Suicide Squad hides its brash personality under a generic looter shooter

A chaotic sludge of information covers the screen, with detonating colors, words, and numbers flying everywhere — button prompts ping the sides, explosions drown out the voices of team members and mission givers. This was my kaleidoscopic experience playing Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League, the latest game from the otherwise incredible Rocksteady Studios, creators of the intricately designed Batman: Arkham games.

Acting as a follow-up in the same universe, Suicide Squad sees you take control of the titular squad of a misfit, a mercenary, a monstrosity, and a man from Oz. The main goal is spelled out in the subtitle: this band of lovable dorks must somehow kill the most powerful superheroes on Earth, including Batman (voiced for the last time in a game by the late, great Kevin Conroy), Superman, and Green Lantern. (The Flash is also there, but who cares?)

Kill the Justice League is an open-world looter shooter with live-service elements. That discovery was immediately off-putting to me when I first heard it, given the predatory and boring design choices frequent in such games and the terrible end result of such a pivot for studios that specialize in single-player experiences. We’ve seen this before with other great single-player studios, like Bioware and Crystal Dynamics: the hollowing out of a possibly rich story, leading to a lackluster end product that is quickly abandoned. Go see the corpses of Anthem and The Avengers

But who cares about recent history? 

Image: Warner Bros. Games

Set in Metropolis, Suicide Squad’s four criminals — Harley Quinn, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and King Shark — have all been released from Arkham Asylum under the watchful eyes of DC’s greatest character, Amanda Waller (played perfectly by Debra Wilson). With no introduction or fanfare, a powerful villain called Brainiac (played by Baldur’s Gate 3’s Jason Isaacs) has invaded Earth starting in Metropolis, warping the minds of its greatest heroes to be his henchmen.

When the heroes are away, it’s the bad guys who then get to slay, apparently.

To the writers’ credit, no time is wasted on plot contrivances to explain the absence of all the other 3,000 powerful DC heroes and why it has to be these self-identifying bad guys who save the world and fight the Justice League. I certainly didn’t care. The four are dropped into Metropolis and told to take out the heroes before taking out Brainiac.

The moment-to-moment gameplay is similar to other third-person shooters with traversal mechanics, like Sunset Overdrive. It’s fast and bouncy, you’ll be flying over rooftops and shooting in midair, trying to gain combos and boosts from melee attacks and sliding maneuvers. 

This flattens what otherwise prides itself on being bold and explosive and colorful. The four antiheroes are well established as being loud and brash with egos the size of planets. But none of this comes out when you play, as all these big personalities become little more than every gun-wielding soldier you’ve played a thousand times.

When interaction with the world is primarily through combat, a character’s personality must translate into their means of destruction. But here, every character can use almost every gun and, for 99 percent of the game, shooting is all you’re doing and therefore the only way you engage with the world. While the Squad come alive during cutscenes — with some stellar graphics, animation, writing, and voice work — they all fade into a nameless sludge, holding a pea shooter, during actual play.

In Rocksteady’s Arkham games, for example, every tool Batman used in the world was so specific to him that even minor henchmen could identify his presence when he used them. Here, Harley can use a rifle just as Deadshot can, erasing her presence from the world aside from her quips. The only identifying mechanics tied to characters are traversal and melee attacks. For example, King Shark leaps and lands great distances like his Marvel colleague the Hulk. Harley uses a repurposed Bat glider from which to swing and a Bat grappling hook stolen from Batman.

Aside from reducing combat to meaningless shooting, what you’re shooting will both make you roll and close your eyes: roll them because of the homogeneity and repeated mission designs, and close them due to the flood of numbers, colors, counters, and so on that just fill the screen, inducing a headache.

Almost the entire game is set outdoors, reducing Metropolis to little more than set-dressing. There is nothing iconic about it as a space, aside from a few giant statues of the very heroes you are targeting. This is because the mission structures are limited and involve the same mechanics, influencing how the space could then be created. Missions consist of either shooting enemies on rooftops to clear a space for monstrous plants or data centers, protecting a slowly moving vehicle driving to a destination, or freeing people and bringing them to a magical bus. That’s it. 

