After what seems like an eternity of waiting, PS3 gamers finally have a MMORPG. A genre that never took off on PS2 has been given another shot by dropping the genre's staples of orcs and elves for the more intriguing world of DC superheroes.
If you've waited this long another two hours won't hurt and that's how long it takes to install the game. You'll be needing 15GB of space too, most of which is taken from the disk, but at least 2GB needs to be downloaded. There's a bit of unwanted PC-style experience for you already.
Now choose which server world you're going to play in. Choose a PvP (Player vs Player) one and you might receive a harsh welcome to the world of ganking and griefing where players of higher-levels on the opposite side to you will merrily batter you all day. Newcomers to the genre may wish to give the friendlier PvE (Player vs Environment) servers a shot as they're populated by allies instead.
After a gorgeous-looking pre-rendered opening cutscene (why doesn't gameplay look like this already?), you're given the chance to create your very own superhero or villain. You can quickly build ones inspired by one of your DC favourites or you can start from scratch.
Building your own character is the best route as you pick a gender, morality, personality and a mentor from the likes of Superman, Batman, Joker, Lex Luthor and so on. Choose a height of child-like, regular or basketballer-on-stilts/brute. You can change the skin colour/style, face and hair but no other physical attributes have any sliders. Don't worry, the default breast-size is large. Touché Mr. Game Developer.
Next you must decide the base of your superpowers, such as fire, nature, ice, gadgets, mental, nature or sorcery, followed by your preferred movement style. No vehicles are available, instead you must choose to fly, run at super-speeds or perform acrobatic moves. Flying controls well, if not a little slow for most of us. The Flash-style running is energetically fun as you can run up the walls of skyscrapers and make huge leaps from them and even run across water. The acrobat-style with its little wall-jumps is a distant third choice.
The range of weapon styles available is very pleasing and will cover the bases for most comic book fans. Brawling, martial arts, dual pistols, dual swords, rifles, staffs, long swords, hand blasters and bows are all included. After a while you can choose to unlock a second weapon style which helps to add variety at just the right time in the game.
All that's left to do is pick out your costume from head-to-toe (and cape). There are lots of styles to choose from and the colours can be altered to taste. Don't worry about new equipment ruining your style, you can opt to just take the stats and remain the same visually.
A tutorial level follows that takes you through the combat and movement basics. After escaping Brainiac's (the villain of the story) alien ship you will find yourself in either Metropolis or Gotham depending on your mentor choice. The game opens up from here and soon enough you have a long list of missions to undertake, all with a recommended player level on them to stop you getting brutalised. You can select missions and way-points manually, but the game does a good job of automatically activating some if you're in the right area anyway. For most of this review I'll talk about the game from a Superhero perspective as that was the alliance of my main character and gameplay is very similar for both.
So what does a new Superhero do to get their own comic? Beat up the other guys, a lot. Most tasks involve taking on gangs in the city and destroying machinery. Incidentally it's always worth checking nearby rooftops for purple mission beacons that you can activate at the same time as your current mission. Usually they involve beating up more goons, and collecting items they drop which you'd be doing anyway, but now you'll get an XP bonus for meeting side-targets.
Some missions are indoors, ending in a boss-fight against a known DC star with a huge amount of health. Familiarity creeps in by the time you've levelled up to Lv.10 and it's really not that long until you reach the Lv.30 cap. On the other hand, this does encourage you to play through the game with different character types, as your subscription doesn't limit you to just one creation.
The best way to earn XP is to finish missions and sub-missions as these provide large rewards. Just strolling around and beating up gangs and aliens also rewards XP for individual opponents, but it's small change in comparison. It feels relatively grind-free compared to a lot of MMOs.
Levelling up will increase your stats and unlock extra tiers of skills and moves. Sometimes you'll be awarded Skill or Power points which can be used to unlock items like a new combo, special power-moves or defensive shields. Or if you're unlocking a new Movement skill it could be a speed boost or a cyclone move to whirl around opponents. Annoyingly there's no move that allows you to flee from combat quickly when you're about to die as you're locked in a slow combat-stance until you go five seconds without being hit and the guys with guns know that all too well. If you do die, it's not a major set-back as your progress is constantly saved with each individual mission checklist item sticking too.
