it is said, while so many games deal in player empowerment, relatively few of them go for the costumed hero archetype we’ve all seen in countless comics, cartoons and rubbish film adaptations. Games like Prototype, infamous and Crackdown are about superheroes, sure (ignoring the fact that Prototype’s protagonist is a total arsehole), but where are the brightly-coloured spandex costumes and people shooting lasers out of their eyes? Hmm?

Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes
Well, here’s DC Universe Online – which I had a first-look at a short while ago. The story goes that while all of Earth’s heroes and villains were fighting, supremo-villain Brainiac turned up by surprise, stole everyone’s superpowers and pretty much annihilated the planet.

Lex Luthor, in a rare change of heart, managed to take back the powers that Brainiac stole, and travel back in time with them. He then spread the powers randomly among the population of Earth, and warned the heroes of the impending invasion.

Still, apparently his warning wasn’t strong enough because the present-day heroes and villains continue to fight just as they did before. But now, there are loads more of them. And that’s the game’s excuse to invite the player to create their own hero or villain and place them in the established DC Comics world. It all seems a bit silly at first, but just you wait for the bit where you’re fighting talking gorillas with jetpacks and laser guns.

All kidding aside, the game does pay an awful lot of respect to the DC universe. The art direction is spot-on - everyone will remember seeing the bat-signal in Gotham for the first time - and the established DC characters manage to make a lot of appearances without ever feeling like they’re stealing the show.

The quality of the voice acting, on the other hand, varies wildly. While the likes of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill have been brought in to voice Batman and the Joker respectively, a lot of the game’s less important characters genuinely sound like they’re using placeholder audio recorded by the developers. Then there’s the Martian Manhunter, whose voice reminds me of Gyles Brandreth. Your mileage may vary on that one.

Costume play
The game’s character creator doesn’t present you with as many options as the likes of City of Heroes or Champions Online, but it’s still miles more varied than your typical MMORPG.

It also seems that 90% of the game’s players are entirely devoid of imagination, so creating something relatively unique certainly isn’t a problem. Visual customisation aside, there’s also a fair selection of super-powers and weapons to choose from, with your choices dictating your support and combat abilities.

Curiously though, the abilities you choose don’t restrict you to a specific role in combat. Rather, once you’ve made enough progress through the game, you unlock tokens that allow you to switch to different roles; change your ability loadout and the effects that those abilities have when used.

This mainly comes into play when switching from solo to group play, with some players taking on control, defence or healing roles while others stick with damage-dealing. It’s a clever system, and it certainly made me feel vindicated after all the time I spent playing City of Heroes, trying and failing to think of a way to make a tank who was also great at hitting things.

Going places
You also get to pick your travel ability right off the bat, ensuring that all players are able to get around the game’s huge environments with relative ease.

You can choose from flight, acrobatics or super-speed. Although, in all honesty, they become interchangeable as you level up. Flight gets a considerable speed upgrade, for example, while acrobats can unlock tiny jet-boots that let you soar all over the place. Still, none of this makes any of the powers less fun to use, and they all have their uses in combat, too.

Bizarrely, the game’s combat actually works a lot better on the PS3 than it does on the PC
Past attempts to make joypads work on PC MMORPGs have mostly failed - indeed, I’ve heard reports of trouble when trying to use a joypad with the PC version of DCUO. The PS3 version excels when you’re in the middle of dishing out beatings to a gang of thugs.

The combat is immediately involving in a way never before seen in an MMORPG, requiring mastery of your character’s attack combos and the know-how to use them at the right times.

This goes a long way towards disguising the dreaded grind that plagues the genre. While a lot of the game’s mission objectives get old pretty quickly (go here, kill these guys, smash ten of these barrels, repeat), your heavy involvement in the combat ensures that you always feel engaged. It’s more rewarding than listlessly tapping away at the numbers on your keyboard while you watch your skills recharge over and over again, that’s for sure.Check the Guide?

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