While this process is broken up with some wonderful set-pieces featuring a diverse array of characters from the DC universe, it's all too soon before you're back on the treadmill, waiting for the next thrill. Around halfway through the levelling there comes a point where you begin to feel less like a harbinger of justice and more like an errand-boy for Superman, whom you imagine to be enjoying a cup of tea in the Watchtower with his feet up, taking all the glory while you undertake the less glamorous work.
Even though the Alert system, which allows you to participate in instanced events with a group of heroes, adds a little more bite to the proceedings, the challenging boss-fight pay-off comes only after you've fulfilled a series of similarly generic objectives – kill ten of these, gather and return six of something else. Now have some fun.
Beyond the mission design, the most divisive issue – for PC players, anyway – will be the combat itself. Sony Online Entertainment promised an exhilarating action game set within a fully-fledged MMO, and it has certainly delivered a meaty, tactile experience that delights. Building combos of basic attacks interspersed with superpowers is tremendously satisfying and that all-important sense of connection is there.
But though the fast-paced battle system works tremendously well on the PS3 gamepad, all the coaxing and fiddling in the world wouldn't bring DCUO to recognise my 360 controller when playing the PC version; forum discussions suggest I'm far from alone. Certain controllers which allow turbo modes or macro-ing are also sat firmly on the naughty step, and you'd be wise to check your brand of controller before buying. Mouse control, meanwhile, fast becomes a painful experience.
Wonderfully frantic and visceral though the combat is, the target-lock system has a tendency to pick the one enemy you wouldn't want to engage. It sends you lunging not towards the remaining mob in your pack, but whizzing and slicing into one fresh group after another. More often than not you feel cheated into death. For a frantic action-MMO that rewards nimble fingers and combo work, it's a system that either works flawlessly, or not at all.
Levelling sees you accumulate skill points to invest in improvements to your travel, alternative weapons or your superpowers. Up to six of these can be made available on your action bar at any one time. Far from dumbing down the game accommodate the limitations of the PS3 controller, this actually adds a more strategic depth to combat, forcing you to select the skills you need for the job at hand. This variation helps prevent DCUO from stagnating into button-mashing.
This freedom to experiment doesn't quite extend into the player-versus-player areas, where knockbacks, stuns and crowd-control currently dominate. For the most part, your objective is to enable and hold onto resources as team points count down to zero. Tactically, it's often more sensible to stand your ground and hope that your enemies repeatedly rush lemming-like into your knockbacks. More often than not, they do; either the players in general will need to up their game or some revisions will need to be made to this system.
In the absence of any crafting professions, gear beyond quest rewards is either bought from vendors or earned as renown rewards. Choosing stats is often a case of trade-offs: it certainly serves to put more meat on the bones of a comparatively simple character development process.
Camaraderie and social interaction are the glue that binds a player to an MMO, and the most basic tool for this is the chat system. Unfortunately, in DCUO, it's a cumbersome affair that discourages use, adding further to the feeling of emptiness and isolation. Combined with an interface which – most noticeably on the PS3 – lurches between screens, your engagement with the game and other players feels broken.
The chat also suffers from what is politely known as the Scunthorpe problem. With no option to disable the filter, anyone wishing to discuss topics such as 'analog controls', errant 'assumptions' or extol their 'amusement' with the game will find their chat rendered as asterisked nonsense.