How do you sell a game no one wanted you to make? That seems to be a question Rocksteady has not figured out how to answer in the nine years since the release of their last acclaimed Arkham installment, the series being a high water mark for superhero video games. Everyone was excited to see what they’d make next, but the announcement of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League created little but confusion.
Why pick them? Because they use guns. Why do they need guns? Because they need loot. Why do they need loot? Because the game is…a live service looter shooter. And that’s when fans’ brains began to break. The Arkham trilogy is a masterclass in single player, story-driven superheroing. But with the announcement of Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, Rocksteady felt like they were chasing after Destiny, and to a lesser, and less-successful extent, Anthem, Avengers, Outriders and the other PvE co-op looters that never caught fire or just plain died.
After 30+ hours into Suicide Squad with three of four characters maxed, I can say the end result is throwing cake and soup in a blender. Each good on their own, pretty unpalatable when combined. There are glimpses of Rocksteady’s old Arkham brilliance in here, and there are even some shining examples of what you should do in a live service looter. But the entire thing does not work as a cohesive whole, and the promise of “wait it will get better in the next year or two” is a song that players no longer want to dance to.
The campaign is not good. And gets increasingly worse as time goes on. While the cutscenes are incredible, the facial capture tech might be industry-best and there are some genuinely funny lines and physical comedy moments, it’s just…a very bad story.
There are no real twists and turns here. No character growth or development other than the stupidly expected “these misfits eventually like each other somewhat.” And while some have mocked those that have balked that you kill the Justice League in “Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League,” it does not in fact feel good either thematically or mechanically. Mechanically, because nearly all of its boss fights are poorly designed. Thematically, because well, it is kind of awful going around shooting JLA members in the head as they lay brainwashed and dying. While I don’t believe the entire Arkhamverse JLA will stay dead due to some future comic book voodoo, this feels like an idea that sounded better on paper but is weird and uncomfortable in practice from a narrative perspective.
But the worst aspect, by far, is how the game handles the ending (no specific spoilers here). It has to contort the storyline to such an absurd degree to set up the narrative for its live service that it destroy any sense of drama or a climax it might have had otherwise. The final boss of the game A) is at the end of a literal tutorial for the live endgame and B) directly lifts a boss fight from earlier in the game. It’s all so shameless, especially seeing what Rocksteady has been able to do with stories that have beginnings, middles and ends. You cannot script two thirds of a story and tell people to tune in once every three months to see what happens. It has to be able to stand on its own. This instead stands like a superhero with their legs broken by a baseball bat.
But the combat, oh, the combat.
It’s very fun. That’s one of the things. The combat in Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League can be extremely enjoyable. The action-packed gameplay is actually very engaging in practice, even if the insane UI looks terrible in YouTube videos. Once you sort it all out, once you master traversal, once you throw builds together, it starts humming. The combination of flight, grenades, melee and gunplay probably one-ups all the entire trio of Anthem, Avengers and Outriders fairly easily in terms of how it feels to kill things.
A problem, however, is class diversity, which only gets a little better as time goes on. The game wanted to have loot, but everyone uses the same guns, albeit restricted to three different archetypes per class. 80% of the differences are based around traversal, which is…fine, and that does feel different in gameplay, but this is probably the most similar classes have felt in any shooter like this. They have different traversal, supers and either ranged or close melee. They all use the same guns, grenades, legendary affixes, gear sets and hell, even some of their skill tree perks are identical, even if sure, you can make a build like “Harley really likes grenades.” This is one aspect Avengers did better, creating wholly distinctive kits based on the hero’s powers, at least at launch. In Suicide Squad, the gearing and gameplay may be better, but diversity in playstyle is not.
Diversity is also the key as to why even with shooting and flying being a lot of fun, the places where you do that shooting and flying get impossibly dull. It is shocking how much the same type of encounters are reused, almost all of which have you bouncing around 3-5 rooftops, clearing enemies in some fashion, and repeating for 2-3 rounds. These are the side missions, they are the non-boss fight campaign missions, they are the endgame missions, except set inside an alternate universe with…sand. While looters are often being accused of being repetitive, this is like if literally the only thing to do in Destiny 2 was public events. It’s repetitive on a level I have rarely seen in this admittedly repetitive genre, and I was genuinely stunned when I got to the endgame and it was more of the same.
The one exception is a pretty cool time trial horde mode, something that all looters should launch with and few ever do. You kill guys to rack up time as difficulty ramps up, and you can leave and escape with loot or go until you die. It’s good! But it’s one thing, and not enough.
But not good is the next boss fight I uncovered which, you guessed it, is the same as the “tutorial” boss fight from 20 hours earlier, except with more health and modifier annoyances. The boss fights in Suicide Squad are terrible. Three in the campaign and then the one in the endgame are designed against fast-moving opponents you are supposed to counter-shoot, then plink them down before they move again a half second later. It takes everything good about the game’s combat and throws it out the window. You literally can’t use grenades, melee, ultimates, finishers, anything in these fights. And you probably shouldn’t use anything but an AR or Sniper Rifle to boot, so good luck, short range characters and builds. The one that isn’t like that is an all-time terrible Batman boss fight that really has to be seen to be believed. The only sort of okay fight in the entire game is against Green Lantern, and even that still has the “he’s really far away and you can’t use any of your skills” problem.
The endgame, where the “real” game is always supposed to begin, is a frustrating mix of concepts. There are some genuinely cool things the game does with endgame gearing and character progression. It has systems looters should have from day one, but many have to patch in months or years later, if ever. Suicide Squad has loadouts, it has total weapon customization, enhancements and re-rolls. It has set items and unique items and set items that also work with specific unique items for compounding bonuses. It has infinitely escalating difficulty and a paragon point system for bonus stats across your squad.
But the problem is, and remains, the activities. I’m only four days into the game now and I don’t know if I can run another Elseworld roof-hopper or Brainiac boss fight. The entire substance of the game boils down to the same 4-5 activities and a number of very bad boss fights, so all that fun combat, all that cool gear loses its luster relatively quickly.
As a DC fan, I can appreciate the gorgeous renderings of these characters and some legitimately funny moments with members of the squad. As a DC fan, I hate the structure and concept of this story and the ending is legitimately insulting.
As a looter shooter fan, I can appreciate all the things the game gets right from day one, and how snappy combat feels from a team that has never done anything like this. As a looter shooter fan, I am already bored of the endgame which is just a reshuffling of everything else that came before it in deeply uninteresting ways.
I am concerned about Rocksteady after this, where they have committed seven years and now more to follow building and supporting this as a live service. But they created an answer to a problem that didn’t exist. People wanted more superhero games from Rocksteady in the style of Arkham. This is the polar opposite of Arkham in almost every way, and even if it’s still a talented studio making it, it’s not what almost anyone wanted.
I believe people can have a fun enough time with combat through the short campaign and early endgame, but it will be a miracle if this does any better than its Marvel predecessor in the long run, another case of “why did they make this a live looter shooter” that never produced a coherent case for itself.
I will play along. I will grind some levels, farm some gear. I will return in a month when parallel universe Joker shows up in season 1 to see how this all goes. But despite some clear bright spots, Suicide Squad does not justify its own existence and feels like a colossal waste of time, money and energy when any other normal, standalone superhero game from Rocksteady probably would have blown away Arkham sales records. Everyone wants live service games to print money, but when the genre makes your game unattractive at baseline, and no one sticks around, yeah, maybe you should have made that other game instead.
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