My first few hours with Infinite Crisis [official site] convince me it is a terrible game. But I persevere, thinking that part of my dislike may have to do with my lack of skill. Following a particularly bad defeat a teammate collars me in the post-match chat window. “Bredy,” they say, using the username I had misspelled on signing up. “Uninstall this game.”
It was the worst (best) post-game put-down I have ever received. “Uninstall this game.” No anger, no frustration. Just a resigned sigh of a comment, communicating nothing but the undeniable fact of my awfulness. “Uninstall this game.” Sadly, the poo-slinger disappeared shortly afterwards. I had no time to reply and tell them that I already dreadfully, desperately wanted to.
Infinite Crisis is a MOBA based on the multiverse of DC Comics. There is some narrative fluff in the tutorial that informs you the universes are mysteriously and slowly colliding in something called “the bleed”. Supermen and Batmen abound, some adorned in a dark navy sheen (the ‘Nightmare’ universe), others sporting an inexplicable British accent (the ‘Gaslight’ universe). Really it is an excuse for the game to include multiple versions of the same character, without questioning the demand or desire for such fresh Z-listers. Arcane Green Lantern? Nightmare Robin? I do not know a person who cares. There are also costumes to buy from the game’s shop (with real money) that extend this multiverse to never-before-seen lunacy. ‘First Date’ Doomsday? ‘Slumber Party’ Harley Quinn? ‘Deep Sea Fisherman’ Atomic Green Lantern? If it wasn’t so intentionally dumb, it would be unforgivable.
But what about the game. Well, in this regard it is eerily standard. Superman et al take you through the tutorials, explaining the basics of a MOBA and hemming in as much storyjizz as necessary to please the licensors. Bots amble down symmetrical roads towards enemy turrets while an ‘urban jungle’ houses neutral creatures to farm for XP. Control points can be captured in a bid to upgrade your bots to slightly-better-bots, while also providing your team with a better cashflow of coins, used to buy upgrades at HQ or friendly turrets. Push your bots down the roads (“which we’re calling ‘lanes’” says Tutorial Superman, helpfully) and work together to destroy your foe’s HQ.
It is so by the numbers, it could be an abacus. Let’s face it, the world already has Dota 2, League of Legends, Smite and a healthy smattering of others. As far as I can tell, it does not really want for more MOBAS. Or, if it does, it wants one with some refreshing quality that Infinite Crisis, like so many of the licensed phone-ins before it, doesn’t provide.
There are some small hints of character, here and there. Certain skills (called ‘stolen powers’) can be applied to any character. One of these - super strength - allows you to pick up vehicles on the map and throw them at enemies for super damage, while also opening new routes across the map thanks to their removal. A ‘Doomsday’ creature spawns in the center of the map which, when defeated, bestows the killer with a device that can rain down a large AoE blast on the opposing team. There is also a huge library of stat-boosting amplifiers to earn through ‘merit’ (the out-of-game currency) as well as a bonus each day to reward long-term players. And as for the free-to-play model, apart from the conspicuously greyed-out characters on the champion select screen, there is a refreshing lack of nuisance upselling.
One thing it does particularly well is ease you in. The tutorials might be cumbersome and grating for MOBA pros, but as an introduction to the genre, full of familiar characters, it could certainly fill a niche. Recommendations for useful items and skills are constant and the voiceover tips from other heroes continue well into your matches with other players, doing a good job of reading your needs and questions.
Once I got over the initial hump, the competitive element started to work its (limited) magic. At first, experimenting with the different character classes led to a lot of frustration. What is the difference between a ‘bruiser’ and an ‘enforcer’? Or a ‘marksman’ and ‘blaster’? After a while, I can concede there is one, but these specialisations are often too vague for a newcomer to pick up and there is a significant crossover in what each type of champion is able to put their skills to.
The ‘controller’ is the first class I fully comprehend - a plain support character - and I spend the rest of my time playing as Poison Ivy, healing my team and buffing all around me. I am still getting very few kills, but my assists are off the chart. I am healing more points of health on our team by myself than the entire enemy team together and this pleases me immensely. Despite my early disdain, I start enjoying myself. But I suspect, as time wears on and the victories begin to stack up, it is the enjoyment of winning - not enjoyment of the game itself. A joy of seeing stats improve, KDR dopamine. A love for the sport, but not for the stadium. This is not helped by all maps and game modes bar one being closed. Matchmaking for everything but the vanilla two-lane map, Coast City, was turned off at launch to ensure "quick queue times" and is still disabled at time of writing. The other modes - a three-lane map and a capture and hold map - "may be re-opened in the future," presumably if the game gathers enough players to populate all modes simultaneously.
When I step back and examine it, Infinite Crisis is not a terrible MOBA. It is just another MOBA. I can practically feel all the middling scores seeping from the pages of whatever poor magazines are left out there in the wild. And that’s even if they feel the piercing need to cover it at all. So why do I feel so annoyed about it? There is something about it that irritates me, apart from the cacophony of tiny numbers and plus signs that accompany each tentative mouse hover. +75 Attack. +4.75% Power. What is it?
Slowly, I begin to understand. The game itself is a conceptual blunder. Who could possibly think that the dawdling, sub-pensioner speeds of the MOBA were appropriate for superheroes who are faster than a speeding bullet? It is the most awful clash of genre v genre I have seen since South Park released that first-person shooter for the N64. It might be perfectly serviceable and even enjoyable in short bursts but every time I sit back and wait 45 seconds for Thatcherworld Superman to respawn I cannot help but sigh and wonder, “Why the hell are you doing this, Clark?” At least in the worlds of Dota or LoL the characters are all of that plane. They have no genre baggage to carry from one medium to another, no expectations. They can be as slow or as fast as the designers want, as strong or as wimpy as their blueprints allow. With superheroes you are exclusively dealing with a power fantasy. This is why superheroes work so well in third-person smash-the-world games, where they can fly everywhere and do their thing. In Infinite Crisis, every flying superhero glides softly three inches above the ground, as if they are gingerly learning how to hoverboard.
I understand, I understand. It’s games. We ought to, sometimes, suspend our disbelief for the sake of genre. But when that genre is already so oversubscribed it could fill a cosplay hall and still need to hire a marquee to house another hundred Gaslight Catwomen standing outside on the pavement, does the good grace of that disbelief extend to yet another genetic replica of Defense of the Ancients? Sadly, I don’t think so. Uninstall this game? I probably will.