Have I mentioned that I attended a press event at the DC Universe Online studio last week in Austin, TX? Well, I did, and part of that press event included almost two hours of hands-on game time on both PC and PS3. Jealous, much? Well, you should be. Long story short (if it’s not too late for that), the game is fantastic, and I can’t wait for the official release.
The game starts with the gorgeous extended cinematic (original here, extended is in part 1 here) produced by the brilliant artists at Blur Studio. The extended cinematic in the game goes on to explain how and why new heroes are appearing in the world, which transitions very cleanly into the character creation system. Character creation, as you’ve seen earlier this week, is spectacular. The character animation when viewing selections is very useful in telling how your character is going to look and feel, and the sheer volume of customization choices is a genuine treat. I spent close to 30 minutes of my two hours playing around in the character creation system alone.
I started off with a Batman-inspired hero of medium build. I made some visual changes to the character by adding a hood and cuffed boots and gloves, but kept the dark grey/black motif. I toyed with the idea of giving him the Flirty stance, but opted for the more appropriate Serious stance. I opted for the Fire power type, Super-speed movement type, and Staff weapon type before choosing the most important thing about any hero…the name. Now, as you may have heard in the character creation video from earlier this week, many names are already taken on the beta servers (hence, Heatstroake), so what was left was far from desirable. I ended up taking two of the main traits of my character, the fire power and the grey/black motif, and transforming that into a name that would strike fear into the hearts of villains, melty things, and fashionistas everywhere…FIERY SHADOW!
Shut up, Fiery Shadow could kick your ass any day of the week…jerks.
Moving on, every character starts off in one of Brainiac’s ships. The first mission is simple: Escape. The escape mission serves as a tutorial, teaching you how to handle your characters powers, movement type, and other basic functions necessary for playing the game in a way that makes sense within the story. As you reach the final stage of the escape mission, you are tasked with disabling the ship’s main cannon. Once you have done so, Superman boom-tubes in and assists in cleaning up the remaining enemies, and you end the mission by teleporting to a safehouse in your starting city.
I spent most of my time playing with a PS3 controller, both on the PS3 itself and on PC. From what I heard, the Xbox 360 controller also maps very well for PC use, but my only input options at the time were either mouse/keyboard or PS3 controller. I think that movement is handled better with the controller than with the mouse/keyboard combination. Perhaps my mouse look sensitivity was too high, but I felt that I had much more control over my character with the console controller, especially when I was in a high-speed or battle situation.
Movement is, in my opinion, one of the best things about this game. Flight is handled beautifully, acrobatic movement is wonderful, and super speed is exhilarating. As a speedster, I was able to run up the sides of buildings, run over water, run upside down in tunnels, and more. I was also able to use super speed to great effect in combat by attacking, then repositioning myself quickly for another attack. Combat is very well handled in this game as well. Rather than a turn-based attack system, or simply tapping an attack button and letting the character sit and attack, everything is based on combos in much the same way you would expect an action game to play. Leveling is based on XP earned through play and feats earned through achieving certain things during play (like a 25-hit combo, or a 50-hit combo). You can apply your earned points towards your power, movement, weapon, or iconic abilities (like Superman’s heat-vision, etc) through a skill tree system. The game itself is visually stunning, the cities are massive and beautiful, and the world is incredibly large. Even in the small part of Gotham that I was able to see in my limited time with the game, I managed to get myself lost.
Speaking of getting lost, I did run into a massive bug which caused my PS3 game to freeze multiple times, across multiple PS3’s. As a Batman-mentored character, I started off in Gotham doing Batman-centric missions. The first major mission-arc is a battle against the Scarecrow. Before getting to that point, however, you must complete smaller missions to progress the story. During one of these smaller missions, I was directed to return to the Police Station for an update. My mini-map was not displaying the direction indicator that I was used to seeing, so I opened my world map and set a waypoint for the East End Police Station. For some reason, it directed me across town. Thinking to myself that I may have unknowingly traveled farther from it that I thought, I followed the waypoint indicator on my mini-map and found myself in a part of Gotham I had not yet seen. I opened my map again, and the game froze. When one of the staff reset the PS3 and put me back in the game, I found myself in that unknown location still. I re-loaded my map, and the game froze again. I was moved to another PS3, where the bug occurred again. At that point, physics guru Wes Yanagi stepped in and mentioned that there were some particular bugs with bad data in gear items. We unequipped all of my non-standard gear (a belt and chest-piece, I believe), and tried again. The game froze once more, so I was moved over to a PC to continue playing, where I experienced no more problems (until Ryan came by and informed me that if I wanted an interview with anyone, I was running short on time). Wes and the other staff thanked me for breaking the game and made it clear that they would look into the bug and work their magic on it.
This game combines the best of the MMO genre’s leveling systems with the best of the Action genre’s gameplay. As John Blakely said in our interview with him, “…we just want to be the best superhero game that you can play with your friends online.”
Disclosure: I attended a DC Universe Online event hosted by Sony Online Entertainment. Sony Online Entertainment paid for my flight, hotel and meals in connection with the event.