City of Heroes & City of Villains (PC)

In this time of continual media harking back to comics in many forms, and with movies of practically every graphic novel and Superhero being made this year; I’ve taken a look at NCsoft’s Comic-book style MMO City of Heroes and it’s sister-game City of Villains.
Take a look at my article over at The Skinny Magazine.

City of Heroes / Villains

4/5 stars
Game review by Graeme Strachan.
Published 12 July 2008

It’s a fact of life: every kid wants to be a Superhero. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or by what name you call God, there isn’t a boy or girl in the world who didn’t close their eyes just once and imagine having powers beyond the ordinary. Which is why there has never been a let up in the appeal of comic books since they first hit the presses and gave birth to the first true Superhero archetype in 1938 with the stories of a Man of Steel who could fly faster than a speeding bullet.

But times change and so has our outlook on Superheroes: far from the boys’ own adventures of old, the industry is now one that appeals to men and women of all ages, with characters that vary from the simplistic to the deeply psychological. It’s possible to find a Superhero to suit most people, however it was always impossible for anyone to truly realise the dream of creating their own superhero persona. That was until the the creation of City of Heroes.

Taking the stale and slightly clichéd forms of multiplayer games that existed and throwing out the tired forests of swords and sorcery, CoH was a breath of fresh air to the MMO genre, bringing the experience bang up to date with a sprawling modern metropolis teeming with thugs, pickpockets, gangs, secret societies, mutants and even maniacal robots. Then, it let the players do what they’d only dreamt of before, create their own Superhero and go to work ridding the world of evil. But it didn’t stop there; Cryptic realised that there was another fact of life: not every kid wants to be a Superhero (usually it’s just the interesting ones). Which is why their next release, City of Villains, was a tonal counterpoint to everything in the first game, neatly inverting its point of view and letting the backstabbing and megalomania run rife.

It’s been four years since the release of CoH, and despite the passage of time the games still stand up to scrutiny with graphics that are still appealing despite their age. While not having the extravagant effects and minute details of some more recent games, you’re safe in the knowledge that the game can handle a hundred mutants fighting an overwhelming force around the base of towering buildings with no problems at all.

One of the most appealing aspects of the game is being able to create a character from a list of skills and archetypes which are malleable enough to adapt to suit almost any preference. Whether you want a gun toting embittered super-soldier, a flying caped alien or a wizard from some obscure cult, the options are there. Combined with a customisable look which still stands yards ahead of any other MMO, there really is no end to the creative abilities open. Once you have your hero or villain in place, the world lies open to you. Vast cities divided into zones are there to provide an endless array of vistas ranging from futuristic Art Deco skyscrapers, through inner city slums and, with the addition of the latest update Issue 12, an ancient Roman city complete with gladiators and centurions to face.

As with all persistent reality worlds, the real test will always remain the interactions between the players. With a huge range of servers, there isn’t any shortage of potential allies or enemies, as you can form into leagues and super groups as well as small teams. This lets the world expand into a truer form of reality which holds a sense of community that is more readily apparent to any western player than any other. The abilities are there for anyone hoping to enjoy one on one interactions as much as those hoping for a much broader experience.

Which leaves only one conclusion – that this really is one of the most enjoyable games of the MMO genre going. While the majority of its competitors languish in either cult animé style or fantasy lands of magic and dragons, the City games are truly the modern western legend brought to life in the most enjoyable fashion available. If you’ve ever fancied dabbling in the online world of gaming on a larger scale, but were put off by the inherently archaic styles, then there isn’t anywhere better to begin than with a comic book. As the saying goes, these are such things as dreams are made of, but their little lives are rounded only by how much of your time you want to put into it.

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