Review: Justice League Heroes (PS2)

Justice League Heroes
Developer: Snowblind Studios
Publisher: WB Games
Genre: Action RPG
Release Date: October 17, 2006

Just as sure as I have unending loathing for first-person shooters and countless GTA clone engines out there – there are certain genres and franchises that I am a mark for in the land of video games. Specific genres that get me all giddy:

Zombies â┚¬” check.
Fire Pro Wrestling â┚¬” check.
Shooters in the vein of Gradius â┚¬” check.
Comics â┚¬” check.

Now, whether or not Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m disappointed with the end product of the various games that fall into these categories is another story. But, when I heard that the Justice League themselves were getting their own Action RPG style game â┚¬” I flipped.

So excited, I was, that Superman and his pals would finally get a game that would do them justice â┚¬” pun intended. Aside from the Batman Animated franchise of games, the Justice League and Superman have been given the big shaft in terms of gaming for quite some time, in my opinion.

So, as I pop in Razorlightâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s new self-titled album, was it worth the wait? Did it live up to the hype? Do the Worlds Finest Heroes burst onto the Action RPG scene with a bangâ┚¬Â¦ or a whimper?
Letâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s find outâ┚¬Â¦

1. Story

Well, weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re not short on talent for the storyline arc presented in JLH. None other than Dwayne McDuffie penned the story. Fans of Justice League Unlimited will know McDuffie as the writer of memorable episodes such as the Hawkgirl/Hawkman-centric â┚¬Å”Ancient Historyâ┚¬Â and the Grodd/Flash-centric two-parter â┚¬Å”The Brave and the Bold.â┚¬Â So, needless to say, my expectations were high for the tale that was to be told via JLH.

What we receive, in my opinion, is worthy of any storyline arc presented on the late JLU animated series. McDuffie takes an all-star cast of heroes and villains, that most writers would be bogged down with, and manages to effectively weave them into the games story without sacrificing quality or character degradation.

Telling you any more about the story would be tantamount to spoiling the entire game, so what you see in the trailer is all youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re going get from me. Oh, and you might want to save yourself the spoiler by NOT reading the voiceover casting in the back of the instruction manual until after the final act. I certainly wish Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d waited! :(

Score: 9/10 â┚¬” my only complaint being that I wouldâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve loved for the game to last a little longer than it did.

2. Graphics

The cut-scenes in JLH are smooth, save for a few jerks here and there â┚¬” then again, that could just be my aging PS2. The character models for the cut-scenes are great, as well. Great contrast, shading and textures. Though, my one complaint would have to be with Wonder Womanâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s face. I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t know what happens, but half the time she looks like she comes across as much older than she should look in this incarnation.

The graphics during game play receive no complaints from me. The animations all seem accurate â┚¬” or at least as close as to what Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d imagined â┚¬” for each heroes melee attacks. Special power effects and animations also come off really nicely and can be very fun to watch and almost get too distracted by.

The environments are also great! Though a little small, the maps are extremely detailed and provide a great battle ground for some of the insane battles that go down in JLH.

We do experience a bit of slowdown at times, but the instances of this are few and far between and it did nothing to spoil my experience.

Score: 9/10 â┚¬” Wonder Womanâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s haggard face and the once in a while slowdown cost JLH a point here.

3. Sound

Musically, were given lots of typical superhero styled orchestral pieces, some down and dirty nu-metal based guitar tunes, and some epic battle numbers. Thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s nothing really fantastic about the music, but thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s nothing bad about it either.

The sound effects fall into the same area. All of the blasts, punches, grunts and other such audio are all fine and fit well where theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re given. Letâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s just say â┚¬” they donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t suck.

The voice acting is where the sound section really gets to shine. I was pretty amazed when I heard that none of the voice actors from Justice League Unlimited would be reprising their roles in the JLH game. I mean it seemed like the most logical route. I know Lucard will say that Adam West is Batman for him â┚¬” but for me, itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s Kevin Conroy.

That said, you get over these kinds of things pretty fast, and I really like the cast they rounded up for this particular project. The biggest name on the list is Ron Perlman (Hellboy himself) as Batman. I have to say I absolutely loved his performance. If Ron was doing Bats voice in most recent The Batman animated series, then Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d actually give a crap about it.

Aside from Ron, weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve also got Michael Jai White (Spawn, the movie, anyone? He also played Doomsday in the Justice League animated series) as a very believable Green Lantern John Stewart. Several other video game voice actors round out the cast that all do a stellar job in bringing their characters to life. Let it never be said that a great cast, working with a great script, canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t churn out a great game.

Score: 9/10 â┚¬” The music and effects arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t bad, but theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re nothing spectacular either. The voice acting is where JLHâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s sound really shines.

4. Control + Game play

The game is fun. Very fun, from my standpoint. The controls are simple to learn and the power-up system isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t overly complicated. You level up, are given points, and then spend them to increase the level of your super powers. You can also boost these powers further using a variety of boost power ups that increase the effectiveness (these can even be applied to your health and energy levels). Boosts can also be combined to create more powerful boosts, which is also a cool and uncomplicated feature. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve found that previous action RPG games (X-Men Legends) focused a little too much on what you were able to do with your powers and the amount of powers you were given. Sometimes, for me, there is such a thing as too much variety.

In JLH you can only play two heroes on-screen at once. Now, depending on who you are, this can be good or bad. If you want a party game where four players can join in and whomp some ass, then you might be disappointed. If you want a more strategic experience that doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t deluge you with never-ending seizure-inducing melee battles, than JLH will probably be for you.

