City of Heroes
For Anyone who's not a dab hand with a blade, the MMOG scene could be accused of stagnation. There are only so many leather jerkins a lad can take, before he begins to long for the touch of, well, more clingy garments. If that sounds familiar, then book your passage to Paragon City, the sprawling metropolis in Cryptic Studios' City Of Heroes. Populated by an astounding array of men (and women) in tights, we may finally have an antidote to 'EverCrack'.
The problem with doing superheroes is that with the wrong approach, they come off more camp than a Boy George lookalike contest. But Cryptic has managed to strike the right note - minus playable supervillains - and its love for unrealistic powers shines through.
To make your spandex dreams a reality, COH features a character creation system thorough enough to please Stan Lee. Particular attention has been paid to the most important facet of justice -costumes. The complete line of fins, flares, half-masks, bionic arms and micro-managed colour schemes is enough to make a sidekick-in-waiting out of anyone. Capes and robes are out, though, because they unduly tax the rendering engine.
Typically, when a publisher proffers 'thousands' of customisation options, it might as well be promising to halt that receding hairline as well. But I wandered around Paragon City for hours, and never saw a pair of lookalike do-gooders. Not once. Military, mutant, magical or historical, the options make the game much more inviting and actually (gasp!) could lead to role-playing.
Feel My Justice
But a flashy adventuring kit is merely the beginning. The power sets allow for far more character possibilities than your typical warrior/mage/thief triumvirate. There are five major character types (see 'Justice Be My Destiny', right), and for each class, you have a choice of several primary and secondary power sets, with nine tiers of abilities apiece. Factor in developing latent abilities and enhancements to tweak each power and the potential combinations are mind-boggling.
If that seems like too many possibilities to narrow down, Cryptic apparently agrees. Unlike many stingy MMOGs, COH provides slots for six crime fighters per account, so there's room to experiment. Enhancements, which can be purchased with fame or found in combat, not only refine your abilities, but can be combined in mystic ways to further complicate the process of becoming a badass. While roaming the streets of Paragon, dazzling displays of power will catch your eye as your peers go to work, which in turn become a huge incentive to press on yourself.
The primary concession to the typical MMOG structure is the mission system, which works much like any other. Newbies are treated to a collection of contacts, from which is built a network of key personalities holding the keys to a story. Without supervillains per se, Cryptic relies on an interconnected set of gangs, aliens and large beasts to act as antagonists. Quests worthy of a 12-issue hardcover graphic novel series are well and good, but the streets also offer plenty of head-cracking opportunities between plots.
As any emerging developer should, Cryptic has cobbled together a unique game engine, humbly naming it... The Cryptic engine. But when your first effort pumps out polygons like this one does, humility isn't really an issue. All that time spent pressing your tights won't be in vain, because every detail is on display, right down to the codpiece. Even without super-vision, scuffles taking place a block away can be plainly seen, and enough NPC pedestrians travel the streets that you could mistake Paragon for Vice City. The skylines and day/night cycle effects also look sharp, creating a monolithic urban landscape.
I'll Protect You, Chum!
Superteams are an integral part of City Of Heroes, and there are a few options for for team-hungry charact part of the interface, hittinn a rorfain the budding leader. Sending a call for hungry characters is a basic and after hitting a certain level, you can register supergroups with the higher-ups in City Hall, opening up benefits and technology.
Several mission objectives require dedicated teamwork, but in the early stages players may be wary of committing to the full-time work of team adventuring. In that case, the Sidekick function is a key feature. High-level characters can draw newbies into a Batman/Robin-type relationship, without even requiring them to wear little green pants. As long as the sidekick stays within a set distance of their buddy, they get a significant stat and power boost, which makes tough battles possible for even very new players. It's a brilliant idea that opens the game up while staying true to the basic inspiration.
In the past month, I've spent more than my fair share of evenings digging into the beta test, with all the disconnections, database burps and map server issues that entails. Despite a million of the usual beta testing frustrations, I still get excited about coming back to City Of Heroes. Even unfinished, it looks great and has a lot of small touches that really make the premise come alive. I've never been so keen on wearing spandex in my life.
Justice Be My Destiny
The Five Character Archetypes Correspond Vaguely To Role-Playing Classics, But They've L Got Their Own Unique Qualities Too
The Blaster is your basic long-range powerhouse, with nowt but tissue paper protection up close. The Controller and Defender are both weaklings, but while the Controller can restrain and manipulate foes from afar, the Defender heals (buffs) friends while debuffiny the enemy. Like the name says, the Scrapper the most dangerous hand-to-hand fighter, but is limited by a total lack of distance tactics. Then there's the Tanker - a hulking mountain of muscle, with a propensity to dish out damage matched by the ability to take it The choice is yours.
Download City of Heroes
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Issue 4: Colosseum
Six Months is a long time in the life of a hero. Since we first scuffed our boots of justice on the criminal backside of Paragon City, the game has seen four major content upgrades, is preparing to unveil the City Of Villains expansion and has launched to much acclaim and fanfare across the continent of Europe. And it's been sued to the high heavens by Marvel Comics because people couldn't resist creating their own versions of established, recognisable, copyrighted superheroes. At the time of writing the case is yet to be decided (potential penalties for NCsoft could be anything from a hefty fine to a complete shut-down of the game - the combined powers of Corporate Lawyer Man and Captain Attorney appear to be the strongest of all). However, the judge in charge recently threw out six of the 11 charges Marvel brought against the game, bringing hope to gamers everywhere.
