When I heard that DC Universe Online - an online game set in the DC universe, fact fans - was in the works, I was anxious. Not least because the early gameplay videos made it look totally poo, but just because I couldn?t see the point in such an endeavour. Obviously, it being an MMO, we weren?t all going to be taking control of famous DC characters, so what could the game be other than a needless City of Heroes rip-off?
I really like the DC Comics universe. More specifically, I really like the Justice League Unlimited
animated series. In fact, I regularly bore people to tears about how it?s actually a really solid TV show, with some interesting politics. It even has an episode in which Superman and Captain Marvel repeatedly punch each other through buildings. It's also secretly a comment on the US invasion of Iraq. No, really.
"That... is The Question"
Good news: the guys at Sony Online Entertainment are a lot more imaginative than I am, which is why they make video games for a living and I don?t. The game allows you to create your own superhero. (As a bonus it provides a decent reason for there being an awful lot of new superheroes running around an established universe that was already full of superheroes). It also pays an incredible amount of respect to the existing world of DC and its characters.
When making a character, you?re first asked to choose between being a hero or a villain. From there, you choose your character?s mentor. A hero, for example, allows you to pick from Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
The mentor you choose then dictates your starting location, and who you receive your missions from. I picked Batman, because I?m not an idiot. Straight away I was on a mission tree which, within just a couple of hours, had me taking down Scarecrow and saving Batgirl from a permanent gas-induced nightmare. Hoorah.
Be water, my friend
The first thing you?ll notice about DC Universe Online
is how remarkably fluid the combat is. Actually, that?s a lie. The first thing you?ll notice is that you have to let the stupid thing spend two hours downloading a patch before you can play it. But, after that, the combat.
It actually works on a joypad ? I played the PS3 version, see. This is a pretty astonishing feat considering the game occupies a genre that has been so heavily associated with the PC from day one. Putting MMORPGs on consoles is generally a terrible idea, which is why so few of them ever even get released. But there?s a good reason this one actually made it to the shelves - it?s fun.
It controls like any other third-person action title you?d care to mention - left stick for movement, right stick for camera control - with the square and triangle buttons activating your short and long-range attacks respectively.
You?ll soon realise that this isn?t your usual MMORPG when you notice that battering enemies brings up a massive combo counter in the bottom-right corner of the screen. When I say ?Combo?, I'm talking less Street Fighter
and more Dynasty Warriors
. In a good way.
isn?t afraid to put you up against a dozen or more enemies at a time, even in the game?s early stages. Mastery of your character?s abilities, however, ensures you?ll feel challenged but rarely overwhelmed.
I?ve got the power
Your powers come in two main flavours: superpowers and combat abilities. Obviously Superpowers are pretty useful in combat too, but I'll explain the distinction shortly. When making your character, you pick your power (these include fire, ice, sorcery, gadgets) followed by your combat proficiency (staff, one-handed melee, twin melee, dual pistols, brawling).
Your Superpower is generally used for support abilities, such as healing allies or stunning enemies, although obviously it also features damage-dealing attacks. I mean, it?d be pretty stupid if you could have a character who could control fire, but couldn?t actually shoot people with it. Your combat proficiency, on the other hand, is all about the manner in which you deal damage. Obviously.
Your powers are activated by holding either of the triggers and pressing the corresponding face button on the bar across the bottom of the screen. It works really well, and is certainly preferable to having to make your fingers remember which of the number keys on a keyboard activates certain abilities. Using these powers costs you some endurance (which recharges over time), ensuring you can?t just spam your most powerful attacks and laugh while everything around you dies.
Combat abilities, on the other hand, are activated by hitting specific combinations of the square and triangle buttons, almost as if you?re playing a proper videogame! Crucially, they don?t require any endurance to use but simply rely on player skill and timing to use them properly. It?s certainly preferable to City of Heroes?
system, that allows you to almost instantly tire your superhero out so severely that he can?t so much as throw a punch for a good five seconds or so.
Of course, this being a newly-released MMORPG, it does still need some work. While it?s totally enjoyable in its current form, I've spotted a few weird issues in just a few short evenings with it. A lot of the menus are sluggish and unresponsive to navigate. Lord knows why, they?re only bloody menus, for goodness? sake.
Furthermore, as you?re using the d-pad or analogue stick to highlight different menu items, it?s sometimes possible to navigate out of the menu, leaving you with no highlighted option, and no way to select anything without backing out of the menu and re-entering it. Odd.
Still, the reason this is a first-look article rather than a proper review is that these things are likely to get fixed. Or, on the other hand, I might make a bit of progress and find that the game gets totally rubbish beyond the first twenty hours. Exciting, no?
Do stick with me to see what the final verdict is. If you?re the impatient type, though, know this: right now, I am really enjoying DC Universe Online