Special moves you can unlock will largely depend on how you set up your character and are activated by holding L2 or R2 and pressing a customisable face button. If you're fire-based you'll be presented with fire-balls to cause damage, knock-backs or staggering. If you set opponents on fire you can even absorb some health points from them. Or if you're more tech-orientated, you'll be more into planting sticky bombs and creating defensive barriers. There's definitely enough variety to warrant having a few characters on the go.
Veterans of the genre shouldn't have any problems, but the game's remarkably unhelpful in explaining anything after the initial 'push Square to strike' level. Thankfully there's a strong, helpful online community your can google forums for on your mobile or laptop. The in-game help 'menu' just tells you to go to their website. Cheers guys.
DC Universe Online is very much online only. Even though you can play through the game on your own, in an almost single-player fashion, you have to be a paid subscriber. You get 30 days for free with the game (avoid pre-owned copies), after that it's £9.99 for every 30 days with longer period bundles on their way to PSN soon.
So seeing as you're paying for it, you should really try and embrace the co-op spirit of the game. When you're outdoors you'll often see other players with blue names over them (character name rather than PSN title). You can silently work together as you both tackle the same mission simultaneously and you'll find that players come and help you out when an opponent is getting the better of you, either by beating them up or casting defensive area-effect spells.
Later on you can set up alerts for special co-op events, such as defending Area 51, where a group of you will be whisked away to work together on the mission and earn a shed-load of XP. It's a good way to meet some new buddies other than patrolling the streets.
If you go indoors for a city mission though, you need to manually group together, which unfortunately is a very cumbersome, menu-heavy process. This is because of numerous shortcomings. The PS3 pad isn't great for entering text, USB keyboard cables are too short for most living rooms, not many PS3 gamers seem to have a headset and the menus are utterly atrocious.
The menus for every part of the game lurch between tabs at such a slow pace, you'll avoid them whenever you can. In an RPG you should want to go into the menus to tinker around with your avatar all the time. Sometimes they're even slower than usual as the online side of the game seems to affect how smooth they are. They're never quick though.
The graphics are also affected by net speeds too it would seem. Sometimes the frame-rate dips a little but you'll often see whole textures for an area of the city forget to load for a few minutes, billboards being a prime example. From a distance the cities do look impressive and there's no doubting the thrill you'll get almost every time you soar above Metropolis in a vertical line, just like Superman. Or hovering in the sky admiring the Bat-signal. Up close the graphics are quite ordinary though and the streets are mostly deserted save for the occasions when a few cars and pedestrians turn up as the game tries to load all the detail after you've arrived, like some sort of reverse tornado.
Other glitchy moments include the sound dropping out where you'll notice you've not heard any combat sounds or speaking for a while or the way two mission tasks will over-lap with the voice-overs talking over each other too. Sometimes you'll get stuck on bits of scenery and have to press jump a few times to wake the game up. Every time your creation goes near a wall, their texture model falls apart and they lose their hair. You won't notice if you're a Lex Luthor minion but it's pretty nasty for everyone else.
A mixed experience then. An excellent and varied character creation system, supported by lots of missions and a community that is currently very welcoming to new players. But there are plenty of tiresome glitches (admittedly fixable), the menus will drive you nuts and there's the matter of the monthly fees, a new boundary to PS3 players. With so many games offering an online experience for free, it's hard to justify a monthly fee, especially as we can cruelly boil down the experience to pressing the Square button with some strangers in some well-stitched home-made PVC outfits. It's definitely worth a go if you've got an interest in DC or MMORPGs, but it heavily depends on you being able to form strong alliances with other players to enjoy the game regularly and justify the costs.
Creating your own superhero/villain works just as you'd want
Strong online community
Can create numerous characters at no extra charge
Combat can become stale quickly if you're new to the genre
A few minor glitches, but the menus really need to speed up
How long will you want to pay £9.99 a month?
The Short Version: Undeniably fun when played with others as the game intends and the character creation suite does an impressive job at catering to the fans. A new genre for the PS3 which has the potential to do well, if console gamers can be convinced to pay monthly fees like their PC-gaming cousins. SOE are going to have to iron out the kinks and start pumping a bit more content into this world if they want gamers to stay though.