Back in the 1990s there was a Green Lantern video game in development for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo which never saw the light of day. Since then we’ve seen GL in other games such as Mortal Kombat Vs. DC Universe, Justice League Heroes, and DC Universe Online. This week Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters releases for all of the current generation of game consoles plus the Nintendo 3DS. This review pertains to the Xbox 360 version of the game but my comments will no doubt apply to the Playstation 3 version as well. The Nintendo versions of Rise of the Manhunters was developed by a different studio and their version of the game is completely different than this one.
The Xbox and Playstation versions of the game were developed by Double Helix Games, a studio that doesn’t exactly have the best record out there, but it seems that this game is definitely one that they can be proud of despite some flaws because Rise of the Manhunters is a lot of fun to play with great visuals and a fun combat system. However, the shortcomings in the game keep it in the category of good games that could have been great. No, this isn’t as bad as Iron Man 2 or the new Thor game, but it’s also certainly no Batman: Arkham Asylum, either.
The game is meant to follow the events of the movie, so the visuals and character design reflect that aesthetic as well. The basic premise of the game is that the Manhunters have attacked Oa right after Amon Sur, Hal Jordan, Sinestro and Kilowog have paid their last respects to the fallen Abin Sur. The plot continues as the Green Lanterns uncover the underlying plot behind the attack, taking our protagonist from Oa to Zamoran and then on to Biot before returning to Oa for the final battle with the games major villain.
In terms of plot, the story takes a number of elements from recent Green Lantern comics history and weaves them into the movie continuity. I give the writers credit for mining the rich history of the Green Lantern universe, but I was disappointed a little that the big bad was telegraphed so soon into the game’s story. I don’t want to spoil any of the plot of the game for people so I won’t go into the details of the story but I’ll leave it that it’s done well for the most part. What I really found underwhelming was that in a universe with 3600 Green Lanterns we only ever really see three of them, especially when Oa is under attack. The opportunity was missed to allow the player to fight alongside a number of the fan-favorite members of the Corps.
As you play the game you level up and earn points that allow you to unlock more constructs and power-ups. The constructs are generated by holding down one of the two triggers on your controller and pressing one of four face buttons and the player has the choice of which constructs to map to each button combination. Basic attacks are also able to be upgraded as well as increases to the player’s abilities.
In a game where the player’s character is able to conjure anything he can imagine, there of course has to be a limitation to what the game will allow. The constructs that Double Helix chose to represent a spectrum of choices that make sense and as a gamer I never found them to be lacking. Everything you’d think would there like chained maces, baseball bats, and fists fit right alongside some of the other creations like the rocket pack and jet fighter constructs.
The player does not have an unlimited amount of will to power the ring and as you use the constructs your will meter will drop. Strategically placed containers will replenish your willpower and health meters as will power batteries that are scattered sparsely amongst the levels which increase both meters. Players are rewarded for stringing together combos as a ring surge meter also fills up based on how well the player performs, and once the ring surge meter is full the player can press both shoulder buttons and enjoy unlimited will power for a short period of them. Also scattered about are hidden blue and green meteorites which will allow the player to increase the size of the health and will bars.
In terms of the style of gameplay, the comparisons to God of War and Star Wars: Force Unleashed are well warranted. The game is a bit of a button masher, but timing, using your defensive abilities and knowing a bit about what constructs work well versus certain types of enemies keeps the game from being something that you can just spam your controller button to play the game. Depending on the difficulty of the game setting and the player’s ability to earn points you may or may not be able to unlock everything on a single playthrough so some strategy needs to be applied to acquire the right kinds of power-ups.
Rather than trying to mix a flying ability into the mix and perhaps muddy up the gameplay, Double Helix created a number of specifically designed flying levels that play like an arcade fighter game to break up the action in the regular ground-based levels. The ground-based action periodically calls for Hal to move to a Green Lantern logo that appears on the ground and press a button which allows for Hal to move to different areas of the playing field as needed, and Hal can hover in place when jumping and using some of his attacks in the air. While these seem a little contrived at times and underscores the inability to openly fly where you might want to, it was probably the better design choice for a game that isn’t an open-world sandbox without ignoring the character’s flight ability outright.
