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Review by: Keith Durocher
Published: June 16, 2004
It all started in June 1938 with issue one of Action Comics. The world was exposed for the first time to the Man of Steel, a brawny survivor from a planet called Krypton. Once the floodgates were opened, there was no stopping the torrent of super-powered beings who exemplified the best humanity had to offer. Good guys were right and just, bad guys were shady and nefarious, and at the end of the day, the ending was always happy. Since few aspects of mainstream popular culture are so deeply ingrained in the collective conscious as comic books, could there be a more fertile ground for a multiplayer game? Cryptic Studios have offered up a possible answer to that question with the online RPG, City of Heroes. If you’ve ever dreamed of fighting for truth, justice and the (insert nationality here) way, this title should be right up your alley.
Essentially, City of Heroes is a 3D role-playing game in which you take the persona of a super-powered vigilante hero, fighting to stem the tides of an ever-growing criminal element within a fictional urban location known as Paragon City. All playtime is done online, on servers designed to handle hundreds of people at once. Like all releases in the MMORPG genre, there’s a heavy social element to the experience. Be prepared to make some friends while fighting crime.
The one part of City of Heroes that doesn’t take place online is avatar creation. Never before has there been such an incredible level of customizable detail available; this one feature alone is a marvel to behold. The process begins with determining your hero’s origin. How did he or she obtain their abilities? Mutant? Scientific accident? Technological wunderkind? Maybe you’re just a regular schmoe with nothing more than a Herculean workout regimen and a good tailor. Your origin controls what powers are available to you. Choosing a combat type is step two: is your hero a Blaster, a Controller, a Defender, a Scrapper or a Tanker? The titles are fairly self-explanatory: Blasters use bolts of energy to blow away the bad guys but earn very few hit points; Controllers manipulate different primal forces like fire, ice or gravity to great effect; Defenders heal and reinforce the defensive abilities of the group. Scrappers and Tankers are fairly similar: The former do more hand-to-hand damage, but have less hit points and armor class, while the latter dish out less punishment but can withstand a point-blank shotgun blast somewhat more efficiently.
Once you’ve established these two rather important elements in the design of your costumed crusader, you get to choose from your primary and secondary power sets. Everyone starts out at security level one with two abilities, and as you progress, you can choose one more ability for every two security levels you gain. Every level that doesn’t bestow another power opens up two enhancement slots for your powers. As an example of how this process works, we’ll use my Natural Scrapper for a template. The primary power list is Martial Arts, and there are nine powers from which to choose as I level up. I select Thunder Kick first, a whip-like kick that does high damage but has a slow re-use timer. My secondary set is Regeneration, and I choose Fast Healing, a power that’s always on and reduces my downtime between fights.
After that, it’s time to play dress up. This might seem like the easy part, but it isn’t. After choosing gender and selecting your height and bulk, 14 sections of your avatar need to be customized. Each of these has between three and 137 options. Add to that the 144 colors available for your costume and the 70 shades for your skin, and you’re looking at a nigh infinite degree of tweaks that make you completely unique. There’s a handy randomizing button if you’re looking for a fast fit, too.
After you’ve finally settled on the perfect look and feel of your avatar, it’s time to hit the streets. The tutorial kicks you into high gear with missions that draw you into the story right from the beginning. After you’ve finished learning the basics, it’s time to go to Galaxy City or Atlas Park, the “newbie” areas of Paragon City. As soon as you zone in to either of these places, you’ll find yourself standing in Atlas Plaza or Freedom Court. Look for the nearest trainer (a stone pedestal) and grab your first new power. You’ll also see a yellow marker that indicates where to go to meet up with the first of the many contacts you’ll make during your time as a protector of the citizenry.
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