Wonder Twins Online

DC Universe Online hands-on at New York Comic Con
Author: J.D. Cohen
Published: February 11, 2009
DC Universe Online is a part of Sony Online Entertainment's push to get massively multiplayer titles onto the PlayStation 3, and it boasted an appropriately popular booth at the New York Comic Con considering the interests of the audience present. Though the game was running on Windows PCs, there were SEXNAZIS (sorry, SIXAXIS) controllers on hand to demonstrate how the slinging of powers is accomplished on a console controller. The game essentially follows the common third-person action convention of movement on the left stick and camera control and aiming on the right. The character that I found myself in control of (sort of a catgirl/furry whom I swear to you was not of my design) had the ability to fly, which was toggled by clicking in the left stick. Steering the character around in the air was intuitive and satisfying.

Light attacks are triggered by Square, with a charging heavy attack on Triangle. Eight further combat-related abilities (which appear to be quite varied) can be available at a time, and they are executed by holding L2 or R2 and pressing a face button. It felt the slightest bit clumsy at first, but when a player begins with a low level character with fewer abilities to deal with at once and gradually acquires more, it should be fairly natural to acclimate to.

Combat in DCUO is closer to a brawler than the standard MMORPG formula in some ways, with all combat actions playing out in response to direct input, rather than utilizing any kind of auto-attack. Additional spice is added by the ability to pick up objects in the environment, such as vehicles, which may be thrown at opponents or used as improvised bludgeons. I asked Senior Producer Wes Yanagi if heroic characters would be penalized for wrecking the city, and thankfully he answered correctly: collateral damage is to be expected when defending the world from super-powered threats, so nobody will mind a few (thousand) cars (presumably containing passengers behind their hazardously opaque windows) being bounced around like Hacky Sacks. The flying automobiles demonstrate well the solid physics engine at work in the game, which also comes into play for some powers.

Another nice departure from the RPG norm is that the player characters start out pretty damn super. If part of your vision of your particular hero (or villain) involves super speed, then you will have super speed out of the gate. Advancement comes in the form of unlocking new ways to use your power. For example, Fasto could hypothetically learn to use his speed to run around in circles, creating a vortex to ground flying adversaries.

The main activity on display at the convention was a multi-stage mission that did a good job of showing off the strengths of the game. Initially, heroic and villainous characters found themselves at cross purposes in an area full of friendly and hostile NPCs. In order to meet the specified quota of crate molestation, players were required to get into the middle of the fracas, which organically led to engaging player-versus-player showdowns. (The game's booth was bisected by a barrier, separating the good guys from the bad to keep things from getting personal.) PVP gets crazy with the variety of powers (and scenery) being flung around, and in my brief time with the game, it seemed as if a decent amount of strategy could arise from the way in which the various offensive and defensive abilities interact.

After enough crates had been mastered, the next phase of the mission found villainous players in an instanced building interior in the midst of a battle involving Lex Luthor and Doomsday. A major priority for the team behind DCUO is to make good use of the license, so Superman will not stand on a street corner 24/7 collecting rat spleens, counter to what jaded MMO veterans (such as myself) may have feared. That's more of a job for Aquaman anyway.

DC Universe Online is still in a pre-alpha state, and it's clearly rough around the edges at this point, but it certainly shows promise. Personally, I'm a fan of MMOs, but I've also become more of a console gamer as of late, so I wholeheartedly welcome SOE's efforts. If DCUO offers deep enough character customization and development and enough interesting content that utilizes the DC property well, then it could prove to be a stellar way for comic book fans to live out their tights-clad fantasies in the relative privacy of their living rooms.