Next-generation is here!
Join us as we break down, year by year, the big comic book video game news and releases on what is now “last gen.”
2020 is a year that’s difficult to simply talk about its video game news when the entire planet was, and still is, in the midst of a global pandemic. All throughout last year the COVID-19 virus ravaged the planet, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Those fortunate enough could transition to work from home as a safety measure to prevent getting sick or worse, but many lost their job, businesses, savings and faced eviction. This was just one of the many spirit breaking hot topics that dominated headlines during the year that was 2020.
To try and stop the spread of the virus, North America initiated lockdowns staring in March of 2020 which crippled most of the entertainment industry. With closed cinemas, many blockbusters that were set to release in cinemas didn’t, with the few exceptions like Wonder Woman 1984 which came to the HBO Max streaming service late in the year, while production on new content slowed down to keep cast and crews safe.
Video games on the other hand soldiered on with 2020 being a banner year for the medium that saw the release of many AAA titles and the launch of two next-generation consoles. With plenty of freed up time on people’s hands and for comfort during isolation, interactive entertainment became a way for to communicate with friends and keep our collective minds off of depressing news story after depressing news story.
Before the pandemic began to hamper industries, some notable delays on comic book games occurred early in the year. Originally set to arrive in February, Marvel’s Iron Man VR took Marvel’s Avengers release date of May 15th in January. Meanwhile, Marvel’s Avengers moved to September 4th. Marvel’s Iron Man VR would get an undetermined release date at the start of lockdown before getting a brand new one of July 3rd.
Though not without its problems, mostly stemming from the hardware it was built for, Marvel’s Iron Man VR turned out to be one of the most exciting comic book games ever crafted. The VR medium turned out to be a perfect fit for the Armored Avenger and truly put the player in the shoes of Iron Man like nothing before it. Though it would get drowned out by other Marvel video games, it would go on to become the best-selling digital PSVR game in the month of July and get nominated for Best VR game at the 2020 Game Awards.
Unlike Marvel’s Iron Man VR, Marvel’s Avengers would meet its September 4th launch window but it came in hot, almost too much so. Designed as an ongoing Games as a Service title, Marvel’s Avengers arrived with a compelling campaign that did justice by its cast, but the live service portion suffered from a distinct lack of interesting and compelling content to keep players engaged.
Already suffering from some backlash for making Spider-Man exclusive to the PlayStation platform, Marvel’s Avengers would get pummeled in the media from reports of its many bugs post launch, its dwindling player base and that fact that it wasn’t doing as much business as Square Enix hoped it would. However, it would leave 2020 on a high note with the addition of a new free to download character, Kate Bishop, plus many fixes that have since put it in a much better place.
The remaster of XIII, once expected to arrive in November of 2019 before getting moved all the way to 2020, would suffer many of the same issues as Marvel’s Avengers but it wouldn’t be as heavily reported on. When it eventually came out, the remaster of the 2003 original suffered from numerous bugs and a washed out art style that did little to celebrate the original developed by Ubisoft.
Some other notable retro revival announcements that came during the summer were Nigthdive Studios, who helped remaster Doom 64 in 2020, bringing back Shadow Man for consoles and PC. After years away from digital stores and outcry from fans, publisher Ubisoft caused a triumphant cheer across the internet after the news came they were bringing back Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. Originally set to land Holiday 2020, it slipped to January 14th, 2021. The following day, Limited Run Games will put up the first ever physical release of the title for sale.
Joker would finally make his way to Mortal Kombat 11 in January, and he would be followed by another comic book character not seen in a video game in quite some time in March: Todd McFarlane’s Spawn. Last seen in 2003’s Spawn: Armageddon, the character was rumored to be coming to Mortal Kombat X and even Injustice 2. The Hellspawn fit in perfectly the the demons, ninjas and cyborgs from the Mortal Kombat universe and fans were delighted when actor Keith David, who voiced Spawn in the late 90’s HBO animated series, reprised the role once more.
