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Hands-On: DC Universe Online

| 7 Aug 2010 00:49

Batman must really be tired of having to rescue Robin by now - that's why he's making you do it.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, unless it involves MMOGs: At the SOE Fan Faire 2010 in Las Vegas, I got to sit down (well, stand up) in front of a very brief demo for the upcoming DC Universe Online MMOG. As it turns out? It's shaping up surprisingly well.

In the demo, I stepped into the cape and cowl of a 12th-level superhero whose influences began and ended with Batman. This made sense, of course, given that each of the three superpower origin stories - technology, metahuman, and magic - have a corresponding hero and villain attached to them as the character's mentor. Heroes fight under the wing of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman, while villains cleave to the dark forces of the Joker, Lex Luthor and Circe respectively. As a technology-based superhero, my character was all but directly apprenticed to the Dark Knight himself.

That's probably why Batman sent me to rescue his other apprentice - the Boy Wonder, Robin, has been kidnapped by the Joker (or more specifically, the Joker's No.1 fan Harley Quinn) for the umpteenth time. It's understandable that Bruce Wayne is probably sick of saving Robin's brightly-colored behind by now, so it's up to you to do the same.

Any hardcore MMOG player would rightly recognize Harley's base of operations - in an abandoned Gotham City amusement park - as your typical instanced dungeon, but what was interesting was that it was completely a solo affair. While you can bring a friend or two along, DCUO's episode conclusions are meant to be tackled by lone heroes, boss fights and all.

It took me a few minutes to get the hang of playing the game on the PS3 controller, but the combat ends up feeling much more like a standard action game than your typical MMOG. Your hero has a normal melee attack and a ranged attack, and pressing the respective buttons begins a typical combo - and holding down the button at any point during the combo results in a more powerful finishing move, some of which stun the opponent or open them up for air juggles.

The combos also build the energy you need to use your superpowers, so it's important to balance both face-breaking and super face-breaking in order to succeed. As a tech-based hero, I had a bunch of gadgets: A bomb/shuriken to throw, a robot drone that followed me around and fired missiles, and perhaps most hilariously, a device that trapped an enemy inside a bubble force field that I could then smack around into other enemies.

The physics were impressive for an MMOG - while not on the level of Crysis or even the Half-Life 2 games, it was nice to see some serious attention paid to environment interaction. In the fun house, there was a room filled with giant bouncy balls that I could smack around and watch them careen off the walls like giant bouncy balls actually might. It feels very floaty, for lack of a better word, and it does seem kind of weird when you and your combo-target are just suspended in midair with no sense of gravity, but it's also really cool to dump the bouncy balls down a large shaft to damage the henchmen below.

All in all, DC Universe Online is turning out to be a very action-y take on the MMOG, which makes sense given its shared PS3/PC release. The action is fun, the boss fight with Harley Quinn was definitely more along the lines of something you'd see in a single-player game than World of Warcraft, and some of the other ideas behind the game - cosmetic inventory-free loot, strong story ties to the iconic DC heroes and their world - make this one a game worth keeping an eye on.

DC Universe Online will go into beta shortly, and the game is scheduled to launch in early November of this year.

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