A Mild-Mannered Reporter: City of Heroes' Summer Blockbuster in review

A Mild-Mannered Reporter header by A. Fienemann

Ah, summer, the time of year when kids and teachers don't have to worry about school, no one has to worry about clean sweaters, and the movie industry worries about which films wind up with the most significant profit over the next several months. More knowledgeable folks than I have discussed summer blockbusters in the past, but the truth is that I'm not here to talk about the concept; I'm here to talk about the new City of Heroes event.

The idea behind the Summer Blockbuster is a pretty clever one, although you have to be willing to accept the kind of meta structure of the whole thing. It's still a chance for players to go into the meat of a big summer blow-out extravaganza, which would seem like exactly the right time for the developers to just give us some enormous brawls. Instead, the event consists of two parts that actually show off some of what City of Heroes is capable of despite its age. It's good stuff, in other words, and there are some things worth taking away for the future.

Of course, this is also a heist in the grand tradition of letting all the security personnel know who you are before you rob them.

Casino Heist

Of the two parts, Casino Heist is definitely the more distinct one. It's a heist in the grand tradition of heist films, complete with a whole bunch of acrobatics and clever schemes designed to get the protagonists to the vault with minimal detection. If there's a major flaw to it, it's that after the cleverness of the first and second parts, the fighting during the intermission and conclusion feels almost tacked on.

For those who haven't played it, here's the gist: The mission starts with everyone choosing one of four roles. Once you've all chosen your roles, each of you has a short period of time to try to fulfill some objective related to breaking in. The Thief, for instance, starts off rifling through the security director's office looking for clues on the security and any useful distractions. Your success in each portion determines how easy the next segment will be, so it's to your advantage to really fling yourself into the role. A brief moment of combat follows, and then it's back for another set of heist-related tasks, followed by a large brawl as your group tries to escape.

The idea of having eight distinct sections of noncombat gameplay is a problematic one because CoH doesn't really have a system for that. However, as it stands, it's handled very well, with a lot of room for characters to shine in unusual ways. Dodging laser security beams, for instance, is much easier with a small character using Hover than a big speedster. Each segment feels connected to a whole without feeling tacked on, and the non-combat stuff is pretty fun.

The fights themselves are... not bad, exactly, but they're pretty standard stuff. You go and punch some guys for a while. It has the problem of following some unique gameplay that feels like a real departure for CoH. No matter what came next, it would be a bit disappointing, but the fact that you're working together as a group to clear individual objectives just exacerbates the problem. The fights work, but they don't add anything.

Plus they're out of genre. A good heist movie features, at best, a tense getaway scene in which everyone has to adapt on the fly. It does not feature big throw-down fights; the whole point is that this is a bunch of characters clever enough to get in and out without being seen. I'm not the biggest fans of the Ocean's Whatever franchise, but those films do get the central concept right. These are fights thrown in because there needs to be a fight in CoH content, and it does the adventure no credit.

Overall, this is probably the better of the two segments from a technical standpoint, but the end always leaves me a bit disappointed. More non-combat objectives achieved via teamwork would be grand, though, and I'd like to see this brought around in future content as well.

The only thing that could make this better is if the robot rode in on a dragon.

Time Gladiator

Where Casino Heist innovates, Time Gladiator plays things completely straight. This consists of nothing more than gleeful anachronisms thrown together simply on the basis of each item's being cool in isolation. There's no unique mechanic, just a big series of knock-down, drag-out brawls against cowboys, ninjas, robots, monkeys, and minotaurs. (I should clarify that there is technically a mechanic with the whole crowd approval system, but in practice it just boils down to occasional buffs while you engage in these brawls. It's not really a presence, in other words.)

As a result, whether or not you'll enjoy Time Gladiator is based entirely upon whether or not you enjoy the idea of beating the living stuffing out of a cowboy and then beating the stuffing out of a robot. If that strikes you as kind of boring, then you'll find this kind of boring. If you get a smile on your face and a little internal chuckle at the anachronism of these fights taking place in a Roman arena, then good news! You'll enjoy yourself.

Unfortunately for me, this means there's not much to be said about the event beyond the obvious. It's very much a case of what it says on the tin. The mechanics of the fights are kind of interesting, but they're really nothing that hasn't been done dozens of times before in countless other games as well as CoH itself. The fight is kept just long enough that the arena doesn't get boring, but it's not as if the place is lined with exciting new traps or anything. It's a cute thematic execution of a mechanically simple bit of content.

As a whole

Your reward for the whole event are parts of the Overwhelming Force set, which is a pretty nice damage set when all is said and done. It's a unique set, so you can slot each enhancement only once per character, but it's well worth it in the long run, and since pretty much every character has some use for damage, it's appreciable. It does encourage several runs, which could get a bit tedious over time, but that's not a huge deal.

Overall, the Blockbuster event is something everyone really ought to run through at least once while it's still active. It's not difficult to clear, and both halves show off something nifty. It's not flawless, but the flaws don't drag the experience down.

Feedback can be left down in the comments or sent to, with or without ticket stubs. Next week, I want to talk about a very different sort of power creep than I did the last time -- not whether we're getting too powerful but whether we're just getting too many options.

By day a mild-mannered reporter, Eliot Lefebvre unveils his secret identity in Paragon City and the Rogue Isles every Wednesday. Filled with all the news that's fit to analyze and all the muck that's fit to rake, this look at City of Heroes analyzes everything from the game's connection to its four-color roots to the latest changes in the game's mechanics.