E3 2008: Champions Online Updated Impressions - Robot Cowboys, Comedy Writing, and Combat Details

We visit 2K Games' E3 booth and come away with updated notes on this superhero-themed massively multiplayer game.

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We're on hand at E3 2008 with an updated look at Champions Online, the superhero-themed online game from City of Heroes creator Cryptic Studios. The demonstration that we watched took place in an abandoned Wild West theme park that, according to the game's plot, has been overrun by supervillains. The once-peaceful animatronic cowboys have been roused from their player pianos and now use their six-shooters to blast away at any do-gooders who happen to cross their paths. Apparently, the region has taken over by a supervillain named ASCII Oakley, a character who, as her fearsome name suggests, is an even bigger, meaner, more ornery...cowboy robot. If you find the scenario and villain's name to be hilarious, you might just be the sort of person who enjoys the adventures of the over-the-top sci-fi cartoon character Tek Jansen, given that it, as well as the game's scenarios, are being written by John Layman, the Harvey award-nominated writer of comedian Stephen Colbert's comic book series.

We watched a live demonstration of two different characters teaming up to take on the robot-infested area. One was a lithe female character dressed in a tight-fitting black leather outfit, and the other was a hulking character wearing metallic robot armor. The female character had several "darkness"-based powers that let her blast her foes with black ink-spot rays and entangle her foes in an inky net; the robotic character seemed like more of a brawler and possessed a devastating ability to strike the ground with his fist, creating visible earthquakes that knocked his opponents flat on their backs.

The duo entered the theme park on the outskirts, from which you could see a rock sculpture in the distance of two figures dramatically brawling (and beyond which, we're told, is a maximum security prison that, when visited, can net you a battle with a heinous incarcerated supervillain). The game's areas are being created with distinctive landmarks to help players quickly orient themselves, but also to give each area a memorably distinctive look and feel. The cowboy theme park will have deserted saloons and horse statues carved out of stone to give the place a family-friendly Western look.

Combat in Champions Online will, like in City of Heroes, require active participation. There won't be any kind of continuous auto-attack, but rather, your character will have various superpowers tied to specific attack shortcuts that you can periodically use between their cooldown times. You'll also be able to actively block incoming attacks, which will be essential for avoiding certain superpowers that your enemies may possess. We watched as the duo brawled their way through crowds of robot cowboys, robot sheriffs (who hurled robot-sheriff lassos that unceremoniously yanked their targets off their feet to land right next to the robotic peace officer), and robot saloon showgirls (whose mind-controlling feminine wiles temporarily stuns their targets). Finally, they encountered their priority target. ASCII Oakley made her appearance (as the other robot inhabitants scampered away in fear and awe) and put up a valiant fight, but she was no match for our superpowered team.

We're told that the development team for Champions Online will aim to expand on its past successes with City of Heroes by pushing for even stronger character-customization options. There will be many more "points of customization" (different body parts and decals that you can add to and customize on your characters), as well as an open-ended character-development system that has no formal character classes, and will let you freely mix and match the superpowers that your character will use. The game will also use an unusual flat-shaded lighting effect to better emulate the look of a comic book in motion. Champions Online shows plenty of promise so far, and will hopefully realize this promise when the game launches next year.

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