Dressing up in tight rubberised clothing and heading out onto the city streets to clobber “criminals” is frowned upon in decent society, and, we suppose when you consider what the tabloids would have to say about it, that’s probably for the best. There’s no need to worry, though, PlayStation 4 owners (and secret spandex wearers), as Sony Online Entertainment has got you covered with its next-gen port of DC Universe Online.
For those out of the loop, this probably represents the last of the big old-style MMOs. Even though it was only released in 2011, there’s something about it that feels more tired than Bruce Wayne’s put upon butler. Indeed, there’s a grind to almost every mission, the graphics don’t exactly sparkle (even on new hardware), and how you choose to fight seems to have very little bearing on the outcome of battle. Modern MMOs adopt a smoother, more interactive approach to action, whereas this game wants you to spend hours fighting the same three types of enemies.
That may sound incredibly dull, but there’s a reason that this has remained a popular title for the past couple of years – and that’s because the feel of being a superhero is spot on. Exploring Gotham or Metropolis while flying like Superman or running along at high speed like The Flash is awesome. Imagine being able to jump off a skyscraper, pick up a fuel tank, and smash it into a gorilla’s face. That’s something that this release actually lets you do.
You control you character almost as if the title were a brawler. Square will initiate light, quick attacks, while Triangle performs more powerful special moves. Combinations of the two will allow you to perform other attacks that have nice little side-effects, such as stunning. Sadly, the importance of this is broken somewhat when you’re flying thirty feet in the air and still taking damage from some grunt waving their arms on the ground. Yes, this is one of those MMOs.
Despite the combat being a bit broken, clunky, and very repetitive, the more direct approach is preferable to the automatic options that were the norm not too long ago – and it’ll at least help you to focus during the endless grinding. That’s somewhat a good thing, because each and every mission will pit you against a wealth of enemies. Unfortunately, though, while this is not uncommon for the genre, you will start to feel the tedium eventually.
That’s if you’re not overwhelmed by the look of you character, of course, and the sheer volume of DC superheroes that you’ll encounter. You can spend hours creating your hero or villain, and the resulting protagonist will always fit perfectly into the comic books. The developer’s done an excellent job of ensuring that your avatar maintains the feel of its parent universe, no matter what you want it to look like. The powers are equally well implemented.
You won’t be allowed to forget that you’re a rookie, though, thanks to the constant supervision from the likes of Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman. If all of that wasn’t enough, you’ll regularly come across other recognisable faces, both big and small. If you’re feeling a little evil, you can choose to be a little dastardly, and side with the likes of Harley Quinn and The Joker instead.
As such, while the entirety of the two hour story arc may feel like you’re beating up the same ten policemen over and over again, the fact that you get to come face-to-face with Catwoman and Lex Luthor will make the right type of person squeal like a school girl all the way through – especially when you consider that many of the stars are voiced by their regular TV show and game voice actors.
Meanwhile, the visuals are easily as good as the PC version – but that’s not really saying much. It’s not exactly the type of title that you’ll choose to showcase the system, and it can feel pretty sluggish due to the animation and physics system. The game is getting old now, so while it has received a minor visual overhaul, it still wears the signs of its age.
Fortunately, the control scheme works well on the PS4, as do the online features. There are often times when porting from the PC to the console can be a risky business, but Sony Online Entertainment has navigated the transition perfectly. The game just feels at home on the DualShock 4, which is probably the biggest compliment that you can give to a title primarily developed for the computer. Furthermore, it’s impressive to be playing with hundreds of people playing at once.
Of course, this can be a bit of double-edged sword at times. While it’s awesome to see so many new players getting to grips with their newfound abilities, there is a degree of rudeness to the community. If a quest says to disarm a certain number of machines, it’s not unusual to see people go ahead and complete the objectives while you fight its guards. It’s the fault of the structure of the quests as much as anything, allowing people to cut in without offering any help. The uncouth nature of the playerbase can be extra irritating when you consider the PvP mode, where anyone can start a fight at any time. Expect to be harassed by low level players all of the time.
Thankfully, when things get tough, there are collectibles to be found and places that you can hang out to chat with more friendly fans. It’ll probably take you tens of hours to see everything. When you’re done, you can start again, this time on the opposite side of the law, and you can change your classes as well. If you do get hooked, expect to see a lot of zeroes at the end of your playtime statistic.
DC Universe Online lacks the ‘pow’ of the properties that it’s inspired by, but it’s a decent enough MMO with some solid ideas and a strong following. As a free download, it’s hard not to recommend – even if you only intend to give it a try. Just remember that being a superhero isn’t all about tight clothing and Christian Bale-esque angry acting, as it takes a lot of hard work to keep the grunts of Gotham in line – and that’s exactly how you’ll spend most of your time in Sony Online Entertainment’s caped crusade.