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City of Heroes

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  Reviewed by Andy Grieser
May 11, 2004
NC Soft
Cryptic Studios
It is entirely appropriate that the latest great superhero computer game should come to us in part from Richard ďLord BritishĒ Garriott. Garriott is, most old-school gamers will know, the driving force behind the Ultima RPG series. He has a love for gaming and knows his audience. I have never forgotten that almost 20 years ago he took time out from his undoubtedly busy schedule (Ultima was top of the world back then) to write back to and even bestow Britannia titles on a group of teen kids. My own was Duke Andrew the Enlightened.

Now that Garriott heads the North American branch of MMORPG publisher NC Soft, heís found that companyís first big U.S. hit in City of Heroes.

We talked to developers Cryptic studios back in 2001 about City of Heroes. The premise is the same: Paragon City has been devastated by an alien attack. Its street gangs and other lowlifes are suddenly super-powered thanks to a mysterious drug. Even deadlier dangers lurk in the shadows. So the call goes out, and a generation of fledgling heroes answers.

The superhero creation screen here is amazingly detailed. I donít think Iíve seen two heroes who look the same (aside from the few remaining copiers of comic-book creations). Everything here is customizable, though one item is conspicuous in its absence: the cape. Rumor has it the Cryptic devs were unhappy with the lack of movement in capes, and so are working on implementing them at a later date rather than pushing out an inferior product.

Powers are determined by class and then type. The classes are Scrapper (melee offense), Tanker (melee defense), Blaster (long-range offense), Defender (long-range defense) and Controller. The Controller is your psychic Professor X type, who controls others and makes them fight. Each class has specific powers, though some are common to two or three classes. Thereís also a third set of powers that becomes available at a higher level; these powers are more personal and not as flashy. (One school, for example, grants you faster running, higher jumping and faster regeneration of health and endurance.)

Thereís a short tutorial that actually ties into the gameís overarching plot, and then itís off to the big city for you. And hereís where City of Heroes is genius: You wonít be sent off to some remote corner of the planet to harvest reeds and weave capes or whatever. This is a comic book, remember? You jump right in, taking missions from contacts and fighting evil. I know, that sounds like itíd become a grind, but it isnít. Paragon City is huge, and different areas have different levels of difficulty. (Quick hint: Read the manual, and you wonít wander into a neighborhood you canít handle.)

Defeating baddies gives experience; with enough experience youíll level up and get to either choose new powers or add Enhancement slots to existing powers. Enhancements are dropped by defeated villains or purchased from contacts. They, well, enhance (duh) a power by granting more damage, greater range, faster recharge, whatever. Stores and rescued citizens (and sometimes defeated villains) also give Inspirations, which are quick boosts to health, endurance, offense or defense. Great for the heat of battle.

By the way, choose those base powers carefully. Thanks to Enhancements, they never get obsolete. I use my original power (a power blast) probably more than anything else, because Iíve kept its damage and range consistent with my level through Enhancements.

Yeah, yeah, you say, but what about the city? In short, itís amazing. Think Vice City without the ability to jack cars. Citizens wander around; they talk when you click on Ďem; they get mugged or accosted and need rescuing. The graphics are good, though even on relatively new cards youíll get some pop-up. Neighborhoods definitely have specific looks, from the clean lines of Galaxy City to the dark, crumbling alleys of Kings Row. I get a thrill from just standing atop a Kings Row building and scanning the streets below for evildoers.

CoH has a great backer in NC Soft, famous for constantly improving their Lineage MMORPG without resorting to nerfing. Already, Cryptic and NC Soft have great plans for CoH. Not just capes, but a higher level cap and cool new areas thatíll really expand the storyline. Oh, thereís also a comic book that comes with the monthly subscription. Iíd have reviewed it, but havenít received my first issue yet. Rumor is some players will see themselves in its pages. Me, Iíll be stalking the alleys on Justice server, taking down evil the hard way.

(Click to Enlarge)

Minimum Requirements...
Pentium III 800 Mhz or AMD 800 MHz; 256 MB RAM; quad-speed CD-ROM; 2 GB hard drive space; Geforce 2 series or ATI Radeon 8500 series video card; 16-bit sound card; 56K modem.


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