Review: The only thing missing is Aquaman's ability to talk to fish. That would have made for a cooler game.
The Justice League is a team of all the coolest super heroes from the DC universe. Okay well I don't really know that for sure, maybe there's some really niche super hero out there that is cooler than everyone else in the Justice League, but let's face it, the Justice League has the most popular DC heroes. Everyone from Superman to the Green Lantern, if you've heard of ?em, they're probably in the League. So with such a cool team of heroes, it should be easy to make a fantastic game featuring each one of them. After all, you've got Superman, the best, most indestructible super hero ever; Batman, the moodiest hero this side of Gotham; Wonder Woman, the Amazonian princess(and who, frankly, is very hot); and the list goes on. Well, the guys at Snowblind at least did an admirable job putting a list of heroes together, but unfortunately the gameplay just doesn't hold a candle to its all-star cast.
The story in Justice League Heroes is definitely one for the comics. Everything begins just as a meteorite lands on Earth. Soon afterwards, robots stalk the streets of Metropolis and many of the Leagues' old nemeses begin running amok. Braniac, the villain who destroyed Superman's home planet, Krypton, begins searching for a hidden power that the stone supposedly grants, and from there all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately if you're not very fluent in the lore of the DC world, then I'm afraid you're going to get lost like I did. While I'm sure the plot follows the series of Justice League Unlimited closely, it all seems silly to an outsider like me. Everything from the space travel to the moon base that the League occupies, it feels like just about anything could happen (and believe me, it does). While the story may have a few decent twists and turns, I'm pretty sure that even with my minimal knowledge of the DC universe, I had already figured out who the true players were and who was being played. It might be a good plot for an episode of the Justice League cartoon, but don't expect writing on the level of Final Fantasy. At least it didn't drag on for a horribly long time. I'd say the entire game can be finished in 20 to 30 hours tops.
The gameplay is a lot like a cross between X-Men Legends and the 2.5D fighters of years gone by. To me this means that the game has rather stale pre-tread, yet surprisingly fun gameplay. Players will navigate the streets of Metropolis, S.T.A.R. Labs, Mars, and a bunch of other locales fighting off waves of enemies. All the fighting reminded me very much of Final Fight and Streets of Rage. While there were a few combos that could be performed as well as some super moves (performed by holding L1 and pressing a corresponding face button), fights either consisted of endless punching and kicking, or standing back and lobbing fireballs till everything was cooked. I'd be lying if I said there was no depth to the game, as there is a level-up system in place, but really, if one just concentrates on leveling up the melee and projectile abilities, the game isn't hard to finish.
Players get two of the League heroes at all times. If there is only one player, then one of the heroes will be AI controlled. The partner AI isn't bad, but the AI options are pretty limited. Partners can either be set to defensive, offensive, or normal AI. Personally, I didn't see any difference between the three besides the fact that more often than not defensive AI led to my partner surviving, while offensive AI led to my partner being killed almost immediately. I pretty much left the partner AI on defensive after stage 2, and had no trouble getting through the game. Playing with a second player may be a bit of a better method as opposed to just relying on AI, but I found it made the game a little more of a hassle having to shout out which direction to go as opposed to just having the AI follow me around. Maybe the guy I was playing it with was just an idiot. I don't know.
Like all RPGs, level-ups are gained through fighting. Beat up an enemy, and little green EXP orbs will fly out of his/her corpse. Once enough EXP is gained, players will be able to add bonuses to each individual character. Each character has five super moves, as well as placeholders for melee, special, health, and recovery power-ups. Each of the 9 stats has the ability to be leveled up 5 times. The wise player would save up 5 stat points and just flood whichever powers were most useful to that character and ignore the other stats. For instance- Zatana is a magic user, so I immediately put all of her level-ups towards her fireball technique, then her special stat. Not long into the game, I had her slinging fireballs that would take out enemies in a single shot and she had so much energy that she rarely ran out of power before gaining it right back. It's nice that players are given the choice to focus on what sorts of stats will go up with each level, but really, rule of thumb would say that a team with one good projectile user and one good melee hitter would be an unstoppable team... hence my team regularly consisted of Superman and Zatana.
One other thing that players can do to upgrade their characters is add materia-like boosts to each stat upgrade. When enemies are killed they sometimes leave a glowing orb, a boost. For each of the five stat upgrade levels, players can equip a boost that will do a number of things to the stat. Boosts come in all sorts of flavors such as luck, damage, efficiency, etc. Put a luck boost in the melee stat, and that character's melee attack has a higher chance of being a critical. Put an efficiency boost on a super power, and it will cost less energy to use that power. Every boost has its own individual level, and boosts can be combined to form higher level boosts. Of course, higher level boosts mean better stat increases when equipped. The boosts did help a little throughout the progression of the game, but I found that I often forgot about using them, and ultimately the whole system just wasn't that necessary. Beat up enough bad guys, and you'll still be strong enough to fight off enemies. If you like customization, it's there, but again, it just wasn't a necessary addition.
One other element of gameplay is the Justice League shields. Sometimes enemies will drop these, but usually shields are littered around the maps. You can also get shields from rescuing hostages. Shields can be used to buy new characters and outfits for the league members. In an interesting twist, each outfit has its benefits and drawbacks to the character it's used on. The outfits are based on storylines that the characters faced in the comics, so while I didn't recognize a good number of them, some of them stood out. Either way, the feature has been used in other games, but at least it was given a purpose in this one, and I really liked that aspect of it. As for unlocking characters... it's pretty useless. For the majority of the game, players won't get to choose who is on their team. By the time players do get to choose who is on their team, that character will be so horribly under-leveled that it will make for many unfair fights. Still, if you're a completist and need every version of the Green Lantern that the game offers, you'll be in hog heaven unlocking each character. Also, once the game is finished, players can still go for another round to finish up unlocking characters. It might not be an incentive to some, but to others it might be just what you're looking for.
Justice League Heroes' visuals are about as middle-of-the-road as you can get. While the CG isn't phenomenal and the character and city designs are rather plain, I was completely hypnotized by the fluidity of the heroes' capes. Not since Ico's rippling pool of water have I been so mesmerized by such a ?simple? visual effect, but I just thought it looked amazing. That said, the graphics aren't bad, either. They just don't stand out as being cutting edge at all. The real caveat I had with the visuals was that each dungeon got old very fast. Halls would stretch on for a long time ending in rooms that looked like so many other rooms before. The game really needed a dose of variety.
The game's audio is a bit of a treat. While it features none of the original cast of the Justice League cartoon, it's still got some phenomenal voice work for the characters. I know many have said it before, but Ron Pearlman does a fab job as Batman, though he doesn't get as much screen time as some of the other heroes. I enjoyed the way the characters would talk to one another as the game progressed. Walk into a cold looking room, and you can bet one of your characters will make some sort of remark, which the other character will respond to. Having one character speak is one thing, but making characters have conversations in the middle of a fight just makes the game a little more immersive. The soundtrack wasn't bad either. While it wasn't the most memorable feature of the game, it did pull its weight giving just the right feel to each area.