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Being a superhero is intended to be a flat-out FUN experience. From
smashing cars over your enemies' heads
to scaling gigantic skyscrapers with ease, MMOGs in this genre have had
a difficult time reliably delivering the thrill of being a hero or
villain worthy of comic book pages.
I'll admit that I was furthermore hesitant about an action-based MMOG
that would rely
on frantic button mashing to defeat my opponents. I was even more
nervous about such a bold move being taken in a relatively weak
sub-genre of the MMOG community. Has DCUO managed to allay those fears?
Can the fast-paced, hands-on combat deliver the excitement of
superpowered combat without alienating traditional MMOG players, or is
this really just a translation of a multiplayer console title? Take a
look at how SOE's DC Universe Online pushes the boundaries of
traditional MMOGs, and whether or not those gambles have paid off.
This game is available as both a PC and PS3 title. For the purposes of this review, only the PC version was played and therefore some of the information contained within may be slightly askew from the experiences of those playing the console version of the game.
Also worth noting, especially for those interested in the console title, is that this game comes with a standard monthly subscription fee of $15/mo, and requires registration of a credit card or pre-paid game card before you are even able to make use of the 30-day free trial that comes with the retail purchase. Visit DCUO's Pricing Page
for further subscription details, or check out Sony's Station Pass
subscription to gain access to DCUO and a handful of SOE's other online titles, all with a single monthly fee.
When you think of superheroes, you think of high-energy combat filled
with exploding environments, daring acts of aerial acrobatics and
punches capable of sending foes flying across the battlefield. None of
these are absent from DCUO and every last one is just as satisfying as
they look on the pages of your favorite comic books.
Did somebody order a
Perhaps the best gameplay feature of DCUO is the design of its default
UI layout and keybinds. Instead of the standard MMOG mechanic of
"tab-target, auto-attack, fire-all-your-cooldowns-and-wait-for-refresh"
that leaves you a slave to whack-a-mole style hotbuttons and timers,
DCUO maps the entirety of your primary weapon set to a single button.
Through a series of "clicks" and "holds," your avatar will execute
different combinations of superpowered techniques that are the bread
and butter of your life as a hero or villain. The additional powers you
can use are yours to command at YOUR discretion, not the whim of a
global cooldown, and you may find yourself going as long as an hour or
two without needing to activate a single one. This combination of
simplicity and freedom allow you to do something that has become less
common in MMOGs - you can actually watch the action unfold
instead of always having your eyes fixed to your hotbars. This also has
allowed the DCUO devs to include clever boss fight mechanics that
include a reliance on environmental awareness, since it's easier to see
what's going on around you.
It's ironic that the UI is also one of DCUO's weakest features. In
addition to the sparse default layout, there is also a 10-page UI panel
which is used to access players' inventories, appearances, social
interactions, mission journals, and more. This is, in my opinion, the
single largest feature that makes the PC experience of this game feel
like a lazy console port. Besides being difficult to navigate and
poorly designed in some instances (mission entries take up too much
space and the map and social interfaces are completely unintuitive),
many of these submenus simply cannot be bound to keys requiring you to
open a random menu just to access the submenu bar and then
switch to the menu you wished to access. Given how much of a
character's progression is determined by picking the right gear,
queuing up for PvP or Alerts and choosing the right missions to
complete, it's a shame that these tasks require so much work to
accomplish due to poor UI design.
Foot, meet Face.
Integrated voice chat is a feature that has seen very little adoption
in the MMOG industry as a whole, but SOE was smart enough to recognize
it as a necessity in an action-based game like this. Combat is simply
too fast-paced for you to take the time to type out instructions in the
heat of battle, and even travel frequently requires your hands to be
"at the wheel" much of the time. As such, DCUO features a
fully-functional integrated voice system that can be used in groups and
raids with ease, and even allows for different input and output devices
to be assigned, as well as featuring an automatic volume reduction of
game sounds whenever you or a teammate is speaking.
