The good guys have had their day - now it's evil's turn. But as the dark shadow to the popular massively multiplayer online superhero RPG City of Heroes, NC Soft's City of Villains feels very familiar but only slightly sinister.
Like its less evil twin, City of Villains drops players into Paragon City, a metropolis ravaged by crime. Street gangs, giant snakes, and mutated corpses roam the streets, looking for their next victims. The good guys are here too - spandex-clad Longbow operatives patrol the streets, trying to thwart evil. And then there's you, a bad person with a good idea, eager to rise up the local rogue's gallery. Pull off a bank heist here, a kidnapping there, and let the other bad guys know who's really bad, and yours will be a name that both heroes and villains fear.
The gameplay remains the same: running (or flying or leaping or teleporting) around an expansive city, ducking into offices and caves and sewers for a very action-heavy RPG experience against computer-controlled enemies as well as other players. There's no "item crafting" as found in most fantasy MMOs, but as you fight, you'll earn enhancements to your superpowers, which you can choose and upgrade as you see fit. The same goes for your supervillain - if you want to merge a zombie's torso with cybernetic legs and crown it all with a top hat, the game's expansive character creator indulges your every whim.
That's great, but it's all already available in City of Heroes. What CoV brings on its own isn't quite enough. Yes, villainous supergroups can now build bases (like an evil version of The Sims) but they cost so much that medium-sized groups can't use them. And where's the evil? The big selling promise was that you could be a villain, but the worst we could manage was to kidnap ... villains from other gangs. That's not a dark side, that's a shade of gray.
While it can be run as its own game, CoV's true value is as a really big expansion pack to City of Heroes (and you can play both for one monthly fee). And while it's worth its price, it would be even more enjoyable if it was less polite.