|System: PC, PS3|
|Dev: SONY Online Ent.|
|Pub: SONY Online Ent.|
|Release: Q1 2011|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Robert VerBruggen
What's the problem with the current crop of popular MMOs? An utter lack of superheroes, that's what.
At least that's the philosophy behind DC Universe Online, a new entry in the genre due in the first quarter of next year from Sony Online Entertainment. And we think they're on to something: What comic-book fan could resist the temptation to become a hero or villain and roam the streets of Metropolis or Gotham? To visit Arkham Asylum or Justice League World Headquarters? To help Superman best Doomsday and Lex Luthor in a fight?
Judging by the trailer (you can watch it by searching YouTube for "Who Do You Trust DC Online"), as the story begins, a future Luthor has traveled through time to the present day. He comes bearing a message: An impending war will have so many casualties that it will make the Earth vulnerable to an extraterrestrial invasion. Brainiac waits at the ready to take over the planet and bring about the end of humanity. This seemed fine to Luthor-from-the-future when it happened, but then Brainiac betrayed him, so he changed his mind, stole some time-traveling equipment from Brainiac, and came back to change the course of history. We see images from that war, culminating in the brutal death of Superman.
Toward that end, Luthor has stolen a technology called "exobytes" from Brainiac that can turn anyone into a superhero or supervillain, and brought it back with him to the present. That's what will enable you to make your character, and we gather there are tons of options in that regard. You can even preserve your hero's look when you find clothes that offer powerups by extracting the value of the items without actually wearing them. Then, Brainiac kidnaps you, but you escape. You then choose a starting city and a high-profile hero or villain mentor (Wonder Woman, Joker, etc.).
That trailer also gives us a pretty good idea of what the game will feel like. Its cutscenes will feature dark, super-realistic graphics, along with the intense atmosphere that many comic-book movies (most notably The Dark Knight) have explored recently. Not to mention ridiculous fight scenes, questionable voice acting, and the occasional "shazaam!" exclamation. Oh, and a very violent, very creepy-eyed Superman. Judging by the screenshots released thus far, the game itself will look slightly less detailed and more cartoonish.
In terms of gameplay, not all of the details have come out yet. Most of the MMO basics will be there (yes to leveling, raids, and endgame, but no to crafting for now), and the developers have promised that interactivity and simple action and combat will be key. Plan on learning lots of cool attacks and fighting moves. Group play is possible, but optional until endgame -- you can max your level solo, and all six of the classes have a damage mode, so specialization isn't too important early on, either. Early reports indicate a max level of 30, which will take sixty or so hours to achieve. Player-versus-player modes include arena (fight with your character) and legends (fight as an iconic hero or villain).
The story will unfold in a series of "Cases." Known Cases include a fight between Superman on the one hand, and Doomsday and Lex Luthor on the other, and saving Robin from Harley Quinn. The Joker, of course, will also be up to some mayhem as the end of humanity draws nigh.
MMOs are a tricky business -- half the time, you can't tell whether they're any good for months after release -- but DC Universe Online definitely has the potential to become a hit. More than 100 heroes and villains are confirmed, the graphics in the trailer look terrific, and there's a whole lot of talent working on this project. Comics vet Jim Lee is the executive creative director; other developers include Chris Cao (who's worked on EverQuest and Star Wars games) and Geoff Johns (who's handled The Green Lantern, Superman, and The Flash for DC, and written for Smallville). The voice cast, many of whom will reprise roles they've played for animated comics, will include Wil Wheaton, Mark Hamill, Adam Baldwin, Kevin Conroy, and Corey Burton.
In other words, if this game fails, it won't be for lack of funding, staff, or creative resources. Sony has made a serious investment in getting this MMORPG off the ground; the only question remaining is whether the development team managed to create that special, undefinable "spark" that makes a game really take off. That's what it will take to make DC Universe Online worth its $50 or $60 sticker price (for PC and PS3 respectively), plus $15 per month in subscription fees.
So, if you're a PC or PS3 gamer, you'll want to keep an eye on this game. If it's as captivating as it looks right now, it'll be worth quite a few hours of your time.
CCC Freelance Writer