Review

DC Universe Online Review (PS3)

Many childhood Christmases were spent with yours truly leaping off sofas, donning a cape and exterminating the threat of my Nan's brussel sprouts. With the Batman mask on, my ultra high pitch voice could ensure the most dastardly villain would leave the premises without harming loved ones who quietly chuckled to themselves. Just because the tyrant who stood in my way was of the canine variety, only roused because my pre-pubescent shrieks shuddered through his usually understanding fur, didn't make my dream any different from thousands of other children out there, did it? Let's face it, we've all dreamt of being a superhero, or indeed, harnessing powers from the comic book universe. Its not often we get the chance to cause carnage in a console MMO, especially one based on the likes of Superman, Wonder Woman and the ever-popular Batman, so DC Universe Online's arrival is very much welcome.

It all starts rather well too. The opening cut-scene is excellently executed, cinematic, and a detailed introduction to the story. It seems Earth has become overrun with an evil overloads parasitic army, who're ready to plough in the numbers for the cause. Normal citizens have found the ability to turn into spandex-wearing, oddly gifted fighters that may or may not be operating for the good of the planet. Whether you choose to play as hero or villain, there's plenty of missions and other minor tasks to get involved with, all of which can be altered if you decide you want to fight for the other side (this does mean creating a new character). Once the choice has been made, it's time to ink your most ambitious design.

How they're not put off by those tight buttocks I'll never know

Or at least, that's what we hoped for. Although DCUO's character creating options aren't tidily, they're also not expansive either. There's a decent set of clothes and hair styles to work through, but powers are limited, with obvious contenders such as fire, ice and telekinesis included. You get to choose your character's stance and movement type, but once playing, it doesn't take long to realise your creation is not unique. While it's enjoyable to experiment with key features for a while, the excitement of having a flying dwarf quickly wears thin. After a few hours of play, we'd witnessed the same type of superhero many times, and felt like ours could have been ripped straight from a line of clones. While new items, weapons and other features are unlocked during the game, it's disappointing to see such a rigid design system, as it would have been brilliant to utilise a set of tools that allow players to doodle, draw and individualise more aspects of their hero. As the DC roster is so diverse, it feels like a missed opportunity that players can't try their hand at unveiling something a little bit special.

Once your creation is set, it's time to blast through the tutorial. This takes the form of an escape from an alien ship, and introduces you to your faction well. Depending on what attributes you've given your character, a popular hero will guide them through the dangerous objective. Introducing key gameplay elements such as fighting, moving at speed and utilising special powers, the tutorial introduces the title well. This area is linear and restricted, but perfect for getting to grips with the new threads. You'll quickly learn that bashing a foe isn't particularly taxing work, and the speedy levelling up of your character brings some welcome improvements to the combat. While combos and powers are never difficult to pull off, the opening quickly reveals that the more you play, the more effective your attack will get. Puny fireballs begin to hit with an extra kick, and your hero's techniques hastily turn from accomplished to show off.

After the tutorial, DCUO becomes quite a mixed bag. For every delicious burger, there seems to be a lurking gherkin ready to sour the taste. Exploring Gotham City and Metropolis does induce geeky orgasms, but it's not enough when the developers want you to form a relationship with the game. Whether you chose hero or villain, objectives are uninspired, and leave one bewildered as to why so many real-world days were spent trying to find a pair of red pants that fit. For the most part, DCUO will have you killing a certain amount of goons or civilians, protecting helpers as they perform vital tasks, and transporting cargo from one area of the map to the next. The figures that guide you are voiced authentically, but the game has a habit of removing the element of fun just when you think it's going to get exciting. As your skills begin to improve (with a cap set at level 30), and you choose how you want to spend your development points, it becomes all too apparent that something key is missing. We'll never discourage an MMO title that encourages action, but when it's repetitive, clunky and cumbersome, it's a bitter pill to swallow (especially with such a revered license).

Mark Hamill returns as the Joker, and is as terrifying as ever

DCUO continues to thrill and spill throughout, and unfortunately, this notion carries over to the fundamentals of the title. Manoeuvring round the universe is never as fun as it promised to be, as flying is awkwardly slow to begin with, and sprinting at the speed of light often leaves players upside down on walls and under bridges where it's so sensitive. Most annoyingly, if you're trying to get yourself away from conflict, perhaps to heal for a moment, your foes have an ungodly power of 'grounding' your progress. Quite simply, this means you're halted in your tracks. Perfectly acceptable. It would be, of course, if this grounding didn't catapult your hero across the area as if thrown by a dizzy drunkard wielding a slingshot. Most obvious when you're flying away, there seems to be no reason why you'll end up twenty metres to the right of the enemy when you were already fifty metres to their left.

Without doubt, DCUO's biggest drawing point is the chance to take to one of the great comic book cities with a host of friends and allies. The best place to meet new players is at your faction's hideout, where it's easiest to chat and formulate a plan. At the moment the world is populated pretty well, but the game suffers massively when nobody else is around to lend a helping hand. Most missions aren't difficult, but certain tasks fall victim to the consistently respawning enemy flaw. Early on as a hero, Batman asks you to enter the sewers and save Batwoman. Grinding isn't on the vocabulary of the developers, but without any aid by your side, this becomes an irritating mess. You're cheaply overrun with enemies who approach from all sides, and there's simply not enough time to repel them all at once. This is only one example, but it's safe to say that playing solo leaves a lot to be desired. Nobody wants to consistently restart the same mission, especially when they're a pumped up behemoth who can shoot shards of ice from their fist.

Whether you choose hero or villain, there's plenty of goons ready to be eliminated

Competitive player vs player servers are included, and a good way of unlocking new gear for your hero. One of the game's most interesting inclusions is the dungeons that couples can take on together. As a duo, you are forced to fight off hordes of pesky opponents, with a boss usually waiting at the end. It's simple stuff, but adds to the fact that with a thriving community, this game is well worth a try. It's a title that pretty much forces you to form an alliance with your peers (guild styled 'leagues' can be joined), in a bid against the greater good or evil. Just like every other MMO out there, the game only works as well as the community that runs it.

DC Universe Online is an ambitious product, especially for the PlayStation 3. Careful measures have been taken to ensure it isn't too overcomplicated for the Dual Shock, and Sony Online Entertainment certainly succeed in this area. It's an accessible, forever-guiding venture into the MMO world, and a brilliant way to introduce new players to the genre. Despite its flaws, there is an entertaining title to unravel here, especially if you're backed up by the right crowd. For many, DCUO just won't cut it though. Clumsy design often prevails over the superhero factor, as the experience on offer doesn't justify the monthly cost Sony are looking to extract from players. When it comes down to it, cheaper, more sustainable fun can be had from donning a pair of tights and rugby tackling an elderly family member while they attempt to serve the Christmas turkey.

Most Memorable Moment: Watching a truck float up the street while a midget hero struggles beneath.

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