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“City of Heroes” was the game every comic book fan wanted to play since computer role-playing games (RPGs) were invented. Suitably corny plotlines and nearly unlimited character creation options made for an unabashedly geeky and very fun experience. The follow-up game, “City of Villains,” keeps the successful formula of its predecessor and makes a few tweaks and improvements.
The setting is the Rogue Isles, a war zone where the forces of the evil Arachnos hold sway over the populace. Just as in “City of Heroes,” your character starts out performing missions for one contact and, gradually, the scope of evil deeds starts to widen.
The two big additions to the game, compared to the initial retail version of “City of Heroes,” are the base-design minigame and the long-awaited player-versus-player areas. Player villains can take on player heroes from “City of Heroes” in special areas with level restrictions, adding fun without headaches (the “experience debt” that usually kicks in upon character death doesn’t happen in PvP areas).
But again, the foundation of the game is character creation. This time you can not only choose between practically limitless combinations of clothing, hairstyles, tattoos, designs and textures, you can also adjust the proportions of the character itself, bringing variety into the last remaining static aspect of “City of Heroes” characters: shape.
The character classes capture a suitable variety of villain archetypes, including the typical tank class, ranged class and an analogue of the “City of Heroes” controller class, which attacks using the environment. One very enjoyable class is the “stalker” rogue. Equipped with stealth abilities, stalkers can wander straight into a large group of enemies and take out the most powerful one with a sneak attack, then hold its own in the melee that follows.
But the best class is also the most innovative, the “mastermind,” a summoning character that manipulates an army of henchmen using simple commands. Your fearless leader can choose between mercenaries, ninjas, zombies and robots, all of them deadly. Other powers available to the mastermind are “buffs” to add strength to henchmen, and limited attack abilities. What makes the class fun to play is the seamless, easy interface and the excellent henchman AI. Only a few times did my battle droids get stuck next to a wall they couldn’t jump over, and when that happens it’s easy enough to dismiss them and summon new ones.
Yet, as my villain’s robot slaves mowed down police officers, I was left feeling a little underwhelmed. I had expected a world of chaos and intrigue, one in which I could go after fellow villains as well as heroes and terrorize civilians as well as mutant snakes. It made me feel a bit less than truly evil to try to attack a passerby only to have him comment, “Looks like you’re making a name for yourself. I’m scared already!” and walk away. Plus, so many of the mission areas and concepts are identical to those of “Heroes” that I sometimes forgot I was the bad guy.
But if you can be satisfied with a little less than the absolute anarchy that might reign over a true city of villains, and if you can forgive the recycled elements from the last game, there’s plenty of good fun to be had here kidnapping the innocent and crushing enemy spies. Happy hero hunting.

by Ben Applegate
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