DC Universe Online Review

I’m not the biggest comic book fan-boy out there, I admit.  I have the tendency to get confused between the superheroes from Marvel and DC. Sacrilegious, yes, but I do know a good MMORPG when I see one, and DC Universe Online from Sony Online Entertainment has been the most fun I’ve had with an MMO for a very long time.

I am really quite surprised at the mediocre scoring it received from other sites. Okay the game has its problems, which I’ll get onto later, but the joy of creating your own superhero, leaping tall buildings in a single bound, moving faster than a speeding whatnot and beating the villains of Metropolis or Gotham to a pulp is easily one of the most enjoyable experiences a gamer can have, regardless of whether they are a comic book fan or not.

The story starts with a very well produced cut scene, depicting a ruined, war-torn Metropolis.  A titanic battle between the heroes and Lex Luthor culminates in the death of Superman, Wonder Woman and a few others. However, as Lex is revelling in his glorious defeat of the man of steel, a giant spaceship appears and the evil Brainiac announces that now the heroes are dead he can take over the Earth and create an army of Meta-humans.  Lex, somehow, manages to travel back in time to warn Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman of the coming apocalypse and release millions of captured Exobytes – nanobot-sized robots that can bond with a normal human and give them super powers – into Earth’s atmosphere.  It’s now up to the Justice League to find these new heroes and train them to use their powers in the foreseen battle that approaches.

Unfortunately, not all the new supers are heroes, some are downright evil.  Enter the Joker, the present day Lex Luthor and a host of other super villains to take those who tread the wrong path under their metaphoric wings.  This is where you come in, you have received a heady dose of Exobyte medicine and now, with your character creation screen in front of you, you must decided whether to fight with the caped, tight-fitting suited good guys, or plot, plan and scheme with the bad guys.

The character creation screen delves into the minutiae of detail.  Edit your eye colour, hair style/colour, suit, boots, gloves, insignia, then it’s onto what kind of super human powers you have, be they flight, strength, athletic, super speed – you could easily spend more time in the editor than in the actual game.  Once your happy with your hero (or villain) choose a mentor from a list of good or bad and off you go, into the wild blue yonder.

Or so you thought.  As it turns out, you find yourself on Brainiac’s ship, which nicely ties in with a few stages worth of tutorials.  Let’s face it, you have to learn how to use your new powers.  The tutorial is rather good, showing you how to move around, fight and use your powers by engaging Brainiac’s robotic minions, they’re pretty easy to beat, but it introduces you to the fast paced combat system of powers, punches, kicks and a host of combos that can be used to devastating effect.  If you’re feeling particularly viscous, then there are plenty of objects lying around just waiting for a super-powered individual to come along, pick up and lob with considerable force at the enemy.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fluid the combat becomes after a few battles and once you reach level ten, you can unlock and use the Iconic powers, such as Batman’s Batarangs or Superman’s heat vision, which all make the combat element that much more fun.

Once the tutorial is finished, you’re unleashed into the world, and what a wonderfully drawn world it is.  Metropolis, with its bright boardwalks, towering skyscrapers and futuristic architecture, mixed with the glorious buildings from the fifties, is a beauty to behold.  Similarly, Gotham is dark, menacing, with an oppressive feel to the run-down districts that are the regular haunt of the Caped Crusader.   After climbing (or flying) to the highest point and viewing the cityscape in all its glory, it’s time to return to terra firma and start doing some missions.

The missions, or quests, are all fairly similar and involve you having to travel to such-and-such a place, followed by killing X amount of whatever, or collecting Y amount of objects.  Standard stuff.  Follow the missions and level up to unlock the tech tree that allows you to gain new powers or abilities, changing your original character into something completely different but just as powerful nonetheless.

However, where DCUO really begins to become super powered is in the form of its PvP, PvE or team battles.  Pick your mission from the available list, then join the queue and prepare to fight alongside other players to complete the mission goal, earn loads of XP, loot and make a few friends at the same time.  Or, tackle the player Vs. player, fight as an iconic hero such as Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman or just start a fight if you happen to come across another player in the game world.  This mixed with the stylish combat system, makes DCUO feel less like an MMO and more like a stand-alone third person hack and slash.

Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the start of this review, DCUO has its problems. First, and foremost, amongst these are the controls. With the game’s control scheme designed around a gamepad using a keyboard and mouse means you should be prepared for some manic mouse mashing and contorting your fingers into some painful positions to be able to fight, run, block and use your powers simultaneously.  A problem I had was the game didn’t recognise my controller properly, granted it’s not a genuine Xbox flavour, but it works on other games.  Sadly, I’m not the only one with this problem, as a quick glance at the DCUO forum revealed a whole bag of issues with analogue controllers and macro buttons.  Never mind, although keyboard/mouse is ridiculously painful, it’s workable.

A second gripe I have with DCUO is that, although the graphics are splendid and the physics flow like sand from an hourglass, when leaping about the cities you get the overpowering sense of loneliness.  Apart from some random traffic at certain locations, or a handful of citizens running from a battle, there’s no one around.  The bustling Metropolis isn’t very bustling; it’s more like the surface of Mars, pretty, but completely devoid of life.

Thirdly, although the voice-overs are great – Mark Hamill for instance as the Joker – there are times when several events can happen at once causing the voices to mix up and become an inaudible cacophony of noise.  It’s not often that happens, but there are times.

And my final gripe.  When entering a boss battle, for instance, a cut-scene flashes up with the boss detailing and monologuing their plans for world domination.  All very nice, but whilst he/she is ranting on, their minions are attacking you in the background and there’s nothing you can about it.  You just have to wait until the cut-scene has finished and hope you have enough health left to deal with everyone on the screen.

That said DCUO is great fun to play.  The missions are okay, the PVP element is very cool, the graphics, sounds and voice-overs are fabulous.  But is it worth £10 a month?  I suppose for a couple of months it is, but after that and after you’ve reached level thirty with different characters, unless Sony release some pretty hefty DLC then DCUO will become as barren as the streets of Metropolis.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@brashgames.co.uk.

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