By Johan Keyter 9 February 2011


MMO's, or massively multiplayer online games, have exploded in popularity in recent years with World of Warcraft leading the online charge. Now Sony Online Entertainment (the same studio that brought us Everquest) has delved into a new online project, envisioning a game which turns ordinary players into extraordinary superheroes. 

DC Universe Online (DCUO) is an action MMO that allows players to take up the mantle of their favourite DC Comics heroes or villains. The game attempts to pull players into both an overarching and individually relevant narrative, awarding them with new abilities as they complete missions and tasks in the gameworld. Whether you want to be a Green Lantern impersonator, a prowling Catwoman type, or if you share Superman's taste in red underwear, all possibilities are open in DCUO.
The game is available on the PC and PS3, making it one of the only MMO's available on console. Many veteran MMO players may lament the PS3 version as not having the same amount of control as the PC (keyboard vs controller), but throughout play we found the controls to match up decently. The only real issues we encountered was the tedious registration, installation (11 GB) and update procedures, but once these are out of the way it's only a matter of time until Metropolis praises your name... or fears it.
DCUO's story is introduced in an amazing cinematic cutscene showing Lex Luthor viciously killing Superman, and the evil Brainiac invading the earth right after. Luthor then travels back in time with technology that can turn ordinary people into superheroes, releasing tiny robots into the earth's atmosphere to grant superpowers to ordinary humans. This neatly explains how there can be such an abundance of heroes in the gameworld, while setting the stage for one helluva showdown.
As players progress through the main storyline it is fleshed out with the help of some really well done comic book style cutscenes, something DC fans will undoubtedly enjoy tremendously.
Starting the game for the first time (after the several hour installation and download process), it's time to create your new character. Players have a myriad of options at their disposal, from gender to build, powers, weapons, costumes, postures and of course, choosing whether to be a hero or a villain. 
Yes, in DCUO you can play as good or bad and also choose an established DC character to “mentor” you throughout the game. Creating a character aligned with the Joker for example will have you doing his dirty work, whereas aligning with a hero sees similar but more justice focussed missions.
If you're too lazy to think up a unique costume idea you can even select to base it on an existing hero such as Batman or Superman, with the game automatically creating a similar outfit for you.
Action in the game takes place in either Metropolis or Gotham City, depending on which characters you chose to align with at the start. Both cities are absolutely huge and offers a lot of exploration options. And seeing as DCUO is very much an open world game, players can use their powers to traverse the skyline in no time. 
You have a choice between three powers when it comes to moving around in the gameworld - flight, superspeed and acrobatics. We especially enjoyed swerving around skyscrapers with our flying hero, landing somewhere and surveying the night sky for signs of evil, it really does make you feel like the next caped crusader.
The game's battle system takes some cues from WoW, such as ability recharge times, but for the most part consists of fast-paced melee brawls. Fighting is enhanced by button combo's which can be entered for special moves and for the most part was a smooth albeit intense affair.
One issue the game does seem to suffer from at times is repetitiveness. Especially at the early levels the missions can become a grind quite quickly and lots of the side quests seemed basically identical, “go here, defeat these guys, get “thing”, come back” became a recurring theme. This however is not something that would turn off the salted MMO player, but it may not be as appealing to someone used to more immediate results in games.
The game's graphics are very impressive for an MMO of such large scale, and uses the Unreal 3 engine to recreate the Gotham and Metropolis landscapes in great detail. Of course having a huge online world has its drawbacks, so don't expect the game to look like Arkham Asylum. The graphics are still impressive and the artists seem to have found that perfect balance between comic book outrageousness and realism.
Players can choose to go the lone-wolf route in DCUO if they prefer, but in our opinion games like these become exponentially more enjoyable when playing with friends, or at least people you know online. This isn't to say that joining a random raid isn't a great experience, either way once you start playing with others the game really comes into its own as everyone compares superhero powers and subtly mocks each others outfits.
While players can form their own version of the Justice League and battle together, those who enjoy pitting their characters head to head can also do this by jumping into a PvP (player vs player) arena. The game also includes an additional arena mode in which players can fight with their favourite established DC heroes and villains.
As with all MMO's, time will tell whether DCUO will be successful or not, it's really too early to judge the game accurately at this stage. Sony has promised to continue adding new content to the game as well as fixing issues, so in a couple of months DCUO may be a very different beast, that is just the nature of MMOs.
A couple of bugs still crops up in the game, but for the most part it delivered an impressive and fresh experience to the world of persistent online gaming, especially for console. South African gamers must take particular care before purchasing the game though to make sure that they have the internet line to support it, since the game updates take up a lot of bandwidth and playing on slower lines will result in significant game lag (we played on a 4 Mbps line).
Other than that players must also take note of the game's monthly subscription fee. When buying the game in the store you will receive one month worth of free play time, but after this first month is done players will need to pay $14.99 (roughly R125) per month to continue playing.
If you've always dreamt of becoming a comic book character though, barring falling into a tub of radioactive waste, DCUO is the best way we know of to become the next great hero or villain.
The expansive hero creation options and awesome storyline.
Lengthy updates and monthly fees.

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