“I’m the goddamn Batman!”
Generally, when people think of MMOs (massively multiplayer online games), they think of the PC -- aside from Final Fantasy XI, Phantasy Star Online, and a few others, there haven’t been all that many MMOs on consoles. But recently, a number of console MMOs have been announced; among them is DC Universe Online. The game is in development at SOE’s Austin studio, but they’re very early on in the process -- what I saw yesterday was, according to creative director Jens Andersen, a pre-alpha build of the game. In fact, they’re still adding features, and there’s no release window yet.
Jens explained that SOE didn’t want to make another MMO where the player is just “clicking away,” doing the same repetitive basic functions over and over. Unlike, say, World of Warcraft, the obvious impetus behind a gamer wanting to get into something like DCUO is the classic idea of wish fulfillment -- the superhero fantasy (refer back to the first line of this preview). But in the context of an MMO, it’s not nearly as fun if everyone’s just flying around as Superman; plus, if you create your own character, you’re much more likely to be invested in the experience.
Jens had created a Joker-inspired no-goodnik who looked like Sweet Tooth (of Twisted Metal fame), and he dropped him into Metropolis to wreak some havoc. The game features two main play areas, the cities of Metropolis and Gotham; each is a massive, seamless open world. We hung around in Midtown, for the most part, a large and varied playground -- but it’s just one district of New Troy, the central island/borough of Metropolis, which only comprises an eighth or so of the entire in-game city. Take my word for it: it’s frickin’ huge. There will also be other unique locations for special missions, but they weren’t being shown off at this time.
After stealing the DNA, Sweet Tooth headed into S.T.A.R. Labs to assist Lex Luthor, who was outfitted with some awesome mech armor, in taking down Doomsday (presumably for Luthor’s own nefarious plans). As I said earlier, you’ll encounter such “iconics” -- the Green Lanterns and Jokers of the world -- randomly through your quests. For example, if you’re investigating a string of high-rise robberies, you might find Catwoman in one of the suites. In addition, each side has its own “information broker” who gives you, and directs, your missions: Oracle for the good guys, and The Calculator for the mischief makers.
I saw the PC version, but a cool wrinkle is that either control configuration can be used on either platform. If you want to play with a keyboard and mouse on PS3, you can do that, and if you want to plug your DualShock 3 into your computer, that also works. Jens had both plugged in, and switching occurs on the fly in-game. As for cross-platform play, I was told that it’s definitely doable from a technical perspective, and SOE would love to do it, but nothing has yet been finalized on that front.
Of course, with a game based on comics, authenticity is of paramount importance. SOE actually brought in a comic book store owner from Austin to ensure the game’s continuity with the DC Universe, and WildStorm’s Jim Lee did the art for the game. On the narrative side, veteran comic writers Geoff Johns and Marv Wolfman put together the game’s backstory.