PC Game -- City of Villains

City of Villains is the sequel to NCSoft's popular City of Heroes, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game in which you create a superhero from hundreds of variables including their costume, origin and powers. In Villains, players finally get a shot at being evil, but is that enough to justify another purchase?

Excepting the obvious evil slant, Villains looks, feels, sounds and plays exactly like Heroes. Its world co-exists and even overlaps with Heroes, since some special zones are designated for cross-game player-versus-player, hero-versus-villain action. Sure, the environments look more ominous and there have been some genuine additions to Heroes' costume and power options, but this feels like a generous expansion pack rather than a full game. Many of Heroes' NPCs and environments have undergone very minor texture replacement or redesign and then shoehorned into Villains. And most of the upgrades that Villains offers have been shoved into Heroes with free patches in order to allow the two games to coexist in balance. If you've already purchased the original, it's impossible to recommend City of Villains.

These gripes aside, the City franchise offers a fantastic gaming experience for comic book fans and MMO junkies looking for a less complicated commitment. There's very little inventory, no farming, no player economy and far less competition (although that's improving with the new and tremendously exciting PvP game). You simply jump in and fight.

The terrific palette for character creation allows for a great diversity of supervillain options, but you'll go through the exact same tutorial missions and starting zone every time. Later levels, however, bring more intricate missions as compelling, evolving storylines. You'll also begin to earn prestige, with which guilds or supergroups can use to build their secret bases. This is probably City of Villains' best contribution to the franchise, and gamers who've never dreamed of playing The Sims will be drooling over this very similar interface. Secret bases can even be raided by other supergroups (during scheduled vulnerable hours) looking to steal your items of power.

City of Villains doesn't betray the age of Heroes' engine at all. This game is still a visual feast, with dazzling lighting effects and stunningly diverse characters. Unfortunately, as in Heroes, the indoor environments are dull and repetitive. Thankfully, the outside zones' grand architecture nicely make up for these deficiencies. There are also some minor oversights in the otherwise rich audio package - stepping in a puddle sounds like you cannnonballed into the ocean - and many of Heroes' heroic trumpets haven't been replaced with an appropriately dark motif.

The pricing scheme is simple enough: Whether you own City of Heroes, City of Villains, or both games at once, you'll never pay more than the standard $US14.99 monthly fee.

As a conversion, Villains doesn't feel finished. As a sequel, it's simply not enough. But judged purely on its gameplay and design merits, it's a rip-roaring blast.

A screenshot is available here.
Visuals: Perhaps a little too much like its predecessor; interiors could do with sprucing up.
Audio: Aside from a few misfires, the audio is very good, though still a few throwbacks to the Heroes version.
Gameplay: Perhaps not enough as a sequel, but great fun if you've not played the former.
Score: 3 1/2 Stars
Publisher: NCSoft
Developer: Cryptic Studios
URL: www.cityofvillains.com
Price: $89.95

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