The ease and excitement of hands-on action, coupled with voice chat and
the universal use of voiceovers (which I'll discuss more in the "Sound"
section) have come together to give gamers an action-filled experience
that many MMOGs lack. The feeling that a hard-won victory or a sudden
defeat is determined directly by your actions, rather than just a
string of random number generators, gives DCUO a tactile, visceral
spirit that is deeply satisfying and completely enjoyable.
What DCUO lacks in photorealism, it more than makes up for with style.
Every single area in this game is meticulously crafted to immerse
players in the experience of being a hero in the DC comic franchise.
Gotham City is a brooding, dirty urban jungle shrouded in perpetual
night, while Metropolis' shining skyscrapers are punctuated with
destruction and mayhem befitting of the home of so many superpowered
conflicts. Surprising visual effects await around almost every corner
while exploring the cities, including a Gotham cathedral encircled with
floating ice crystals and drifts of snow, or a gorgeous underground
jungle at the heart of the tech-inspired Hall of Doom.
DCUO's character models have a distinctively exaggerated style that
fits perfectly with the over-the-top action of the game. While the
character art style is an obvious departure from reality in terms of
proportions and range of motion, it perfectly suited to the suspension
of disbelief required to live in a comic book world where gorillas
wield laser pistols and demons are a part of day-to-day living.
Fluid animations for nearly all actions have clearly been given plenty
of attention by the game's developers, as I've yet to encounter
anything that seemed awkward or out of place, even while climbing the
sides of skyscrapers or engaged in hand-to-hand combat with iconic
heroes and villains. The only exceptions to this overall feeling of
seamless fluidity are some of the jerky physics-bending motions
performed by Acrobatic and Superspeed heroes when coming in contact
with the edges of surfaces or corners of buildings, but such actions
don't happen on a regular basis and aren't a regularly recurring part
of every-day gameplay.
For more examples of DCUO's eye-catching scenery check out Ten Ton
of Gotham City
Let's start here with a hot topic that's been discussed at length in
various DCUO communities: the voices.
First of all, I want to give SOE a big round of applause for
implementing complete voiceovers for nearly every line of
mission-related text in the game, and also finding the time to
incorporate random 'flavor' dialogue for completely unimportant members
of the DCUO populace. In addition to this skillful implementation of
the voices themselves, they also have gone out of their way to bring in
voice talent from well-known actors like Adam Baldwin
(as Superman), Wil
(as Robin), and James Marsters
(as Lex Luthor), as well as reintroducing us to the well-known voices
(as Batman), Mark Hammill
(as Joker) and Arleen
(as Harley Quinn). The widespread use of voiceovers to
relay mission information through an unobtrusive "communicator" UI
widget allows the pace of the game to continue uninterrupted, filling
you in on the details you'll need to complete the tasks assigned to
you, and understand the story-related reason you're doing it
without making you stop and read blocks of text or interact with
drawn-out dialogue options. The sole downfall of this is that many of
the voices are either not very good, or a drastic departure from voices
that fans of DC have come to know and love. The primary example of the
latter is Wonder Woman, who in this game is voiced by Gina Torres
instead of the more well-known voice of acclaimed voice actress Susan
Sound effects for powers and abilities in this game are
more-hit-than-miss, but occasionally come off sounding like random
white noise rather than interpretations of the actual motions being
performed. This is especially the case in many hand-to-hand moves,
where instead of hearing the hard smack of fists against flesh you
instead hear some sort of zippy-slashy-musically-augmented whoosh. Such
cases aren't the norm however, and special care seems to have been
given to making noises like gunshots and burning fireballs sound as
realistic as possible, even when heard from a distance or within the
echoey interior of an abandoned warehouse.
The musical score is mostly uninteresting and largely absent. But when
it's there it manages to perform its primary duty of setting the spirit
of the particular area while remaining completely unobtrusive. I
haven't found the need to turn it off yet, but I wouldn't even spring
for a download of these musical selections if they were offered
(FYI: There are currently a couple different sound bugs in the game that prevent audio from being played simultaneously under certain
circumstances. These bugs were not factored into the scoring as they were not present
in Beta and will presumably be fixed in an upcoming patch.)