In terms of video games, DC had a lean 2019, but they came back in a big way in 2020 with two big titles set for 2021 and beyond. In lieu of any conventions, Warner Bros. put together a virtual event titled DC FanDome to showcase their upcoming shows, movies and video games with the first part playing out over a weekend in late August. However, prior to the event, both of the titles they were planning to show off leaked online in June.
First up was Gotham Knights from WB Games Montreal, the developer of Batman: Arkham Origins. A reboot of the Dark Knight’s digital adventures, Gotham Knights allows you to play as Nightwing, Batgirl, Robin and Red Hood as they defend a Batman-less Gotham from the Court of Owls. It’s coming to both current and next-generation machines and can be played co-operatively with a friend.
Later in the same day came Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League from Arkham series creator Rocksteady Studios. Set within the Arkham universe, the debut trailer showed Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang and King Shark getting orders to take out a mind-controlled Superman. Like Batman: Arkham Knight before it, this will be a next-generation exclusive currently slated for 2022.
Prior to them showing off their new title, trust in Rocksteady fell when it came out that the studio was doing little to foster a safe work environment for their female staff. This became public when an internally circulated letter written in November of 2018 made its way to the Guardian about what was happening within the studio. This was later revealed to be have been penned by Kim MacAskill, a writer on Suicide Squad who had to leave a position she loved so dearly because of how bad things had gotten.
Drowning out major game releases, and disappointingly wrongdoings in major AAA publishers, was the hype generated for the next-generation consoles from Microsoft and Sony. Both would show more of their new boxes throughout the summer and up until their respective, and somewhat problematic, November launches.
What drives players to abandon one generation for the next is compelling software, and in that regards, Sony came out swinging. During their first PS5 game showcase, Sony opened it with a bang when they introduced the world to the next chapter in their Spider-Man saga from developer Insomniac Games: Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales.
Launching alongside the PlayStation 5, and thankfully the PS4 also, Miles Morales takes place after the events of 2018’s Marvel’s Spider-Man and has the new Spider-Man protecting New York during the holiday season while Peter Parker is away. Miles has to rise to the task as a new villain, the Tinkerer, along with a group called the Underground begins a war with energy company Roxxon that begins to spill into the streets.
A much more condensed game than Marvel’s Spider-Man before it, Miles Morales was nonetheless another top notch Spider-Man title from Insomniac packed with heart. More so than getting to show off Miles’ new abilities, like generating bio-electricity and turning invisible, Miles Morales stood out for showing a culture and side of New York not often seen in AAA titles based on a comic book property or otherwise.
For those who pre-ordered a special edition of Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales for their new PS5, a code came inside for a remastered version of Marvel’s Spider-Man complete with new costumes and visuals that took advantage of the system’s new capabilities. For those unable to upgrade, Insomniac also added the new outfits, including one based on 2012’s The Amazing Spider-Man, to the existing PS4 version of the game.
Though essentially the same game that players adored back in 2018, the remaster of Marvel’s Spider-Man made a polarizing change to its main character. While the voice of Peter Parker, Yuri Lowenthal, remained the same, the visual actor was changed from John Bubniak to the much younger Ben Jordan. Insomniac claimed this was done in order to better match the vocal performance to the in game character, but not helping matters were Jordan’s resemblance to MCU Peter Parker, Tom Holland.
While the generation that housed the PS4 and Xbox one isn’t technically over yet, Gotham Knights is coming along with Sony’s Horizon: Forbidden West, it will only be a matter of time until both are retired in favor of the next generation offerings from Microsoft and Sony.
It’s been an interesting generation to say the least where we saw Sony become the shepherd of Spider-Man’s video game future, the conclusion of the Arkham saga, the unexpected revival of the Marvel vs. Capcom series, not to mention the return of other classics, and a big-budget Avengers game that players have been demanding since 2012 when the team assembled for the first time on the big screen.
Here’s hoping we’ll see the continuation of many classic franchises, plus all new exciting comic book games, as developers learn to harness the true potential of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series S/X in the years to come.