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Strap on the virtual spandex

Graphic courtesy of www.cityofheroes.com'City of Heroes'
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Admit it, everyone occasionally stumbles into a phone booth, hoping to emerge with a flashy spandex outfit, exotic powers, comic-cut features and pristine teeth.

Unfortunately, only a few that emerge from the phone booth actually find themselves in spandex, and most likely they had it on when they went in.

This has been mankind’s oldest dream, to immaculate the human form. From illustrations of epic hunts on cave walls to the legends of Ulysses, Gilgamesh, Atlas, and Hercules, hero tales have been a staple of human society ” though such stories today are neglected as “lowbrow” artwork.



This ancient rite now has been transcribed for the first time to a generation immersed in the Internet, in the form of NCSoft’s online role-playing game “City of Heroes.”

“City of Heroes” places the average, mild-mannered citizen through the rigors of superherodom. Set in the disappointingly small (but expanding) Paragon City, a pseudo-metropolis that has furnished what is perhaps the largest hero-to-civilian population ratio since the dawn of time, “City of Heroes” allows players to design and play characters that could have been pulled straight from the pages of a comic book.




Players are allowed to pick between many variables that determine their character’s abilities or otherwise define their existence. For example, you could chose to be a mutation, someone born with extraordinary powers, such as any member of the X-Men. Perhaps your powers are the result of science, some testing gone awry, such as The Hulk or the Green Goblin.

Selecting your background will influence the ways you are able to better yourself in the game. As a mutation, you might have awakenings to stronger abilities. As a creation of science, you might find some psychosomatic to elevate your state of being.

Next, you choose from a basic hero archetype. Archetypes determine how your hero will act, whether he will be a gun-toting everyman like The Punisher or a being able to exert control over the elements themselves, such as the X-Men’s Storm. These archetypes determine the powers your hero will receive as you gain experience fighting evildoers in the city.

The creation process also allows you to customize the appearance of your character. This is, quite possibly, the biggest treat the game has to offer. If you can think of a costume design, you will most likely be able to make it reality. Case in point: a robot with a manic-depressive A.I. and a sense of fashion trapped in the 1920s is easily achieved with the game’s costume-creation system. The only thing missing from this system is the tried-and-true cape, which Korean publisher NCSoft has promised in a forthcoming update.

After naming your character and providing a brief background story, (arguably optional) your character is thrown into a training area, where you and other new players can get a feel for the game before stepping foot into the criminal hive that is Paragon City. Squabbling for control of the streets are various bands of thugs, different in background, similar in their hatred of anything heroic.

Players will also find some sketchy missions, no different in practice from one to the next. The game itself lacks the depth that can be found in other online role-playing games. There is no system that allows players to fashion items and sell them to other players, no player merchants and thus no dynamic economy, no quests for rare items or globetrotting escapades. As such, players will find themselves moving from one area to the next, one mission to the next, fighting crime. Higher level players have the ability to form a supergroup, which allows players to team up with one another in the same way I wish Batman and The Punisher would. These supergroups will be offset by aforementioned forthcoming expansion, “City of Villains,” which will allow players sick of their goodie-two-shoes characters to create the ultimate arch-nemeses, build an evil hideout, and join with other player villains to fight the hero scourge.

Graphically, the game can provide for some interesting scenery, though the novelty of watching the sun rise from the roof of a skyscraper wears off after the 50th time you have done it. Adjustments allow you to change the detail of the city, but the polygon count can get so high in some areas that new systems will gag on high-activity areas.

NCSoft is getting its hands all over the online RPG genre, cranking out so many titles diverse in background yet simple in gameplay, that they are bound to make something someone will love. This mass-production of a genre that has only had a few gem titles in the past could be taken as an insult by some players; more than likely it will lead to the emergence of simplicity in a genre that begs for overcomplexity. Certainly, the advanced level of character customization in “City of Heroes” has raised the bar for not only role-playing game characters, but other genres, as well.

Gamers looking for a simpler form of online role-playing game that they can ease into will enjoy the creative approach that “City of Heroes” offers to a pragmatic genre, while role-playing buffs may want to cancel their subscriptions after they have worn out character creation.

CITY OF HEROES

GENRE: Fully online role-playing game

PUBLISHER: NCSoft

PLATFORM: PC

ESRB RATING: Teen

RETAIL PRICE: $49.99, plus $14.95 per month online


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