Friday, November 28, 2008

Virtual Vacation: City of Heroes/Villains

Everybody needs a break sometime. And since a trip to Hawaii is out of the question (hey kids! Write your Congressional delegation in support of more funding for libraries!), one modifies the concept of "vacation" and makes do.

So with that in mind, I started gadding about the many MMORPG websites, looking for free demos. I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that I finally settled on NCSoft's City of Heroes. Being a comic book turbo-geek often makes one predictable.

Having gotten that far, I was faced with another urgent question: Would it actually work? Unlike Second Life, there is no available Linux client for CoH. This left me at the mercy of Wine, the Linux Windows emulator. My experiences with Wine have been spotty. I couldn't get .NET-dependent applications like AvPainter to work at all, and despite my best attempts, games like The Movies wouldn't install no matter how many prescribed workarounds I tried.

According to Wine's Application Database, CoH rated "Silver", which meant that it would work, but not without some notable problems. With some trepidation, I downloaded the two-point-some-odd gigabyte file and installed it.

Lo and behold, it worked. Mind you, there were hiccups. Going into the "Costume" screen caused the game to crash instantly. And if I happened to be in a large group with a lot of activity, say, at the main landing point of the Rikti alien invaders once their ships have been spotted (thus drawing every cape in the city), the lag became ridiculous. Of course, much the same thing happens to me in SL under similar circumstances, so it could be my system, too.

After a couple of tries at creating a character (on both sides of the law; the CoH demo is also the demo for its sister title City of Villains), I settled on an armored, sword-wielding clown I called "Joyboy". I'd originally wanted "Joybuzzer", but that was already taken. Thus established, I set forth to battle evil.

Evil is not something in short supply in CoH. The crime rate in Paragon City is such that there's some kind of criminal activity going on on almost every corner. Even guys who can toss off fireballs and bolts of electricity aren't above trying to snatch purses. So, needless to say, there's a lot for a neophyte superhero to do.

And I gotta say, just as a personal aside, beating up purse snatchers never gets old. Spider-Man and Batman eat muggers up like potato chips, and suddenly, through Joyboy, I saw the appeal: He's victimizing a little old lady! How does that not merit some loose teeth?

But having that much to do seems to come at a price. Maybe it's because demo users aren't given access to most of the chat channels, but one gets the impression that the people on CoH are seriously antisocial. Maybe I'm just spoiled by the chatty environs of SL. But when an innocuous "Hello" gets a stony silence for a response, one gets the impression that the natives aren't friendly. Call me crazy.

Joining a team is about as close to socialization as I could manage in my short time there. Teams are a necessity because at certain levels there are areas where it's not safe for a hero to venture alone. In the beginner area of Atlas Park, that was the sewers. And even then, sometimes there isn't safety in numbers. For my first team venture, the system decided to stock the sewers with critters way above our difficulty level. While the rest of us balked at taking on a large group of monsters way out of our league, the team leader decided to go all Leeroy Jenkins. End result: We died. In seconds.

So much for teamwork.

After that, I felt pretty much liberated from any obligation to be sociable. Instead, I wanted to explore as much of the game as I could without getting my virtual ass handed to me. This took me to some interesting parts of town. My favorite at the end was The Hollows, a part of town so completely wrecked and gang-infested that it was actually cordoned off from the rest of the city. Mutant jellyfish monsters lurk in the river. And every single 'banger in town seems to have girlfriend trouble (which provides a nice touch of comic relief to contrast with the bleak setting).

So overall I had fun with CoH. I don't think I'd actually pay for it month-to-month, though. The whole point of multiplayer seems to be the ability to interact with others, and I just wasn't seeing that down Paragon City way.

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