This week, Zero Punctuation dresses with underwear on the outside to review DC Universe Online.
It's one of those great personality-gauging questions, isn't it: do you prefer tits or bums? Sorry, do you prefer Marvel or DC? Or alternatively, do you prefer Marvel or DC or neither because you're not fucking fourteen? Only kidding (mostly). I read comics. I was quite big into Preacher when I was younger, a serial best summarized by a single moment within it when one of the main characters wipes a retard's bum before shooting him in the face. But I'm not into ongoing comics, because to my mind, a good story is like a good bowel movement: it's only really satisfying once it's ended. Because if you just keep going, then eventually, your body runs out of shit and moves on to pushing all your internal organs out your sphincter until only a foul-smelling shell remains, and anyone who wants to get in on your incredibly long poo gets turned off because they need to have gone through all the poo up to that point to have the necessary context and this is where the analogy is breaking down somewhat. Of course, one way to give context is to make a tie-in video game, but you do have to make sure it's not a load of old piss-whiffle. On that note, DC Universe Online.
Just for fun, let's examine the premise as if we don't know who any of these characters are. A bunch of poorly dressed motherfuckers have a great big apocalyptic punch-up until only one survives, whereupon aliens invade, so said survivor travels back in time - no, they don't say how, put your arm down - and brings a warning to two rodeo clowns and a prostitute. Then he does a weird thing that bestows superpowers upon a whole bunch of random civvies, his assumption perhaps being that if the entire world consists of poorly dressed motherfuckers having a punch-up, then perhaps the aliens will just get freaked out and quietly leave.
So you must decide whether to be one of the new superheroes or supervillains, because World of Warcraft had a dual-faction system, therefore everyone else has to. Not that it's a bad idea. People are less likely to grief each other when they have a clearly-defined enemy ripe for the teabagging. But in WoW, the Horde and Alliance are different races and are immediately visually separable, whereas here every player is a spandex and belt buckle fashion disaster area until one of them opens fire.
So the obvious question when you're proposing a new MMORPG is, "Are you fucking insane!? WoW picks bigger rivals than you out of its teeth every morning!" But once your investor's been talked off the ledge and you've made him understand that it's a superhero MMORPG and totally different, his next obvious question would be, "Is it better than City of Heroes?" In this race, Detective Comics Universe Online trips at the first hurdle and knocks out a tooth on a hardened cowpat.
Character building is nowhere near as extensive. You've got three choices for body size: "normal" - that is, normal for comics - that is, a body you can only get from either a few months with a personal trainer or a few hours with a scalpel and a bicycle pump; "large," a build that, by rights, shouldn't even be able to hail a cab without powderizing its arm bones; or "12-year-old," in case you want to play as one of them kid sidekicks whose fighter training is always implied to include rigorous bumhole exercise.
From there, you decide where your powers come from, which I would have thought would be the same for every superhero: the willing suspension of disbelief! In less broad terms: magic, gadgets, or good breeding, a choice that caused me to raise a question of my own: what's the bat-buggering difference? From a gameplay perspective, I mean. I don't want to pick what I think is a tank setup for my absurdly giant man with shoulder-blades like manhole covers and wind up skipping around at the back of the party sprinkling healing fairy dust with my magic pixie wand.
So to be safe, I set up two diametrically-opposed characters. One magical fire-based hero who fights with hand blasts (which is like punching but where you miss) and one gadgety gadget-based villain with a staff (as in I picked gadget-based powers, then in the specialization menu, I picked "Gadgets" again. No one can call me a non-committed gadget tourist). The weird thing is, you can pick magic-based powers that specialize in gadgets, or gadget-based powers that specialize in sorcery. Is this one of those things that only makes sense after you've read issue 471 of The Adventures of Captain Indecisive? Anyway, I played both starting missions and tried to figure out what kind of classes I'd randomly picked. In both cases, the answer was, "the kind of class where you mash the attack button like a lab rat with a food dispenser."
So I commenced the work-a-day activities of Direct Current Universe Online, ergo, smacking dudes. Either just in the name of smacking the dudes or gathering 20 of the things the dudes drop. Also, you can use the dude's corpse in some way. And as a reward for all this, then eventually you get to go in an instance, fight some more dudes, then a big dude at the end. I know this is par for the course, but maybe it wouldn't feel so bloody repetitive if the entire game world had more than two environments: a city and another city. And maybe it wouldn't be so bloody irritating if the game didn't auto-target whoever you happen to be looking at, so if you glance idly around while attacking - and you will, because it's fucking boring - then whoops, suddenly two more dudes have entered the fray. And maybe it wouldn't be so bloody execrable if every dude didn't have about two dialogue lines each that they spout with the gusto of a first-year drama student every fucking nanosecond.
I thought there has to be more to this game, so I signed up for one of the co-op arenas and thirteen minutes later, was brought to an instance with three other guys and the instruction: "Now there are four of you, so I guess you won't have any trouble meeting a one-hundred dude smacking quota!" To be honest, I was bored of District of Columbia Universe long before then. My interest valve was first shut off right after the starting mission when I arrived at Metropolis, flew to the highest point I could and thought to myself, "Yep, that's a city all right. Can I stop playing now?" Certain other MMOs that I'm resolved to stop banging on about don't let you fly until level sixty, because environments lose a lot of weight when you can fly over them from the start. The actions of petty crims are hard to find significant when you can kill them by dropping pennies on their heads.
But what I most dislike about Dreary Codswallop Universe Online is that it's less about creating a superhero than it is aping the ones that DC already made up. One of the powers I could unlock as a gadgety-gadget villain was fear gas - that's Scarecrow's thing! I want to forge my own identity, damn it! There's even a simulation mode where you have to play as an existing character to provide temporary escape from your loser existence. None of the iconic characters are trying to sell themselves, they just sort of stand there for you to admire and occasionally talk like professional wrestlers at stage school.
So it's probably intended for fans only. But then again, surely fans are the ones who'd want their own identities so they could introduce their self-insert fanfiction character who arm-wrestles Batman and gets into a threesome with Wonder Woman and another Wonder Woman?
- Having a mid-life Infinite Crisis: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- I'd like to see a comic where we get to see Superman having to file his projected flight paths with Metropolis air traffic control
- Or for that matter Bruce Wayne explaining things to his accountant