|System: PC, PS3|
|Dev: Sony Online Entertainment|
|Pub: Sony Computer Entertainment|
|Release: January 11, 2011|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p|
by Robert VerBruggen
It's all the rage in the film industry: Take a prominent series of comic books (ahem, "graphic novels"), and give it a gritty reboot. Then, watch the money come pouring in.
Well, DC Comics and Sony Online Entertainment see no reason this formula couldn't work for MMOs, too. The scary thing is that they may be right: Judging by its early hours, DC Universe Online is the best MMO to debut since World of Warcraft, and many gamers will like it even better than that king of online RPGs. Its only major problem is that its player-vs.-player modes rely too much on button-mashing.
MMO launches are notorious for their slow downloading and unpolished products (just look at the troubles Square Enix has had fixing up Final Fantasy XIV), but everything went smoothly for me right from Day One. The download was sizable (12 GB) but fast (just a few hours), and I haven't come across any serious glitches. Sony deserves some major credit for fixing a problem that many have written off as unavoidable. I, for one, am glad they didn't rush to avoid delaying this title.
When you boot up the game for the first time, the opening cinematic (which has been online for some time) explains the story. It begins in the future. In a large-scale fight between good and evil, Lex Luthor brutally kills Superman. However, it turns out that while Earth's factions were beating each other up, Brainiac was hatching a plan to conquer the world. He invades. Luthor goes back in time to the present day, bringing with him technology that can turn anyone into a superhero or supervillain. You play as a one of these new superbeings. The primary goal is to fight off Brainiac, but good and evil are still going at it on the side, too.
At that point, you outfit your character with various attributes. The customization process is simple and quick, but also deep: You choose your sex and physical appearance, in addition to aligning with good or evil; selecting a weapon, mode of transportation, and fighting style; gaining a superpower; and picking a famous superhero or supervillain to mentor you. I went with an evil character who brandishes two pistols, controls fire, flies, and works for the Joker. After a quick introductory sequence in which I fought my way out of one of Brainiac's ships (How did I get there? I somehow missed that part…), I started taking orders.
If this isn't clear enough from the opening cinematic, let's make it clear now: This is not a game for children. Our first few hours with the game were a delirious orgy of fistfights and cop-killing, the female characters are all half-naked tough girls with plastic-surgery bodies, and the streets of Gotham are rife with the signs of urban decay. (You can start in Metropolis as well.)
That said, if you're mature enough to handle it, the action here is superb. This game takes some of its fighting system from World of Warcraft -- for example, you can't avoid a projectile by running out of the way, and there are cooldown times on your special abilities -- but otherwise it feels a whole lot more like a standard third-person action title, right down to the controls. (PC owners will be glad to hear that they can turn their character with the mouse, for example.) Melee combat is pure button-mashing, just the way it should be in a superhero game, and overall the fighting always feels hectic and visceral. Perhaps the only frustration that remains is that it's too hard to run away once you've triggered an enemy; words cannot describe how irritating it is to die just because you walked too close to a couple of guys, especially when those guys spawned while you weren't looking.