In terms of gameplay, I do have a major criticism that I have about most of these types of games, and that’s the lack of providing the player with the ability to manipulate the camera. The right analog stick is relegated to providing a dash away move so you are left with no way to re-center the camera, creating problems when you are playing in a large area and you end up behind the bad guys. Depending on what they are you may not be able to see what you’re doing at all and given the number of times you face off against a group consisting of both human-sized and giant-sized opponents it creates frustration for the player.
Likewise, there can be problems with getting boxed in a corner that’s not even visible on the screen, having been blocked by something in the foreground. Likewise, when fighting teams of Manhunters capable of sapping your will I often found myself knocked into a corner and unable to break free, resulting in deaths that were unavoidable due to the lack of the game engine to allow the player to effectively counter the attack and escape.
Despite those flaws, the gameplay mechanics are solid and certainly a lot of fun as you work your way through the levels. There are a few puzzles that mainly rely on simple game mechanics to solve, and I’ll admit to completely geeking out over the puzzle that takes place under the surface of Oa fairly early in the game. It is a good idea to pay attention to the surroundings as the blue and green meteorites and places to find points are sometimes not in plain sight.
While there is a two-player cooperative play mode that allows a friend to play as Sinestro alongside your Hal, the lack of two-player online coop is sadly missing and something that really should be there in this day and age. Sinestro has his own set of constructs and it is fun to play with a friend and tag team against the hordes of the Manhunters.
Visually the game is a treat for the eyes and Rise of the Manhunters supports 3D gameplay for both platforms. I have a Sony Bravia 3D TV (Model KDL-55NX810 for anyone who wants a recommendation on a good 3D set) and while Microsoft doesn’t tout the 3D capabilities of the Xbox 360, I thoroughly enjoyed putting the game in 3D mode and found it added to the gameplay quite a bit. There are glasses bundled with the game for those without a 3D featured television and I found that they worked well but not quite as good as it did by using my television’s glasses and the set’s side by side 3D mode.
Ryan Reynolds does a great job as Hal and having his voice for the game I found a plus since it made the game feel like a true extension of the movie. The games score was aptly suitable for the game as well. A perk that showed up on the Xbox Live Marketplace but seems to have disappeared is a bonus comic book-inspired version of Hal’s costume, complete with the white gloves and eye coverings and the comic’s style Green Lantern emblem. After downloading it you can toggle between the movie and comic costume from a new choice that appears in the options menu. I’m not sure why it was taken down as well as a demo that apparently appeared and disappeared in rapid time, and I never saw either of them show up on PSN. I do hope that we see them re-appear and we get more downloadable items for the game beyond a simple costume. Xbox owners also have an added bonus in being able to get a Green Lantern uniform, t-shirt, and power battery for your avatar.
To summarize the good points of Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, there is a solid set of controls and game mechanics that make it just plain fun to play. The story, visuals, and supporting audio environment create a credible narrative that makes the player feel like they are a part of the movie’s universe in a tale that combines elements of the Green Lantern mythology with the new movie’s sensibilities. The game took me about six hours to finish on the Enforcer difficulty, perhaps a little short for some but I think if it were longer you’d really start to notice the somewhat repetitive gameplay. The ability to play with a friend is a plus, but the lack of online cooperative play is sorely missing.
On the downside, yes it is pretty repetitive and the lack of a proper camera control and the game’s inability to re-center or properly zoom in when needed creates some situations that cause frustration. The telegraphing of the major villain and the Hardy Boys style revelation dumbs down what is a pretty solid plot. And as fun as it is I feel like Double Helix missed the boat on showing how diverse the Green Lantern Corps is by only showing Kilowog and Sinestro, and then only having them appear in cut scenes to top it off.
It would have been great to allow the cooperative play to expand to four people, on or offline, and then have a fair number of Corps members available for the choosing. In single-player mode other lanterns could have been added as a team for Hal so that the player really gets the experience of being a part of a larger whole. I’m sadly reminded of how much fun I had playing the first Marvel Ultimate Alliance game with three friends, how we all enjoyed picking a favorite to play, and how much fun it added to the experience. I’d pay good money for a DC Universe game like that with the game mechanics from Rise of the Manhunters.
Despite the shortcomings Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters doesn’t fall prey to the movie tie-in game curse that seems to plague these games. While clearly not an A+ plus game in the vein of Batman: Arkham Asylum, it’s certainly a lot of fun and worth the time and effort to play. On my ten lantern scale, I’d give it seven lanterns.