Point is, things are afoot in City Of Heroes and the game has moved on significantly since our initial review. Now, with Issue 4 opening the first stages of player-versus-player combat, it seems as good a time as any to revisit the game and see what's happening.
Issue 4: Colosseum is a tentative toe in the water for PvP, ahead of City Of Villains' full-on cannonball-dive into the deep end in a few months' time. Regular visitors to the Galaxy City, Talos Island and Peregrine Island areas of the game will have previously seen some fevered construction activity taking place in-game. With Issue 4 fully downloaded and installed, the work has now been revealed as brand-spanking-new duelling arenas, allowing heroes to take each other on in consensual tournament-style gladiatorial combat.
It's a cool, well implemented system that provides scope for everything from one-on-one duels to multiplayer battle royales and giant, 150-player supergroup battles'. However, such huge numbers place a big drain on CPUs and are only recommended if you have a supercomputer or two handy to draw power from. The in-game ranking system (working along similar lines to that used in chess - you start with 1,500 points and have your score raised or lowered by a scaling amount depending on the rank of your opponent, and whether you win) provides you with an incentive, although not as much as that of wagering influence points on the outcome.
The ranking system is complemented by a decent handicap procedure too, meaning players of higher levels can pair off against lower-level chums, temporarily reducing their stats for the duration of the bout to even things out. Finally, it's topped off with boxing-style weight categories - welter, feather, light, etc - to provide plenty of routes in for players to explore. The set-up is simple, yet comprehensive. Each arena contains plenty of terminals in which you can view or set up matches. Options range from the number of players, to restricting the use of certain powers (teleports, flying etc) to how quickly your endurance levels recharge. Matches can be scheduled for specific times, letting you sign up, then wander off for a spot of extra villain-thwacking until the appointed hour arrives (a warning notice pops up letting you teleport instantly to the arena at the given time).
Non-participating heroes can view the action (as can heroes who have exhausted all their respawns (mid-match) by inhabiting tiny camera drones, flitting about the arena floor spying on the action. In a nice touch, a these cameras can be destroyed if they prove especially annoying.
Does it work though? Emphatically, yes. Duelling with super-powers is, forgive the pun, a blast. Certain abilities are tweaked to provide balance in the arena, which results in ultra-competitive matches. Noone feels undervalued, including the oft-maligned Controllers who come into their own here, and the combat is fast-moving, spectacular and raises the whole City Of Heroes experience exponentially.
Another Issue 4 enhancement that makes things better is the revamped character creation tool. Already one of the best out there, you now get to choose from a wealth of new clothing options (mostly anime-inspired in advance of the upcoming Asian launch), as well as make specific changes to your alter-ego's physical appearance - nose length, face shape, arm width and so on. And yes, you can also adjust female chest sizes. We know you were thinking about it.
No We Weren't
Meanwhile, the rest of City Of Heroes has been tightened up significantly since our last review. More in the way of rewards for persevering (capes, costume changes, new character types to unlock and so on) and a more focused back-story. There's still a lot of repetition involved, but the main criticism we had previously has been well addressed since launch and consequently COH is much better for it.
It could still be better, and chances are City Of Villains will help further, but right now it's definitely earning its reputation as the populist MMOG that isn't World Of Warcraft.
In a world of near-Gods I am a fleet footed fighter of the foul. I can't fly, jets of flames don't shoot out of my eyes and bullets would really sting if they hit me - but man can I kick. They call me the Crimson Foot. Welcome to the City of Heroes, a massively multiplayer role-playing game based in a world of good versus evil and player versus non-player. I put off writing this review for nearly a week because I try not to return to a game once I've reviewed it and I really love this game. Not only has NCSoft tapped a genre that fulfills childhood fantasy, they've done it in a way that is breath-taking to behold and quite a bit of fun to play.
You start the game be creating your own super hero. First you choose where you're hero's powers come from; is the hero a mutant, a master of the arcane or technology or perhaps just really well-trained in fighting. Next you decide what type of character you're going to have. You can choose to be a slow, brawler, a defensive character, a master of distance attacks, or a well-rounded hero. Next you pick your body type; male, female or a gender neutral huge. Finally you get to design the look of your character, something that entails selecting from literally millions of options to shape everything from the hair style to the wardrobe.
The game itself uses a pretty straight forward click to move and attack system. You start with two super abilities that recharge after each use. You can also just slug a bad guy. The game is fairly open ended, allowing you to wander the city streets looking to save the random non-player characters who get hassled by baddies or take on missions and beat up on groups of super villains. You can enhance your abilities with the occasional enhancements you find after battles and when you level up you're given a chance to learn more and better skills.
The graphics are pretty impressive, though I did notice some clipping issues. The sound offers enough ambient noise and battle sounds to add to the game.
One of the cool elements of the game is that you can create or join super groups pretty much on the fly, teaming up with friends to take out the evil-doer trash. I was a bit disappointed to learn that you can't play a super villain, something that on some level is understandable, but in the long run seems like a short cut that shouldn't have been taken. I completely support the idea of limiting player-killers and griefers, but there has got to be better ways to do it.
The other bummer in the game is that you can't revert to some sort of secret identity. What good is being a super-powered being if you can't disguise yourself as a nerdy newspaper reporter in your time off? City of Heroes is one of the best massively multiplayer online games I've played to date. Maybe it's the new topic, maybe it's the oodles of women in tights, but I love this city even at $15 a month.