Remember When DC Games Were On Top?

DC used to be untouchable when it came to video games. There was the ever-iconic Arkham series, unlike anything else in the genre, a fighting game from Mortal Kombat developer NetherRealm in the form of Injustice, a slew of Telltale hits from The Wolf Among Us to Batman, and an entire MMO called DC Universe Online. Nobody was doing it like Detective Comics.


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At the time, Marvel’s biggest hits were Lego games and a fighting crossover with Capcom. Spider-Man was at an all-time low, with nothing on the level of Arkham. The MCU had all but killed the era of tie-ins, leaving the gaming landscape destitute bar the so-so Deadpool and a slew of forgettable mobile releases. We had DC at the very top and Marvel at the very bottom. And yet, against all the odds, the table flipped.

With the Arkham series finished and the desperation to chase maligned gaming trends growing, DC dug a hole deep enough to bury Giganta. In the years since Knight, Marvel caught up while Warner Bros. was busy looking at how it could capitalise on the live-service market, failing to realise that superheroes and microtransaction-laden multiplayer games don’t go together.

Marvel dipped its toes into that world with Avengers and quickly realised what a bad idea it was. Luckily, it had Spider-Man to fall back on. But DC is going all in with Gotham Knights and Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. Job listings for Wonder Woman even point to live-service elements for Diana’s big gaming break, even if its developers are trying to deny it.

In the always-online world, heroes are ripped of their identity to ensure balance – Hulk can’t play like Hulk because he’d outclass Iron Man and Captain America in seconds, making the game unfair. So, he’s a sluggish, oddly weak melee character. Suicide Squad one-upped Avengers by putting guns in the hands of its villains, blending them all together as they lose everything unique about their fighting styles and powers. King Shark with an M16, Captain Boomerang with a shotty… It’s shaping up to be little more than a middling shooter with a superhero coat of paint.

DC pioneered modern superhero games with Arkham and then dove headfirst into ill-fitting trends, tanking its reputation. It’s an eerily similar story to the films, as Warner Bros. pivoted from the renowned Dark Knight trilogy to an MCU wannabe with the DCEU, again chasing trends that would ultimately cause it to crash and burn.

Meanwhile, Marvel caught up to Arkham with Insomniac’s Spider-Man and looks to double down with Wolverine and a Blade game from Arkane. We also know that there’s an Amy Hennig title in development and two Black Panthers, not to mention the monumental and still ongoing mobile hit Marvel Snap. Its only major critical dud of late has been Avengers, as even the poorly performing Midnight Suns and Guardians of the Galaxy games proved popular with those who played them.

Marvel licenses its games, whereas Warner Bros. tries to do it all in-house. So when one card falls, the whole house topples with it. It mandated that its two Arkham studios develop what are essentially live-service Batman spin-offs. Nobody else is trying their hand at making a DC game, which, alongside ballooning development cycles, means it’s all we’re going to see for a long, long time. It’s a shortsighted strategy that has killed DC’s outstanding reputation and left no way for it to be built back up anytime soon, so it’s no wonder that Marvel has easily filled the gap.

Blade from Arkanes new game with his back turned over a red background

In a decade, we’ve watched DC stumble from the top of the superhero mountain into the ditches below, and any sign of reclaiming that former glory seems lost under a Warner Bros. as mismanaged as today’s. Not only do we have talented devs wasting away in the live-service mines for DC, but across the board. Just look at Mortal Kombat 1.

Outside of games, HBO Max was rebranded to ‘Max’, countless movies and shows are being written off for tax, never to see the light of day, and the DCEU is ending to usher in another attempt at replicating the MCU. The entire company is floundering, so it’s no wonder that the realm of games is just as out-of-touch.

Right now, we could be gliding through Metropolis as Superman, stalking Star City as Green Arrow, and taking the fight to Brainiac with the Justice League, but unlike Batman’s ‘death’ in Arkham Knight, I can’t see DC recovering.

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