Game play in JLH suffers from the same annoying overhead camera that X-Men Legends I & II used. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d be nice to have another option that gave you a ground level camera (oddly enough, game play was shown from this angle in the games trailer) so that you could get a better view of the action and a better look at the heroes youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re playing as and the villains youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re fighting against.

Another slight against JLH is the fact that for about 30-40% of the game youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re unable to choose the team youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re using. Youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re given pre-decided teams during several of the missions and this almost makes playing as the unlockable characters a little pointless, since levelling them up leaves your main characters at a disadvantage when youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re forced to use them.

Score: 6/10 â┚¬” the controls are a-ok, but the asstastic camera angles and the whole not being able to choose your team half the time fiasco really takes away from some of the enjoyment here.

5. Re-playability

Unfortunately the game is short. Very short. Sure, this might leave you with the desire to go through it again using the Continued Play option, using all of your saved heroes and their upgraded stats. But this isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t necessarily a good thing. The games levels feel very rushed and incomplete, and before you know it youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re at the final boss battle and the end credits are rolling. Very disappointing, but at this point Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢m just glad that this game is playable.

Another slight against the re-playability of the game is the fact that there are no bonus levels. There are no versus modes. You cannot go back and play a specific level on a whim. This game is really bare bones.

Score: 5/10 â┚¬” points lost for the gaming experience not being long enough that you have to replay the game in order to be satisfied, and for the huge lack of modes.

6. Balance

Sometimes the enemies in JLH are very easy, and at other times theyâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re very hard. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve had more trouble with some of the grunts in this game than most of the boss characters. Some of the grunts have some powerful attacks that can kill you in a few hits, if even less! It can be frustrating but if you can resist the urge to go in guns aâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ blazinâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ then you should be fine for the most part.

In terms of AI, if youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re playing alone JLH gives you an interesting option to set the personality of your CPU to one of three levels: Defensive, Normal, Aggressive. The names are all pretty self-explanatory, and the feature really does work. Set Wonder Woman to aggressive and she goes in kicking ass at the tiniest sight of an enemy. Go defensive and sheâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll only attack when needed. Very refreshing to see an AI system that actually works â┚¬” Smackdown vs Raw makers Yukes should take notes for their tag team AIâ┚¬Â¦. ;)

Score: 7/10 â┚¬” points lost for erratic enemy difficulty; but points gained back for the AI system that actually functions â┚¬” huzzah!

7. Originality

In this day and age itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s nearly impossible to be 100% original. Of course every comic-related Action RPG is going to be measured against X-Men Legends and now Marvel Ultimate Alliance.

Getting that out of the way, Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢d say that JLH excels in giving DCâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s Worlds Finest Heroes a great first game that doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t suck complete ass.

Where they fall short, however, is evidenced in the lack of game play modes, the lack of unlockables aside from extra outfits and a few more characters, and the overall rushed feel of the entire game. A good first start, but hopefully these issues will be addressed in the future.

Score: 6/10 â┚¬” points awarded for being a game that I didnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t want to return as soon as I got it home; points lost due to its shortcomings as the first in the franchise.

8. Addictiveness

With my previous reviews at IP, addictiveness has always gone hand in hand with re-playability. I couldnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t put the game down at first until I was through the entire thing from start to finish. That said, I still want to go back and kick some more ass, max out the heroes, unlock all of the costumes and the few other characters that I didnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t open up. Other than that, unless youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re an absolute Justice League freak, youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re probably not going to find yourself going back and cracking this game open six months down the road.

Score: 5/10 â┚¬” unless youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re a hardcore DC gamer, thereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s no real lasting appeal with this title, unfortunately.

9. Appeal Factor

Obviously the hardcore Justice League fan is either going to love or hate this game. Love it because itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a palatable representation of the Worlds Finest Heroes, or hate it because it doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t live up to their unrealistic fan boy expectations.

That said, casual fans â┚¬” maybe those who are only familiar with Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman â┚¬” can still pick this up and become engrossed with the wonderful storyline and have some fun with the game, and maybe even learn a little bit more about the storied DCU.

Score: 9/10 â┚¬” Câ┚¬â”žÂ¢mon. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s the Justice League! Who doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t like the Justice League?!

10. Miscellaneous

As stated, the unlockables consist of some extra costumes for the main characters, and some unlockable characters (Green Arrow, Huntress, Hal Jordan, Kyle Rayner, Aquaman, Jay Garrick, Hawkgirl â┚¬” each with their own voice!). Other than that, and the ability to start another game with your already upgraded heroesâ┚¬Â¦ Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve got nothinâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢”šÂ¬Ã‚¦

Score: 5/10 â┚¬” The unlockables provide half the score, but alas weâ┚¬â”žÂ¢re not given much more to sink our teeth intoâ┚¬Â¦

The Scores
Story: 9/10
Graphics: 9/10
Sound: 9/10
Control + Game play: 6/10
Re-playability: 5/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 6/10
Addictiveness: 5/10
Appeal Factor: 8/10
Miscellaneous: 5/10
Total Score 69/100
Final Score: 7/10

Short Attention Span Summary
Justice League Heroes is a great first entry into the land of Action RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s for these storied characters. A great story, great voice work, and great action while it lasts makes for a really fun experience. The games shortcomings and lack of options really keep it from getting an almost perfect score in this reviewerâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s eyes. Hereâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s hoping that the game warrants a sequel and that Snowblind, WB Games and DC can REALLY blow our minds the next time around!