E3 '09: New Looks @ DCU Online & Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Civil War in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Comic book games have a huge presence at E3 this year, as game companies farm intellectual property to allow fans a glimpse of what it’s like to be a superhero (or villain). Two highly anticipated games, one from Marvel, and one from DC, were shown off in different ways at the massive gaming show, and we have all the latest on them for you.

Geoff Johns to Write DCU Online
Geoff Johns to Write DCU Online
DC Universe Online

Sony Online Entertainment’s DCUO has had a slow leak of information, screenshots, and character designs going for quite awhile now. We got to play it for the first time at New York Comic Con, and got to play the latest build at E3. The game is definitely progressing nicely. New power sets, along with new individual powers, are being shown off at the show, and the DCU guest stars are starting to be out in full force.

During one single mission, while playing as an Ice wielding villain, I encountered The Joker, Harley Quinn, Batman, Solomon Grundy, Bizarro, Lex Luthor, Hal Jordan Green Lantern, Sinestro, and Superman. This was all inside of one 15 minute sequence, showing that the game really does intend to be a living, breathing DCU. With as many named characters and major players as there are in the comic company’s world, you can expect to run into them, assist them, fight them, and even just see them doing their own thing constantly while playing the game.

The controls continue to be tightened up. While it’s an Action game, there is still a bit of that “MMO Delay” in special moves, though I was told they’re working on reducing that to zero before the game’s release. Whether it was just the mission I played or an overall tweak, the difficulty had been raised since last time around, making characters like Green Lantern and Superman much more powerful and effective. They’re also beginning to use team tactics, rather than just both running or flying up to you and punching.

The game is currently running pretty smoothly on both PlayStation 3 and PC, and as it stands now, both can run (and are at the show) on the same server, allowing cross-platform play. This may or may not be a feature in the final release of the game, but they’re trying to maintain it as they go along.

After all that good news, there had to be some bad, and it comes in the form of release window. Currently, as in February, the game is still in “Pre-Alpha.” Alpha represents an internal build where less new features are being put in and more bug tweaking begins. Then there’s usually an internal beta, a private beta, sometimes a public beta, and finally the game’s release. If it sounds like there are a lot of steps between now and the release of DCUO, that’s because there still are. They are clearly hard at work on the game; progress was apparent in every aspect that I saw. While SOE declined to give any guess work of when we might see the game come home, an educated industry guess says this game is still more than one year out from being a finished product taking up your time on your PS3 or PC. That said, they will be continuing to hit the convention circuit, bringing a playable build to San Diego Comic-Con for the general public (or those attending the sold out show) to play.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2

Civil War in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
Civil War in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2
While Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 is much closer to release, with a date of September 2009 already given, Activision peculiarly held back a playable demo, instead opting for a closed-door developer walkthrough. The presentation showed about 10 minutes of gameplay and two trailers, one old, one new.

The trailers showed off a ridiculous number of characters, though it remains to be seen who of them will make the 24 playable character cut off. New characters spotted include Patriot and Hawkeye (Kate) from Young Avengers, and Lady Deathstrike. The new trailer intentionally moved too quickly to let us see anything too specific, unfortunately.

The gameplay they showed focused on showing off the new power fusion technique. Several combinations were shown in real time, with the developer doing the walkthrough selecting the character to initiate it, then selecting the second character involved, with explosive results. It was a bit unclear whether the order in which you selected them made a difference, but it seemed like it won’t. If you select Hulk then Wolverine, or Wolverine then Hulk, it looks like you’ll get a massively powerful “Fastball Special” either way. Most of the fusions are large area-affect attacks, taking down several enemies simultaneously, and they certainly produced some of the largest and most elaborate special effects seen in the series’ 4 games to date.

Outside of fusion, the other main focus was on the new environments. We saw a large sequence played outdoors in Washington, D.C., with the sun shining. This may not seem too significant, but all of Marvel Ultimate Alliance took place in the dark, so it was a welcome switch. New lighting effects were fit into the engine to accommodate the bright environment, and seeing the highly detailed 3D models of Marvel’s best in bright light was quite satisfying. The graphical detail in general has been upped considerably in nearly every way; character models are much smoother, special effects are higher end, and the environments look considerably more realistic. It’s a substantial coat of polish that separates MUA2 quite a bit from its predecessor.

Overall, the game looks to be coming along nicely. There are a lot of S.H.I.E.L.D. enemies, and many promised boss battles against Marvel heroes to change things up a bit. While the developer has changed from Raven to Vicarious Visions (who created the original engine for the series), it looks like fans of Marvel action RPGs have plenty to be excited about come September, 2009.

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