Superman Returns

When the video-game tie-in to the summer's most anticipated blockbuster isn't unveiled until a full six months after the film's debut, clearly things didn't go as planned. And considering that even the abysmal likes of The Da Vinci Code and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory got off in time to sync with their films, that's saying something. To its credit, Superman Returns isn't some lazy regurgitation of the film's storyline, it's an ambitious attempt to create an expansive universe unto itself, something closer to Activision's sterling Spider-Man series than the usual promotional one-off. But ambition is one thing, execution is another, and after 15 disorienting minutes of flying around Metropolis, all but the heartiest sailors will be reaching for the Dramamine. Just maintaining level flight takes such a tricky negotiation of the sticks that Superman looks more like The Greatest American Hero than the Man Of Steel.

The fun starts with the tutorial, in which you have to defend Metropolis from meteors raining from the skies while learning how to use your Freeze Breath (for the ones in flames), Heat Vision (for the ones coming in cold), and Superbreath (for dates with Lois Lane). The game gets around the whole "Superman is indestructible" thing by making you keep the city itself healthy, so not only do you have to blow up the meteors, you also have to treat the city like a precious little egg that mustn't be cracked, which is a big problem for the most powerful superhero ever. Whenever you're assigned to protect the populace from wave after wave of Metallo's robots, for example, the cars you hurl at them make John and Jane Citizen into collateral damage.

Beyond the game: The game boasts "80 square miles" of Metropolis to roam, but the brownish-gray palette makes every block look like Cleveland.

Worth playing for: Hack through enough levels and you get to play as Bizarro, which gives you the freedom (nay, the obligation) to demolish the city you've guarded so halfheartedly.

Frustration sets in when: There are cats to rescue. One hundred of them. And considering your general gracelessness, that's even more tedious than it sounds.

Final judgment: A making-of documentary on how such a precious franchise was so flagrantly mishandled would be far more entertaining than anything the game has to offer.

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