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James Gunn’s DC Studios plan isn’t good for future DCU games

Marvel director alum James Gunn is eager to crossover the DCU with gaming, but his ideas don't bode well for exploring stories outside of the DC Studios canon.

Kevin Conroy's Batman in Suicide Squad Kill The Justice League

The Zack Snyder days are sadly over and the DCEU is changing, as Guardians of The Galaxy 3 director James Gunn and Peter Safran take the reigns of the newly formed DC Studios. Gunn has revealed new plans for the DCU, with a wealth of movies and animated shows set to build the Gods and Monsters chapter. In an ambitious move, Gunn also wishes to include games, claiming that our brand-new actors will reprise their roles in the DCU’s multimedia roadmap. However, this decision poses serious creativity obstacles going forward.

On January 31, James Gunn unveiled the DCU slate for the next few years. Though Gunn claims that the announcement is “only part of the first chapter”, the Marvel director stresses the importance of “making sure the DCU is connected in film, television, and gaming […] that the characters are consistent and played by the same actors, and it works within one story.” While stories outside of the DCU canon, like Matt Reeves’ The Batman and Todd Phillips’ Joker, are labelled as ‘DC Elseworlds’ stories – this connotation hasn’t necessarily been specified for games. Now, this is where the problems begin to arise, I feel.

The era of movie tie-in games has dwindled away. Some games, while flawed, did yield their own charms. Only exceptions like Treyarch’s Spider-Man 2 or Goldeneye 007 have cultivated greatness. Confining future games to the DCU canon isn’t just a boring choice, but also a very limiting one in regards to portraying imaginative spins on iconic characters.

Marvel’s Avengers and Guardians of The Galaxy took this aspect on in their stride. Chasing the shadows of the MCU would only set them up for failure. Echoes of the MCU are definitely in their DNA but it’s used to enhance their creative vision. Chris Evans’ Captain America isn’t quite as jaded as the Crystal Dynamics equivalent, but there is a glimmer of Evans’ naivety in the character. They exist on their own merit, serving as a supplement to fans looking for other forms of superhero media to enjoy.

Going off Gunn’s statement, games like the upcoming Suicide Squad: Kill The Justice wouldn’t be able to exist in the DCU going forward.

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Developer Rocksteady is showcasing a bold story in their upcoming game. Potentially killing off Batman or Wonder Woman wouldn’t stick in the DCU. Yet, if we’re set to witness the release of Superman: Legacy game that loosely follows the movie’s narrative, then I’m already checked out from this universe revamp. That comes with another set of challenges in regard to character depiction. Gunn’s Superman may be a return to the more generic, blue boy scout version of the character. If a game can’t divert outside of the canon, then countless possibilities would be lost.

Realistically, if a high-profile actor is taking on a role like the Man of Steel, it is difficult to imagine their schedule would accommodate endless hours of voice-over and motion-capture commitments. And that is on top of the intensive act of developing a game itself.

We’ve seen the importance of time, especially with DC, before in gaming. Rocksteady opted to hone in on Arkham Knight, forgoing duties to WB Games Montréal for Arkham Origins. Arkham Knight started development in 2011 and took four years to be completed. Producing a high-quality game is always the goal, but can that be achieved in a universe that is aiming to consistently release new stories? It is a speculative notion that Gunn’s gaming plans are set to be prolific, but one that is nonetheless worrying for fans expecting justice to be applied to their favourite characters.

There is an obvious solution to this, which Gunn can take from the roadmap: place game releases under the Elseworlds label. Advocating alternative adventures in a rule-less framework is why the Arkham franchise or Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 work outside of their adjacent cinematic universe. Elements of confusion could appear if the future Batman or Superman actor lends their likeness and voice to this iteration of the character. If general audiences are unaware of the distinction, that is. Nevertheless, this is the best bet to forge an exciting DCU gaming world.

James Gunn’s DCU is yet to chart its course through cinematic and gaming history. Henry Cavill’s departure stung and hope is absent as the aggressively average-looking Shazam: Fury of the Gods approaches. I hope there are astounding things in store for the DCU’s gaming endeavours – but it could all be over again in a flash.