
Of course, those are only the games that have been announced so far for 2013 — but with such a great base to start from, it seems like comic book video games will continue to rise for another banner year.
Stay tuned to CBR News for more video game coverage in 2013!