There are no clever stealth mechanics forcing you to engage with the space itself and barely any indoor engagements. The two times Rocksteady puts the four weirdos in a tight space is to have them take on Batman, placing them in the position of his enemies in the Arkham games. This was genuinely genius and the best part of the game: you truly understand why henchmen are terrified of Batman, and how he creates an environment of fear that has them sometimes shooting wildly in the dark. Added to this is perhaps Kevin Conroy’s most incredible turn as Batman.

After three decades of voicing the Dark Knight, here Conroy was directed to really turn him evil — and he’s genuinely terrifying. I’ve never heard Conroy deliver Batman’s lines like this, with a harshness that only came out when he was furious at wrongs being done by evil villains. This is an incredible send-off to one of the greatest voice actors who ever lived. Conroy unfortunately died in November 2022. As someone who watched the entire Batman: The Animated Series three times, having him here for the second last time was meaningful. (His last role as Batman will be in the animated film, Crisis on Infinite Earths Part Three.)

But this incredible encounter lasts only a few minutes. The rest of the nine to ten hours of the main campaign is boring looter-shooter gameplay that had me both yawning and frustrated. With the chaos on-screen, it was often very hard to find and kill certain or specific enemy types, since locking onto individuals was difficult amid the flood of information.

Furthermore, main missions and side missions have exactly the same design setups. Aside from the Batman missions I mentioned, there are almost no other quests that offer unique mechanics, spaces, or mission types. They echo the side missions and require the same tools and play you’d be doing in any event. 

Side missions, however, are perhaps the worst part since they implement restrictions on killing enemies. For example, enemies can be immune to all damage minus critical hits, and you can only get critical hits if you kill specific octopus-type creatures running around the battlefield. Good luck spotting them! Other times, enemies will be immune unless you execute a move that allows you to harvest shield currency from them. You have to remember what moves do what and, in the midst of a chaotic battle, this sometimes proves futile. I hated these missions and had to skip them.

Worse still, there was so little incentive to engage with side missions. After every mission, including main ones, the game gives you an unskippable reward screen, dropping “loot.” These would be guns or armor or melee weapons that may or may not be better than what you currently have. I could not tell you what almost any of the stats meant, nor could I tell you what leveling up a character’s skill tree did. None of it felt any different, there was no “build” to speak of, and I ended up sticking to Captain Boomerang with the same powerful gun I got as a result of the Deluxe Edition DLC.  

I don’t mind loot drops — I love, for example, Diablo 4 and recently am getting into Borderlands 3. But to make everything stop for the delivery of a crappy gun I won’t use felt gross and very “live service.”

Image: Warner Bros. Games

Indeed, mired as it is in the horrible games-as-service mechanics, the heart of Rocksteady’s genius is often struggling beneath the sludge of corporate crap. The game has been monetized to hell and back, focusing on an endless endgame grind and future seasons — thus preventing the writers from being able to deliver a satisfying ending to the main campaign’s story, since you don’t actually get to tackle Brainiac in any meaningful way

But, to be fair, the game does quite poorly in boss battles in general. While it’s obvious the Justice League are the bosses, the fights all end up being pretty much the same: you “counter” a hero at certain points (basically wait for an opening to shoot) or reduce the equivalent of their shields, and then just… fire at them. Earth’s great heroes gunned down. It’s unceremonious, monotonous, and a massive letdown.  

But, then, so is the game itself.

There were a few aspects I loved, like Batman’s encounters; the writing, dynamics, and performances in cutscenes between the four main characters; the gorgeous graphics; and sometimes Boomerang’s traversal. Also, this game includes my favorite depiction of Wonder Woman in any medium, with Zehra Fazal turning in an amazing performance of the only Justice League hero not corrupted, having to face the fact she may have to kill her friends. (Oh, what I would give for a Rocksteady single-player of this Wonder Woman! Good luck to Monolith on its current Wonder Woman game.)

But the noise of the moment-to-moment combat, the boring and repetitive mission designs, the uninspiring weapons, and the erasure of the Squad’s personalities has me happy to not pick this up again. At least I’ll have fewer headaches from all that on-screen noise.

Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League is available now on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X / S.

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