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DC Universe Online

14:5210/02/2011Posted by Simeon PaskellNo Comments

As any Gotham City street punk left dangling on the end of a Bat-rope will tell you, crime doesn’t pay; Massively Multiplayer Online gaming on the other hand most certainly does – just ask Blizzard Entertainment. Sony Online Entertainment’s DC Universe Online has something of a head start, founded as it is on a cast of characters that are known and loved across the world and source material stretching back 75 years. Unfortunately in the world of MMOs there is no such thing as a ‘sure-fire hit’, with many newcomers failing to find the magic formula that will draw the punters in and make them stay long enough to form a community and continue pumping money into the venture. Additionally, no single game has yet managed to become the MMO-Kryptonite to World of Warcraft’s Superman; is DC Universe Online – the first MMO action game to hit the PlayStation 3 – likely to buck this trend?

It’s a simple fact that in the world of DC Comics there is only one Batman. And one Superman. And one Wonder Woman. And one…well you get the idea… This poses quite a considerable problem for an MMO hoping to utilise the draw of publishing giants output – how do you make players feel like a DC superhero, if they can’t become the very heroes that tempted them towards the game in the first place? SOE could, of course, have simply opened the flood gates and let hordes of Batmen, Supermen and Wonder Women rampage across its cityscapes, but such flagrant disregard for the lore of the comics would have resulted in an experience bordering on the ludicrous.

SOE’s solution to this dilemma is elegant in execution while still reflecting the often convoluted nature of comic-book narratives. Simply put, players create their own superheroes, choose a DC legend as a mentor and begin carving out their own reputation on the streets of Gotham and Metropolis et al. The game’s opening justifies the influx of new heroes with an introductory movie in which Lex Luthor returns from the past having just released ‘exobytes’ – nanobots that can imbue super powers upon humans – into the Earth’s atmosphere in the hope that the new army of super humans will be able to fend off the encroaching Brainiac.

The cinematic that depicts these events is likely to have committed DC fans foaming at the mouth; it’s good looking, it’s violent and it’s Gosh!-Darn!-Zap!-Pow! exciting. In actuality, it might be too exciting for its own good, as the game that follows could never dream of living up to its high octane thrills. And so, your early experiences with DC Universe Online will likely be underlined by a feeling of disappointment.

The game proper opens with character creation – choose your mentor, skills and abilities then set about designing your superhero’s (or supervillain’s) appearance, costume, insignias etc. Gamers fond of whiling away hours customising every tiny element of their in-game avatar may be left disappointed by DCU’s creation tools, but we’d argue that it strikes a decent balance, supplying enough choice without leaving you feeling bogged down and enabling quick – and not to mention satisfying – aesthetic results. Not that you won’t spend a lot of time honing your choices – cape or no cape? Helmet or suave side parting? Lamb-chop side-burns or clean shaven? Many of these decisions have little impact on the game itself, but when you’re swooping down to apprehend some criminals it’s a given that you’ll want to look your best.

Once your hero has been designed, you’re all set to enter the world of DC Universe Online, and are plunged straight into the action with an opening level set on one of Brainiac’s starships. If we were to base this review purely on this, DC Universe Online would likely score a resounding two-stars-out-of-five. In comparison to the cream of superhero-themed releases (think InFamous and Batman: Arkham Asylum), it fairs badly; the visuals, while solid enough, are unspectacular; the combat clunky and objectives poorly defined. Things don’t improve much upon escaping the ship and being unceremoniously dumped in a gloomy Police Station filled with a smattering of other players (who are generally zipping about the place at such a pace that striking up a conversation can be a struggle) and a handful of not particularly interesting NPCs.

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