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I wouldn’t call myself a “superheroes guy” but if I had to pick a favorite, it’s Batman all day. Yeah, I’m edgy (and extremely handsome). The best superhero movies are Batman movies, and the best superhero games are Batman games. Facts. Marvel’s Spider-Man got close, but it wouldn’t even exist without the foundations laid by Rocksteady, the developer behind the Batman: Arkham series. The British studio adopted legendary status with its run at the Caped Crusader, topping the series off with the exceptional Arkham Knight.

When it was announced that Rocksteady’s next game would be based in the same universe and following the Suicide Squad – Harley Quinn, King Shark, Captain Boomerang, and Deadshot – as they attempt to take down a corrupted Justice League, I was excited. It’s a proper underdog story, and we don’t get to play as antiheroes very often in video games these days. Plus, Rocksteady is the don. It has had eight years to make the thing, which is as long as it took Rockstar to put out Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s as close to a surefire win as you can get.

Concern started to kick in for me after the second showing of the game, which was just another cutscene. No gameplay. It had all the hallmarks of a Rocksteady game – detailed, emotive characters and snappy, sharp writing that understands the source material – but I needed to see it in action.

During last night’s State of Play stream, I finally got what I wanted, and I’m more concerned than I was before.

Batman: Arkham Knight had stealth, combat, puzzles, investigations, vehicles, multiple protagonists, and a brilliant story. There’s more to Batman than just punching people really hard in the head and giving villains concussions. Suicide Squad looks like it nails those last two points – multiple protagonists and story – but the gameplay shown was entirely one-note.

It seems to be a game about shooting purple alien things to get better guns so you can shoot purple alien things with larger health bars. The words “gear score” were mentioned – a major red flag for me, a player who’s sick to death of looting and shooting games. Looter shooters are a genre dominated by Bungie and filled with the corpses of games that wanted a bite of Destiny’s space pie.

Suicide Squad’s main competition is Marvel’s Avengers, a game that’s already been canceled before Rocksteady’s take on the genre has even hit the market, which is the fate of a live service game that can’t find a steady audience. The always online requirement – which Suicide Squad has – essentially renders the games unplayable when they’re switched off. What a travesty it will be if Suicide Squad – which features Kevin Conroy’s final performance as Batman – suffers the same fate.

Captain Boomerang with his trusty boo... Oh, it's a sniper rifle. 

Captain Boomerang with his trusty boo... Oh, it's a sniper rifle. 

At one point in the gameplay trailer, the developers spoke about what makes the four playable characters feel distinct: Deadshot is good with guns, Harley is acrobatic, and so on. But the gameplay doesn’t show any of that. Everyone is good with guns. Every character is bouncing around like a Fortnite kid in No-Build mode. Even Captain Boomerang – best known for, you know, throwing boomerangs – spends his time in the showcase jumping around with a shotgun and an assault rifle. King Shark looks like he leans towards more heavy ordnance, but the trailer showed a still where Harley is rocking a gatling gun too.

It’s difficult to tell how a game will feel based on seeing the footage, so I’ll reserve full judgment until I’ve played the thing, but there’s a sense of weightlessness to everything. The Arkham games were physical and heavy, and you could feel every broken bone and fractured jaw. Here it’s just a crosshair turning red and a mutant falling over. One potentially interesting wrinkle to Suicide Squad’s combat is how you can imbue your weapons with the traits of other villains, but this was showcased with Bane’s abilities, which seemingly make your bullets fire out green stuff.

Harley Quinn here with her signature baseball bat and gatling gun. 

Harley Quinn here with her signature baseball bat and gatling gun. 

It just seems poorly timed. Character design, art, and writing are at Rocksteady’s usual high standard, but none of that will matter if the core gameplay is built around rat wheel-style player retention, rather than keeping them around by making them want to see what happens next. The talk of a Battle Pass (cosmetic only), endgame content, and new characters make it clear that it’s a service game, and those have to be designed in a certain way to give players little dopamine hits through repetitive actions.

I’ve always been a big fan of Rocksteady so I’ll give Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League a chance, but the gameplay reveal left me colder than a blast from Mr. Freeze’s ice gun. Hopefully there’s much more to see.