Superhero Games Work Best As Single-Player Adventures; Suicide Squad Is Further Proof

The fan reaction to Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is further proof of how much fans dislike this approach to video games.

Story Highlights

  • Single-player superhero games are the genre’s definitive experience as they provide a legitimate heroic adventure.
  • The live service archetype just doesn’t fit the superhero genre as it takes away the authenticity of the story.
  • Marvel’s Avengers’ failure and the bad reception to the upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League emphasize this point.

Superheroes have become one of the faces of the entertainment industry. And, nothing lets us experience the feeling of being powerful like those characters as video games do. Similar to the genre’s films, superhero video games only saw a rise in quality at the start of this century. Movie tie-in titles started it all and gave us some remarkable superhero games.

Spider-Man 2 is the most popular example of this trend. The game launched alongside the movie of the same name in 2004 and was a marvel in open-world design. Its web-swinging mechanic is still considered one of the best as it truly allowed players to feel what it was like to be Spider-Man. Due to its critical and commercial success, Spider-Man 2 is considered a pioneer of superhero games and one of the best the genre has produced.

Even though the movie tie-in trend produced some classics, it wasn’t until the late 2000s the genre really came into its own. Rocksteady and WB Interactive released Batman Arkham Asylum in 2009, beginning one of gaming’s best quadrilles. It had an original linear story inspired by comics and created a thorough in-game universe for its single-player experience. Arkham Asylum got three sequels and set new standards for the genre in video games.

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The success of the Batman game gave rise to more original superhero titles and naturally, more variety. From more single-player adventures like Spider-Man to fighting games like Injustice, the genre embraced other types of gaming. It also expanded to include a different model of gaming. Over the past few years, “live service” titles have become a common theme and the superhero genre also tried its luck with this archetype.

But, it hasn’t had that much success as of yet. Marvel’s Avengers was the first superhero game to adopt the live service model, and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League will be the second. If you know anything about the reaction of fans to these games, you’ll know why people have doubts about the live service model. On the other hand, almost every recent superhero game with a single-player focus has been a triumphant success.

Hence, it does beg the question, does the live service model really translate to superhero video games that well? I think the answer to that is no and that titles with an emphasis on single-player bring the best out of the genre. But before we get into that, let’s talk about live service games.

What Are Live Service Games?

When you spend $70 on a new game, you do wish it will take a significant amount of time to complete it. Many want their video games to have enough content to entertain them for years. To make this wish a permanent facet of gaming, studios created a new model to pay for games. Players can get fresh content years after the game’s original release through the “live service” model.

Also called “Games as a Service“, the games belonging to this archetype keep updating and adding new stuff constantly post-release. These titles are online and are mostly free-to-play with users having the option to pay for the expansions. Live service games have a lot of variation in how they structure new content for players. Probably the best two contrasting examples are the two definitive live service games: Fortnite and Destiny 2.

Destiny 2 Fortnite crossover
Destiny 2 and Fortnite are the most popular examples of live-service games.

Both of these titles have been going on for years and are immensely popular. Destiny keeps releasing expansions and DLCs, with Fortnite progressing the game through chapters. As popular online shooting games, they make a lot of money. Fortnite made $9 billion in its first two years alone and Destiny 2 also pulls in $200 million every year.

Hence, this approach to video games is successful, especially when you consider titles like Apex Legends and Overwatch. But, that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen live service games fail and when they do, it is pretty bad. Anthem from Electronic Arts is one of the most popular misfires of the “Games as a Service” method. BioWare and EA had high expectations from the game, but it turned out to be highly unprofitable.

Mixed reviews pointed out the faults of Anthem and its reputation took a hit. Even though it performed competently in sales, it didn’t meet the targets EA set for it. A long-term plan was in the works to change the core mechanics of the gameplay, but EA ceased all development in 2021. Granted, the servers are live even today, but the game didn’t fulfill its promise of delivering content over several years.

The Failure Of Earth’s Mightiest Superheroes

Probably the biggest argument for superhero games not employing this approach is Marvel’s Avengers. The Square Enix title had a lot of hype around it due to its star-studded cast filled with A-listers. However, it failed to translate this into sales or reviews. And there was only one reason for that, its “Game as a Service” model.

Marvel's Avengers superhero game
Despite a star-studded cast, Marvel’s Avengers failed commercially and critically.

Even though the game’s combat and story received praise, the overall review scores were average. Many reviewers including USgamer pointed out how Marvel’s Avengers would have been much better as a single-player game. Just to appease the live service archetype, Crystal Dynamics put more emphasis on repetitive grind than making a fun superhero adventure. Having bugs in a co-op live service game didn’t help either, making the whole ordeal a mess.

This translated into sales as Marvel’s Avengers lost Square Enix a lot of money. It failed to turn in a profit for the Japanese company and garnered losses of $63 million. Yosuke Matsuda, the Square Enix president himself, said that the game was a commercial disappointment. In about two months after release, the Crystal Dynamics game lost 96% of its players on Steam.

This number only decreased as players were unhappy with bugs, lack of content, and horrible matchmaking. Hence, the live service approach completely backfired as fans didn’t warm up to it. Now, another game in the form of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is proving that maybe superhero games need to forget about this method.

Live Service Elements Just Don’t Fit The Superhero Genre

Rocksteady’s upcoming Suicide Squad game is also going to employ live service mechanics. Fans got their first glimpse at the looter-shooter approach of the game in the February PlayStation State of Play. The devs explained how Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League would feature a battle pass and other life service mechanics like “gear score.” Players would have to grind and earn loot to upgrade individual characters.

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Furthermore, the game would require a permanent online connection even in single-player mode. DC fans did not have a problem with the co-op elements, but the live service mechanics like the battle pass killed the title’s reputation. Critics and players alike criticized the looting-and-shooting approach of Suicide Squad and compared it to Marvel’s Avengers. The gameplay also got attacked with many calling the shooter elements bland and uninspiring.

Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League’s PR took such a hit that Rocksteady delayed the game from its May release date. It is not official yet, but many have corroborated Bloomberg’s report. The article doesn’t mention the horrible reception to the live service approach as the cause of this delay. But it is hard to think of any other reason when the news broke out right after the developers revealed the game’s true form and got hammered by the fans.

For sure, the game hasn’t come out yet and it can be decent despite reports stating core mechanics won’t change. But, the fan reaction goes on to show how players don’t like seeing the “Games as a Service” trend employed in the genre’s titles. And, that is for good reason as this method takes away the basic essence of what makes a superhero game work. The main purpose of a superhero video game is to let you experience what it feels like to be in their shoes.

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Giving players an authentic superhero adventure is the basis of the genre and titles with a single-player focus achieve this goal. Most of the successful games of the genre have emphasized single-player elements. Spider-Man in 2018, Guardians of the Galaxy, the Batman Arkham series, Injustice, and Spider-Man Miles Morales are all superhero games that fans love. Delivering a brilliant story-based adventure that allows you to encounter the risks and rewards of a hero’s life is the main reason why they were triumphant.

Online superhero games aren’t bad, but seeing mechanics like a “gear score” just interferes with the reality of the game world. When you need to purchase a battle pass to get cosmetic items instead of unlocking them as you progress and gain more skills like in the comics, it dampens the experience. Therefore, if you want a bona fide superhero adventure, single-player games are the way to go, not online live service cash grabs.

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Ahmed Mansoor is a News Writer who has a deep passion for single-player adventure games. He loves to keep tabs on the gaming and technology industries and loves to break stories that interest his audience. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and several years of experience writing for games. Experience: 3+ Years || Education: Bachelor's in Journalism || Written 600+ News Stories.

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